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Ellie Tragakes

This lively coursebook offers comprehensive coverage of the

Economics syllabus for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
at both Standard and Higher Levels. The new edition has been
extensively revised to meet the requirements of the new syllabus
(effective September 2011).
Written by a highly experienced author and developed in association
with teachers, Economics for the IB Diploma provides an international
perspective and in-depth coverage of all four sections of the syllabus.
Designed for class use and independent study, it presupposes no
background knowledge and offers clear explanations of economic
concepts using accessible language.
The coursebook contains:
integrated cross-references to the syllabus learning outcomes
questions throughout each chapter to provoke discussion and test
students understanding
Real World Focus international case studies to bring Economic
theories to life
links to Theory of Knowledge concepts alongside appropriate topics
to stimulate thought and discussion
a glossary of all syllabus terms and concepts.

Dr Ellie Tragakes teaches in

the Economics department
at DEREE The American
College of Greece. She
has worked in a variety of
organisations including the
World Bank and World Health
Organization, and has a
large number of professional
publications. She served as
IB Economics Chief Examiner
in 20072009 and was a
member of the curriculum
review committee in 2007
2010. She is currently a
Senior IB Examiner.

The Student CD-ROM provides high-quality supplementary

materials including:
a chapter on quantitative techniques to provide students with the
necessary mathematical background for the new syllabus
extensive exam practice for Papers 1, 2 and 3 to help students
develop their examination skills
key diagrams to aid revision.

for the IB Diploma

Second edition

Ellie Tragakes

Teacher support material and information on our full

IB range are available at:
Other titles available:
Business and Management
for the IB Diploma


Ellie Tragakes

9780521186407 Tragakes: Economics for the IB Diploma Cover C M Y K

Second edition

Economics for the IB Diploma

for the IB Diploma


ISBN 978-0-521-14730-9

for the IB Diploma
Second edition
Ellie Tragakes

Cambridge University Presss mission is to advance learning,

knowledge and research worldwide.
Our IB Diploma resources aim to:
encourage learners to explore concepts, ideas and topics
that have local and global significance
help students develop a positive attitude to learning in
preparation for higher education
assist students in approaching complex questions, applying
critical-thinking skills and forming reasoned answers.


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Information on this title:
Cambridge University Press 2009, 2012
This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and
to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no
reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission
of Cambridge University Press.
First published 2009
Second edition 2012
3rd printing 2012
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ISBN 978-0-521-18640-7 Paperback with CD-ROM for Windows and Mac
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this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is,
or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
This material has been developed independently by the publisher
and the content is in no way connected with nor endorsed by the
International Baccalaureate Organization.

Introduction to the student and teacher
Terms and conditions of use for the CD-ROM


Chapter 1 The foundations of economics
1.1 Scarcity, choice and opportunity cost
1.2 Economics as a social science
1.3 Central themes


Section 1 Microeconomics
Chapter 2 Competitive markets: demand and supply

Introduction to competitive markets

Market equilibrium: demand and supply
Linear demand and supply functions and market equilibrium (higher level topic)
The role of the price mechanism and market efficiency


Chapter 3 Elasticities

Price elasticity of demand (PED)

Cross-price elasticity of demand (XED)
Income elasticity of demand (YED)
Price elasticity of supply (PES)


Chapter 4 Government intervention


Indirect taxes
Indirect (excise) taxes: market outcomes, social welfare and tax incidence (higher level topic)
Subsidies: market outcomes and social welfare (higher level topic)
Price controls


Chapter 5 Market failure


The meaning of market failure: allocative inefficiency

Externalities: diverging private and social benefits and costs
Negative externalities of production and consumption
Positive externalities of production and consumption
Lack of public goods
Common access resources and the threat to sustainability
Asymmetric information (higher level topic)
Abuse of monopoly power (higher level topic)
The problem of government failure (policy failure) (supplementary material)




Chapter 6 The theory of the firm I: Production, costs, revenues and profit
(Higher level topic)

