The big picture

[This post is certified 100% fact-free.  It contains only the purest speculation and gobbledygook.  Proceed at your own peril.]

There are many different conceptions of what economics is.  To my mind, economics is about three things: incentive, infrastructure and influence.

  • Incentive.  Economics studies what want, and makes educated guesses about how to abstract those needs (e.g. utility).
  • Infrastructure.  Economics studies how people work together to achieve an objective, and how those groupings operate and interact (e.g. supply chains).
  • Influence. Economics studies how people think, and how that thinking may be distorted (e.g. advertising).

In each case, the goal is to understand and predict how human society will behave.

Economics is distinct from sociology or anthropology because, as far as possible, it avoids specifics.  Large parts of economics will make the same amount of sense if you’re an English aristocrat or an Andean tribesperson.  Hell, some parts will make the same amount of sense if you’re a three-headed amphibian from Upsilon Andromedae.

When people hear the word “economics”, they tend to think about something big and abstract – the GDP of a country, or the pattern of global trade, or the dark arts of the financiers.  But economics can just as easily be used to describe and predict which size coffee cup you’ll pick at Starbucks.  Economics is powerful, pervasive, and frankly bloody fascinating.

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