A First Look at Economics
Conclusion & Summary


Knowledge in economics is like physics — never perfect or complete. Economics is a social science, a subject of ongoing systematic research. Economics involves argumentation and, as Keynes noted, "it is only by argument, by conflict if you like, that economics makes progress." Through intensive discussions over a period of more than two hundred years, economics has grown into a rich and powerful discipline. Some say too rich and powerful!


1. A single definition of economics is hard to give, but you will do well to remember the issue of scarcity and the need for choice as two fundamental points of departure.

2. The economic conversation has a history going back to Aristotle. The last two hundred years, however, have been most productive in the development of economics as a science.

3. Economists have grouped their study into two main branches, micro- and macroeconomics. Microeconomics looks at the individual units that make up the economy. Macroeconomics looks at the economy as a whole.

4. Economists use a variety of arguments to try to persuade one another. Most important are their models, simplified and artificial representations of reality, and empirical tests of these models. The Toulmin Model of Argument is a helpful guide for structuring the call-and-response of actual persuasion.

5. Because research findings in economics are not beyond reasonable doubt, disagreements frequently occur. New classical, new Keynesian, Austrian, and radical/Marxian economists differ in some crucial respects on the workings of the economy. Yet the disagreements are sometimes exaggerated.

6. When engaging in scientific argument, economists distinguish between positive and normative statements - between statements about the world as it is and statements about the world as it ought to be. The two kinds of statement, positive and normative, are closely interlocked. "Rhetorical" or "interpretive" economics is a good catch-all.