Production in the short run: the law of diminishing returns

Introduction to costs of production: economic costs
Costs of production in the short run
Production and costs in the long run
Goals of firms


Chapter 7 The theory of the firm II: Market structures (Higher level topic)

Perfect competition
Monopolistic competition
Price discrimination


Section 2 Macroeconomics
Chapter 8 The level of overall economic activity

Economic activity
Measures of economic activity
Calculations of GDP (higher level topic)
The business cycle


Chapter 9 Aggregate demand and aggregate supply


Aggregate demand (AD) and the aggregate demand curve

Short-run aggregate supply and short-run equilibrium in the AD -AS model
Long-run aggregate supply and long-run equilibrium in the monetarist/new classical model
Aggregate supply and equilibrium in the Keynesian model
Shifting aggregate supply curves over the long term
Illustrating the monetarist/new classical and Keynesian models
The Keynesian multiplier (higher level topic)
Understanding aggregate demand and the multiplier in terms of the Keynesian cross
model (supplementary material, recommended for higher level)


Chapter 10 Macroeconomic objectives I: Low unemployment, low and stable rate

of inflation
10.1 Low unemployment
10.2 Low and stable rate of inflation
10.3 Topics on inflation (higher level topics)


Chapter 11 Macroeconomic objectives II: Economic growth and equity in the

distribution of income
11.1 Economic growth
11.2 Equity in the distribution of income


Chapter 12 Demand-side and supply-side policies


Introduction to demand-side policies

Fiscal policy
Monetary policy
Supply-side policies
Evaluating government policies to deal with unemployment and inflation

iv Contents


Section 3 International economics

Chapter 13 International trade

The benefits of trade

Free trade: absolute and comparative advantage (higher level topic)
The World Trade Organization (WTO)
Restrictions on free trade: trade protection
Arguments for and against trade protection


Chapter 14 Exchange rates and the balance of payments


Freely floating exchange rates

Government intervention
Calculations using exchange rates (higher level topic)
The balance of payments
The balance of payments and exchange rates
Topics on exchange rates and the balance of payments (higher level topics)


Chapter 15 Economic integration and the terms of trade

15.1 Economic integration
15.2 Terms of trade (higher level topic)


Section 4 Development economics

Chapter 16 Understanding economic development
16.1 Economic growth and economic development
16.2 Measuring economic development


Chapter 17 Topics in economic development

17.1 The role of domestic factors
17.2 The role of international trade barriers
17.3 Trade strategies for economic growth and development


Chapter 18 Foreign sources of finance and foreign debt


The meaning of foreign sources of finance

Foreign direct investment and multinational corporations (MNCs)
Foreign aid
Multilateral development assistance
The role of international debt


Chapter 19 Consequences of economic growth and the balance between markets and
19.1 Consequences of economic growth
19.2 Balance between markets and intervention





In memory of my beloved parents

H and
who gave me the freedom to expand my horizons

Introduction to the student

and teacher
Economics is a relatively new social science that touches upon many aspects of our lives and has important effects
on the well-being of all people around the world. Studying it as a social science discipline allows us to organise the
way we think about the numerous economic problems faced by our own and other societies, and helps us make
informed and responsible choices.
The second edition of Economics for the IB Diploma, written for students of Economics in the International
Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, has been thoroughly revised to fully match the IB economics guide
published in November 2010 (for first exams in 2013). It covers the entire IB Economics syllabus at both standard
and higher levels. Each of the four parts of the book corresponds to one of the four sections of the syllabus,
and the chapters within each part correspond closely to the syllabus subsections. The book supposes no prior
knowledge of economics from the student. Every section and subsection begins with a simple presentation that
gradually progresses to a more advanced level, enabling the student to gradually master complex topics. The book
fully covers the needs of the IB economics student, in terms of both breadth and depth of coverage of all items in
the syllabus.

