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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hello There, and What Is Economics?

Hello there, dear reader.  My name is David Grzybowski, I am studying economics at Case Western Reserve University, and as you have most astutely noticed, Michael has allowed me to post on his blog.  Not long ago, I found myself fleeing from the limitations of Facebook notes, and Michael graciously offered me succor in my distress.  I look forward to being able to share my wondrous ideas with you and hope that you find them entertaining and enlightening.  I will be writing mostly about economics/praxeology, but also other topics of interest such as ethics and epistemology.  Not all of them will begin with "e", however.

For my first post, I've decided to try to answer the question "What is economics?"  This is by no means trivial, but I will be brief nonetheless.  Depending on who you ask, economics can mean any number of things: study of the economy (duh!); study of commerce; study of systems for satisfying human desires; or simply, whatever it is that economists do.  A Marxist would say that economics is the feeble justification of the capitalist order by warped bourgois minds.  A historicist would say that economics is the practice of commerce in a given historical era.  All of these definitions (even the Marxist one) have at least a grain of truth to them, but they all miss the point.  Economics is a category of praxeology, the study of human action.

Praxeology, as described by Ludwig von Mises, is a deductive science like mathematics, drawing its starting premises from irrefutable bases.  Its defining premise is the Axiom of Action, which has been expressed many different ways that have extremely subtle differences.  The expression I prefer is "man uses specific means to achieve definite ends."  Most, if not all, of praxeology's axioms are corrolaries of the Axiom of Action.  For example, the statement "man's desires are practically infinite" must be true for the purposes of praxeology because if a man's desires are not practically infinite, then he eventually runs out of ends to achieve and so stops acting; at this point, we no longer care about him.

Economics is a discipline within praxeology; a very broad discipline, though economics and praxeology are not synonyms.  Specifically, economics deals with voluntary action, as opposed to compulsory action.  Economics certainly can deal with the results of certain types of compulsion, but it depends on actors pursuing their own ends in order for its predictions to be certain.  In a way, economics is pure praxeology, whereas the study of compulsory action (political science, public finance, or any number of other names) is applied praxeology, in the same sense that mathematics has pure and applied branches.

That's all I have for now.  Questions and comments are appreciated, and I hope you have a very nice day!

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