What's an economist?

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For my sister, Alex, who will start her Economics major this July

Economists are philosophers of human action.

They’re close to psychologists, neurologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and ethicists.

But psychologists focus on the mind behind the human action, neurologists focus on the underlying brain, sociologists on the surrounding society, anthropologists on the enveloping culture. Ethicists focus on the aesthetics of human action, on what human action should be.

Economists, on the other hand, focus on the actions themselves, on trying to understand them in their own terms. They ask questions like:

What patterns does human action follow? What different kinds can we usefully distinguish? Why are these actions taken? What are the goals behind these actions? What would the consequences be of these actions? Why do these actions have these consequences? In other words, what is the interplay between goals, conditions, actions, and consequences? If someone took these actions what actions are others expected to take? How will these actions affect others? What are the best actions to take given these goals? How best to organize and coordinate human action? What are the limits of human action? How to improve human action?

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