Note to the reader about the book

New features of the book
The new edition of the book contains the following new features:
Learning outcomes An important innovative feature of the new edition is that it contains each and every
learning outcome of the IB economics guide. Each learning outcome appears as a bullet point enclosed in a
light green box at the beginning of the section (or sub-section) of the book where it is discussed and explained.
This means that you need not ever refer to the IB economics guide to ensure that you have covered every
learning outcome. It also means that as you read the book you can focus your attention on the material that is
indicated by the learning outcomes, this way ensuring that you have understood all the essential points.
Theory of knowledge connections Another new element of the new edition is its inclusion of twenty Theory
of knowledge features. Each one of these is closely connected with material covered in the text, and
challenges you to think critically about economics as a social science, the nature of economic knowledge,
difficulties involved in acquiring economic knowledge, why economists disagree, and the roles of values,
language, ethics, beliefs and ideology in the development of economic knowledge. Each one of these
features ends with questions intended to stimulate further thinking and discussions on these important
theory of knowledge issues.
Case studies The new edition also includes numerous Real world focus features that discuss some event or
aspect of the real world discussed in the text. These are followed by questions intended to focus your attention
on important theoretical ideas and their relevance to real world situations.

Continuity with the first edition

The new edition also provides continuity with the first edition through inclusion of the following features:
Test your understanding questions Each chapter contains a series of Test your understanding questions, which
appear at the end of every topic. These questions have been designed very specifically on the basis of the

Introduction to the student and teacher


preceding sections learning outcomes, and can therefore help you review the sections main points. They can
be used as the basis for class discussions or homework assignments. You can also use them for studying and
reviewing on your own. If you can answer these questions, it means you have understood the important points
of the section.
Standard level and higher level material The subdivision of the books content into two levels is clearly
demarcated. A vertical bar labelled HL runs down the margin of all higher level material, allowing you to
easily distinguish higher level from standard level material.
Key points Material that is especially important, such as important concepts, laws, definitions and
conclusions, is highlighted in a box shaded light green. This helps you focus on key points of the chapter,
and can facilitate reviewing.
Use of bullet points There is extensive use of bullet points where there are lists of items relating to a
particular topic. These will help you keep the material well organised in your mind, and can also help you
Syllabus terms and glossary All syllabus terms are highlighted in green bold font at their first appearance
in the book so that you can immediately recognise them. (You should note that when a syllabus term
reappears in a later section of the book, it is not highlighted in green bold.) At the end of the book, there is
a glossary that defines all the syllabus terms. In the glossary, terms that are part of higher level material are
demarcated using the vertical HL bar.
Supplementary material The book includes some material that is not part of the IB Economics syllabus and that
you will not be examined on. Such material is accompanied by the heading supplementary material so that
you can readily recognise it. It is included in the book in order to provide a more rounded view of some topics
that are not bounded by the rigid IB syllabus.

Note to the reader about the CD-ROM

The CD-ROM of the second edition has been completely revamped and contains the following:
Chapter on Quantitative techniques This is a detailed chapter containing all the quantitative techniques you
need to understand in order to excel in your IB economics course. It enables you to review everything from
percentages and percentage changes to understanding the essentials of relationships between variables, and
interpreting and constructing diagrams and graphs. For students taking the course at higher level, it explains
everything you need to know about linear demand and supply functions, solving linear equations, and
performing all necessary calculations and constructing graphs. You will also find a detailed section on how
to use a graphic display calculator (GDC) as an aid to graphing. There are numerous cross-references between
the book and this CD-ROM chapter; as you read the textbook, you will be referred to the relevant sections of
this chapter where you can easily find important background material. This CD-ROM chapter follows the style
of the book, and has numerous Test your understanding questions containing exercises of the type that will
appear in your exams.
Exam questions This is an extensive section of the CD-ROM consisting of four parts. The first part provides
background information on exams, including an explanation of assessment objectives (AOs), learning
outcomes and command terms as they relate to the learning outcomes and exam questions. Each of the
next three parts deals with exam papers 1, 2 and 3. You will find a very large number of exam questions for
each of these papers. The questions cover each and every learning outcome in the entire economics guide,
with the appropriate command terms at the appropriate level of assessment objectives.
Important diagrams This section of the CD-ROM, entitled Important diagrams to remember reproduces all
the important diagrams of the textbook, organised according to chapter and topic within each chapter.
This section enables you to do a quick review of diagrams that you should ensure you understand and can
draw yourself in connection with possible questions that are likely to appear on exams.

