- For a topical guide to this subject, see Outline of economics.
Economics is the social science that studies economic activity to gain an understanding of the processes that govern the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in an economy.
The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek οἰκονομία from οἶκος (oikos, "house") and νόμος (nomos, "custom" or "law"), hence "rules of the house (hold for good management)". 'Political economy' was the earlier name for the subject, but economists in the late 19th century suggested "economics" as a shorter term for "economic science" to establish itself as a separate discipline outside of political science and other social sciences.
Economics focuses on the behavior and interactions of economic agents and how economies work. Consistent with this focus, primary textbooks often distinguish between microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics examines the behavior of basic elements in the economy, including individual agents and markets, their interactions, and the outcomes of interactions. Individual agents may include, for example, households, firms, buyers, and sellers. Macroeconomics analyzes the entire economy (meaning aggregated production, consumption, savings, and investment) and issues affecting it, including unemployment of resources (labor, capital, and land), inflation, economic growth, and the public policies that address these issues (monetary, fiscal, and other policies).
Other broad distinctions within economics include those between positive economics, describing "what is," and normative economics, advocating "what ought to be"; between economic theory and applied economics; between rational and behavioral economics; and between mainstream economics (more "orthodox" and dealing with the "rationality-individualism-equilibrium nexus") and heterodox economics (more "radical" and dealing with the "institutions-history-social structure nexus").
Besides the traditional concern in production, distribution, and consumption in an economy, economic analysis may be applied throughout society, as in business, finance, health care, and government. Economic analyses may also be applied to such diverse subjects as crime, education, the family, law, politics, religion, social institutions, war, and science; by considering the economic aspects of these subjects. Education, for example, requires time, effort, and expenses, plus the foregone income and experience, yet these losses can be weighted against future benefits education may bring to the agent or the economy. At the turn of the 21st century, the expanding domain of economics in the social sciences has been described as economic imperialism.