What is the accepted definition of economics?

I've read basically two versions, one that defines it as the study of scarcity and the other as the study of how to coordinate human desires given scarcity and the social and political context, which one is more accurate?

It's a very basic question but I feel that with this kind of subject, the "small" definitions are always imprecise and for me, that's confusing when it gets more complicated. It's just a matter of choosing the right words, but I don't know

  • $\begingroup$ In High School, our textbook was called "Economics - Meeting People's Needs", but maybe we don't worry about that anymore. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 17 at 3:31

2 Answers 2


Technically any scholar can make their own definition, and hence sometimes textbooks try to reinvent a wheel and come up with new definitions which might be confusing.

The most widely accepted definition is probably the definition given by Lionel Robbins who defined economics as;

the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.

Note the definitions you mention actually refer back to the Robbins definition, and most likely are inspired by it.

The sentence above could be abbreviated as "study of scarcity", its basically just more succinct version of the above, the second definition you mention is pretty much just a paraphrasing of the Robbins definition with some additional conditions.


The most accurate definition (in my opinion) is of Jacob Viner:

Economics in what Economists do.

The following JEP article of Backhouse and Medema (2009) might also be informative link


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