viii Introduction to the student and teacher

Chapter on the Keynesian cross model This chapter is an extension of Chapter 9 and is not part of required
material (it is supplementary material). It is concerned with the famous model attributed to John
Maynard Keynes, and is recommended for students who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding
of macroeconomics.
List of countries according to the World Banks classification system The World Bank classifies countries
around the world according to their income levels, and this serves as a useful (though very rough and
approximate) guide to classifying countries as economically more or less developed.
List of Nobel Prize winners For the interested student, there is also a list of all Nobel Prize winners in Economics
and a brief description of their work, beginning in 1969 when this prize was first awarded.

Note to the reader about the website

Additional materials will be provided on the IB teacher support website at These
Markschemes for many of the exam questions in papers 1, 2 and 3 in the CD-ROM.
Answers to all the questions in the Test your understanding features of the chapter on Quantitative
techniques in the CD-ROM.
Answers to the quantitative questions in the Test your understanding features of the textbook.

I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to DEREE the American College of Greece for its very
kind and generous support while I was writing the second edition of this book.
I am deeply grateful to Henry Tiller, former IB economics Chief Examiner, for his most detailed and insightful
review of the second edition of the book, for his numerous creative suggestions for improvements that have
helped make this a better book, and for his continued and enthusiastic encouragement throughout the entire
writing of the second edition. There are two more people who have painstakingly read through the entire text and
to who I am deeply indebted for their valuable comments and suggestions: Emilia Drogaris, a highly dedicated
and committed IB economics teacher, and Andreas Markoulakis, a star student of economics at the American
College of Greece. I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the IB economics teachers and friends around
the world who have contributed their comments and suggestions for improvements, who have alerted me to
errors in the first edition, and who warmly supported me. They include Tibor Cernak, Simon Foley, Hana Abu
Hijleh, Kiran Asad Javed, Jane Kerr, Pat Lasonde, James Martin, Peter Rock, Sachin Sachdeva, Vijay Peter DSouza,
Charles Wu, Kar Lun and Constantine Ziogas. I would like to wholeheartedly thank the students who have kindly
taken the time to give me their comments and have pointed out errors. They include Duygu Alsancak, Asli Angin,
Gianna Argitakos, Anna Bella Inglessis, Sevde Kaldiro
glu, Michael Kardamakis, Ayse Kozlu, Ioannis Kremitsas, Elif
ngt, Naz zal, Ilayda zsan, Petros Rizopoulos, Peter Ng, Sing Man, Selin Selgr, Alexia Tragakes, Constantine
Tragakes, Alexios Tsokos, Alkaios Tsokos, Esra U
gur, Allen Wang and Luca Ivanovic and her classmates, Francesca
Berruti, William Butcher, Helen Krats, Julia Laenge, Karl Renault, and Timeon Pax-McDowell. My warm thanks
also go to Julia Tokatlidou, the reviewer of the first edition. Finally, I would like to thank K.A. Tsokos for his most
generous and patient help especially in emergencies when my computer was acting up.
Ellie Tragakes
June 2011

