This is a question that has been debated for decades. Why do we describe economics as a ‘science’ when it is the study of human behavior, why not class it within the arts or humanities? Economists argue that they analyze problems such as developing human behavior theories and test them against the facts using a scientific approach. Economics studies the three basic problems of daily living, what goods and services to produce, how to produce them, and who to produce them for. The subject matter of economics is human behavior in the production, exchange, and use of goods and services. Societies central economic problem is how to reconcile the conflict between people’s virtually limitless desire for goods and services and the scarcity of resources with which these goods and services can be produced. When the questions what, how, and for whom to produce are answered, economic explains how scarce resources are allocated between competing claims on their use.
There are a wide variety of tools that economists use to answer the above questions. The two that are mainly used to analyze economic issues are models and data. A model or theory makes a series of simplifying assumptions from which it deduces how people will behave. Models are frameworks for organizing the way we think about a problem. They concentrate on the essentials and therefore, by cutting out some details of the real world they simplify it. From this, economists can develop an analysis of how the economy works. Data are pieces of evidence about economic behavior. The data or facts interact with the models to help quantify the relationships to which our theoretical models draw attention. Secondly, the data helps to test the models. Economists much check that their models match the facts, just like any careful scientist. These two methods are carried out using a scientific approach, just as a biologist would use models and data to represent how the human body works.
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Critics argue that people are human beings and they cannot reduce their actions to scientific law. Physicists accept that molecules behave randomly but that it is possible to construct and test theories based on the average systematic behavior. Economists take the same view about people. Actions are never explained based on whim, random differences in behavior tend to cancel out on average if the behavior does not show any recurring tendencies then there is really nothing to discuss. The economic theories that survive are the ones that are consistently backed up with data. People often argue that the models used in economics are simple and do not stand in the same league as models used in the ‘proper sciences’ but the models are deliberately simplified to help us think more clearly. A good model does not distort reality too much but is simple. It is not about how complex it is but about how much of observed behavior it is capable of explaining.
Obviously, on some occasions, when more complex forms of behavior are being studied a simple model would be insufficient. Economists continually collect new data to use with their models. The more the models are confronted with different collections of data and are not rejected, the more confident economists become that they have discovered the correct explanation of the economic behavior in which they are interested. Economists and scientists will always disagree on economics being classed as a science. Although the study of human behavior may not be as complex as the study of nuclear physics the research and the experiments are carried out using the same principles. It may not be possible to carry out economic experiments in a laboratory but the methods economists use have been tested and proven to show an extremely accurate view on the patterns of human behavior, justifying its place within the sciences.