Updated: 2006-09-30 15:29

Areas of study in economics

Economics is usually divided into two main branches:

Microeconomics examines the economic behaviour of individual units such as businesses and households in face of scarcity and government interactions, as well as the economic consequences of these decisions on other actors.

Macroeconomics examines an economy as a whole with a view to understanding the interaction between economic aggregates such as national income, employment and inflation. Note that general equilibrium theory combines concepts of a macro-economic view of the economy, but does so from a strictly constructed microeconomic viewpoint.

Attempts to join these two branches or to refute the distinction between them have been important motivators in much of recent economic thought, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, the consensus view is arguably that good macroeconomics has solid microeconomic foundations. In other words, its premises ought to have theoretical and evidential support in microeconomics. A few authors (for example, Kurt Dopfer and Stuart Holland) also argue that 'mesoeconomics', which considers the intermediate level of economic organization such as markets and other institutional arrangements, should be considered a third branch of economic study.

Economics can also be divided into numerous subdisciplines that do not always fit neatly into the macro-micro categorization. These subdisciplines include: international economics, development economics, industrial organization, public finance, economic psychology, economic sociology, institutional economics and economic geography.

There are also methodologies used by economists whose underlying theories are important.

The most significant example may be econometrics, which applies statistical techniques to the study of economic data. Computational economics relies on mathematical methods, including econometrics.

Another trend which is more recent, and closer to microeconomics, is to use social psychology concepts (behavioural economics) and methods (experimental economics) to understand deviations from the predictions of neoclassical economics.
Evolutionary economics often deals with the otherwise difficult questions related to the role of 'routines' and 'capabilities' in explaining heterogeneity in firm outcomes.
Finance has traditionally been considered a part of economics ĘC as its body of results emerges naturally from microeconomics ĘC but has today effectively established itself as a separate, though closely related, discipline.

There has been an increasing trend for ideas and methods from economics to be applied in wider contexts. Since economic analysis focuses on decision making, it can be applied, with varying degrees of success, to any field where people are faced with alternatives ĘC education, marriage, health, etc. Public choice theory studies how economic analysis can apply to those fields traditionally considered outside of economics. The areas of investigation in economics therefore overlap with other social sciences, including political science and sociology. The most prevalent political economy is loosely called capitalism.


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