Introduction to the student and teacher


Terms and conditions of use for the CD-ROM

The CD-ROM at the back of this book is provided on the following terms and conditions:
The CD-ROM is made available for the use of current teachers and students within a purchasing institution,
or for private purchasers, only. A purchase of at least one copy of the book must be made in respect of each
teacher, student or private purchaser who uses the CD-ROM. The CD-ROM may be installed on individual
computers or networks for use as above.
Subject to the above, the material on the CD-ROM, in whole or in part, may not be passed in an electronic
form to another party, and may not be copied (except for making one copy of the CD-ROM solely for
backup or archival purposes), distributed or stored electronically. It may not be posted on a public website,
and may not be altered for any reason without the permission of Cambridge University Press.
Permission is explicitly granted for use of the materials on a data projector, interactive whiteboard or other
public display in the context of classroom teaching at a purchasing institution.
Once a teacher or student ceases to be a member of the purchasing institution all copies of the material
on the CD-ROM stored on his/her personal computer must be destroyed and the CD-ROM returned to the
purchasing institution.
All material contained within the CD-ROM is protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws.
You may not alter, remove or destroy any copyright notice or other material placed on or with this
The CD-ROM is supplied as-is with no express guarantee as to its suitability.

x Terms and conditions of use for the CD-ROM


Chapter 1

The foundations of
This chapter is an introduction to the study of economics. It is also an introduction to many topics that will be
explored in depth in later chapters.

1.1 Scarcity, choice and

opportunity cost
The fundamental problem of economics:
scarcity and choice
The problem of scarcity

Explain that scarcity exists because factors of production

are finite and wants are infinite.

The term economics is derived from the ancient Greek

expression okov v iv (oikon nemein), which originally
meant one who manages and administers all matters
relating to a household. Over time, this expression
evolved to mean one who is prudent in the use of
resources. By extension, economics has come to refer to
the careful management of societys scarce resources to
avoid waste. Lets examine this idea more carefully.
Human beings have very many needs and wants.
Some of these are satisfied by physical objects and
others by non-physical activities. All the physical
objects people need and want are called goods (food,
clothing, houses, books, computers, cars, televisions,
refrigerators, and so on); the non-physical activities are
called services (education, health care, entertainment,
travel, banking, insurance and many more).
The study of economics arises because peoples needs
and wants are unlimited, or infinite. Whereas some
individuals may be satisfied with the goods and services
they have or can buy, most would prefer to have more.
They would like to have more and better computers,
cars, educational services, transport services, housing,
recreation, travel, and so on; the list is endless.

Yet it is not possible for societies and the people

within them to produce or buy all the things they
want. Why is this so? It is because there are not
enough resources. Resources are the inputs used to
produce goods and services wanted by people, and for
this reason are also known as factors of production.
They include things like human labour, machines and
factories, and gifts of nature like agricultural land
and metals inside the earth. Factors of production do
not exist in unlimited abundance: they are scarce, or
limited and insufficient in relation to unlimited uses
that people have for them.
Scarcity is a very important concept in economics.
It arises whenever there is not enough of something in
relation to the need for it. For example, we could say
that food is scarce in poor countries, or we could say
that clean air is scarce in a polluted city. In economics,
scarcity is especially important in describing a
situation of insufficient factors of production, because
this in turn leads to insufficient goods and services.
Defining scarcity, we can therefore say that:
Scarcity is the situation in which available
resources, or factors of production, are finite,
whereas wants are infinite. There are not enough
resources to produce everything that human beings
need and want.

Why scarcity forces choices to be made

Explain that as a result of scarcity, choices have

to be made.

The conflict between unlimited wants and scarce

resources has an important consequence. Since

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics

people cannot have everything they want, they

must make choices. The classic example of a choice
forced on society by resource scarcity is that of guns
or butter, or more realistically the choice between
producing defence goods (guns, weapons, tanks)
or food: more defence goods mean less food, while
more food means fewer defence goods. Societies
must choose how much of each they want to have.
Note that if there were no resource scarcity, a choice
would not be necessary, since society could produce
as much of each as was desired. But resource scarcity
forces the society to make a choice between available
alternatives. Economics is therefore a study of
The conflict between unlimited needs and
wants, and scarce resources has a second important
consequence. Since resources are scarce, it is
important to avoid waste in how they are used. If
resources are not used effectively and are wasted,
they will end up producing less; or they may end
up producing goods and services that people do
not really want or need. Economics must try to find
how best to use scarce resources so that waste can
be avoided. Defining economics, we can therefore
say that:
Economics is the study of choices leading to the
best possible use of scarce resources in order to best
satisfy unlimited human needs and wants.
As you can see from this definition of economics,
economists study the world from a social perspective,
with the objective of determining what is in societys
best interests.

