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Economists seem never to have agreed on a definition of their subject, criticizing most suggestions either because they do not cover all aspects of it or because they beg questions by committing some circularity of definition. For example, L. Robbins’s famous definition: ‘Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses’ seems to capture the essence of microeconomics, but does not convey much of the spirit of macroeconomics (the development of which, of course, the definition predated). On the other hand, the not wholly serious: ‘Economics is what economists do’ is meaningless without a definition of an ‘economist’. We offer the following definition:

‘Economics is a science concerned with those aspects of social behaviour, and those institutions, which are involved in the use of scarce resources to produce and distribute goods and services in the satisfaction of human wants.’

It may well be that a wholly acceptable definition does not exist. The set of phenomena studied by economists, as the set of economists itself, is perhaps best defined not by a succinct definitional principle, but rather by enumeration. By reading through this book the student will get a hetter idea of the content of economics than can be given in any compressed definition.

Reference: The Penguin Dictionary of Economics, 3rd edt.