Chapter 1: Economics: The Study of Choice

Start Up: Economics in the News

Economic issues dominated the news in 2011, just as they dominate news in most years. What happens to economic phenomena such as growth, unemployment, gasoline and food prices, house values, and the national debt matters—and these phenomena matter a great deal.

What causes the prices of some goods to rise while the prices of other goods fall? Price determination is one of the things that we will study in this book. We will consider factors that lead an economy to grow more or less rapidly, the determination of unemployment rates, and even the process through which governments make choices that can lead to the kind of dilemma the United States faced in 2011 as the national debt soared past the nation’s debt limit.

While the investigation of these problems surely falls within the province of economics, economics encompasses a far broader range of issues. Ultimately, economics is the study of choice. Because choices range over every imaginable aspect of human experience, so does economics. Economists have investigated the nature of family life, the arts, education, crime, sports, law—the list is virtually endless because so much of our lives involves making choices.

Consider some of the choices you face. Would you like better grades? More time to relax? More time watching movies? Getting better grades probably requires more time studying, and perhaps less relaxation and entertainment. Not only must we make choices as individuals, we must make choices as a society. Do we want a cleaner environment? Faster economic growth? Both may be desirable, but efforts to clean up the environment may conflict with faster economic growth. Society must make choices.

Economics is defined less by the subjects economists investigate than by the way in which economists investigate them. Economists have a way of looking at the world that differs from the way scholars in other disciplines look at the world. It is the economic way of thinking; this chapter introduces that way of thinking.

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