Test your understanding 1.1

1 Think of some of your most important needs
and wants, and then explain whether these are
satisfied by goods or by services.
2 Why is economics a study of choices?
3 Explain the relationship between scarcity
and the need to avoid waste in the use of
4 Explain why diamonds are far more expensive
than water, even though diamonds are a luxury
while water is a necessity without which we
cannot live.

2 Introduction

Three basic economic questions: resource

allocation and output/income distribution

Explain that the three basic economic questions that

must be answered by any economic system are: What to
produce?, How to produce? and For whom to produce?
Explain that economics studies the ways in which
resources are allocated to meet needs and wants.

Scarcity forces every economy in the world, regardless of

its form of organisation, to answer three basic questions:
What to produce. All economies must choose
what particular goods and services and what
quantities of these they wish to produce.
How to produce. All economies must make
choices on how to use their resources in order to
produce goods and services. Goods and services
can be produced by use of different combinations
of factors of production (for example, relatively
more human labour with fewer machines, or
relatively more machines with less labour), by using
different skill levels of labour, and by using different
For whom to produce. All economies must make
choices about how the goods and services produced
are to be distributed among the population. Should
everyone get an equal amount of these? Should
some people get more than others? Should some
goods and services (such as education and health
care services) be distributed more equally?
The first two of these questions, what to produce and
how to produce, are about resource allocation, while the
third, for whom to produce, is about the distribution of
output and income.
Resource allocation refers to assigning available
resources, or factors of production, to specific uses
chosen among many possible alternatives, and
involves answering the what to produce and how to
produce questions. For example, if a what to produce
choice involves choosing a certain amount of food
and a certain amount of weapons, this means a
decision is made to allocate some resources to the
production of food and some to the production of
weapons. At the same time, a choice must be made
about how to produce: which particular factors of
production and in what quantities (for example, how
much labour, how many machines, what types of
machines, etc.) should be assigned to produce food,
and which and how many to produce weapons.

If a decision is made to change the amounts of goods

produced, such as more food and fewer weapons, this
involves a reallocation of resources. Sometimes,
societies produce the wrong amounts of goods and
services relative to what is socially desirable. For
example, if too many weapons are being produced,
we say there is an overallocation of resources in
production of weapons. If too few socially desirable
goods or services are being produced, such as education
or health care, we say there is an underallocation of
resources to the production of these.
An important part of economics is the study of how
to allocate scarce resources, in other words how to
assign resources to answer the what to produce and
how to produce questions, in order to meet human
needs and wants in the best possible way.

The third basic economic question, for whom to produce,

involves the distribution of output and is concerned with
how much output different individuals or different
groups in the population receive. This question is also
concerned with the distribution of income among
individuals and groups in a population, since the amount
of output people can get depends on how much of it
they can buy, which in turn depends on the amount
of income they have. When the distribution of income
or output changes so that different social groups now
receive more, or less, income and output than previously,
this is referred to as redistribution of income.

Test your understanding 1.2

1 What are the three basic economic questions
that must be addressed by any economy?
2 Explain the relationship between the three
basic economic questions, and the allocation
of resources and the distribution of income or
3 Consider the following, and identify each one
as referring to output/income distribution
or redistribution; or to resource allocation,
reallocation, overallocation or underallocation
(note that there may be more than one answer).
(a) Evidence suggests that over the last two
decades in many countries around the
world the rich are getting richer and the
poor are getting poorer.
(b) In Brazil, the richest 10% of the population
receive 48% of total income.

(c) Whereas rich countries typically spend

812% of their income on providing health
care services to their populations, many poor
countries spend as little as 23% of income.
(d) Many developing countries devote a large
proportion of their government budget
funds for education to spending on
university level education, while large parts
of their population remain illiterate.
(e) If countries around the world spent less
on defence, they would be in a position
to expand provision of social services,
including health care and education.
(f) Pharmaceutical companies spend most
of their research funds on developing
medicines to treat diseases common in rich
countries, while ignoring the treatment of
diseases common in poor countries.

Resources as factors of production

We have seen that resources, or all inputs used to
produce goods and services, are also known as factors
of production.

The four factors of production

Economists group factors of production under four
broad categories:
Land includes all natural resources, including all
agricultural and non-agricultural land, as well as
everything that is under or above the land, such as
minerals, oil reserves, underground water, forests,
rivers and lakes. Natural resources are also called
gifts of nature.
Labour includes the physical and mental effort
that people contribute to the production of
goods and services. The efforts of a teacher, a
construction worker, an economist, a doctor,
a taxi driver or a plumber all contribute to
producing goods and services, and are all
examples of labour.
Capital, also known as physical capital, is a manmade factor of production (it is itself produced)
used to produce goods and services. Examples of
physical capital include machinery, tools, factories,
buildings, road systems, airports, harbours,
electricity generators and telephone supply lines.
Physical capital is also referred to as a capital good
or investment good.

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics

Entrepreneurship (management) is a special

human skill possessed by some people, involving
the ability to innovate by developing new ways of
doing things, to take business risks and to seek new
opportunities for opening and running a business.
Entrepreneurship organises the other three factors
of production and takes on the risks of success or
failure of a business.

Other meanings of the term capital

The term capital, in a most general sense, refers
to resources that can produce a future stream of
benefits. Thinking of capital along these lines, we can
understand why this term has a variety of different
uses, which although are seemingly unrelated, in fact
all stem from this basic meaning.
Physical capital, defined above, is one of the
four factors of production consisting of man-made
inputs that provide a stream of future benefits in
the form of the ability to produce greater quantities
of output: physical capital is used to produce more
goods and services in the future.
Human capital refers to the skills, abilities and
knowledge acquired by people, as well as good
levels of health, all of which make them more
productive. Human capital provides a stream of
future benefits because it increases the amount
of output that can be produced in the future by
people who embody skills, education and good
Natural capital, also known as environmental
capital, refers to an expanded meaning of the
factor of production land (defined above). It
includes everything that is included in land,
plus additional natural resources that occur
naturally in the environment such as the air,
biodiversity, soil quality, the ozone layer, and
the global climate. Natural capital provides a
stream of future benefits because it is necessary to
humankinds ability to live, survive and produce
in the future.
Financial capital refers to investments in
financial instruments, like stocks and bonds, or
the funds (money) that are used to buy financial
instruments like stocks and bonds. Financial capital
also provides a stream of future benefits, which take
the form of an income for the holders, or owners, of
the financial instruments.

4 Introduction

Test your understanding 1.3

1 (a) Why are resources also called factors
of production? (b) What are the factors of
2 How does physical capital differ from the other
three factors of production?
3 Why is entrepreneurship considered to be a
factor of production separate from labour?
4 (a) What are the various meanings of the term
capital? (b) What do they all have in common?

Scarcity, choice and opportunity cost: the

economic perspective

Explain that when an economic choice is made, an

alternative is always foregone.

Opportunity cost
Opportunity cost is defined as the value of the next
best alternative that must be given up or sacrificed in
order to obtain something else.
When a consumer chooses to use her $100 to buy
a pair of shoes, she is also choosing not to use this
money to buy books, or CDs, or anything else; if CDs
are her favourite alternative to shoes, the CDs she
sacrificed (did not buy) are the opportunity cost of the
shoes. When a business chooses to use its resources to
produce hamburgers, it is also choosing not to produce
hotdogs or pizzas, or anything else; if hotdogs are
the preferred alternative, the hotdogs sacrificed (not
produced) are the opportunity cost of the hamburgers.
Note that if the consumer had endless amounts of
money, she could buy everything she wanted and the
shoes would have no opportunity cost. Similarly, if
the business had endless resources, it could produce
hotdogs, pizzas and a lot of other things in addition
to hamburgers, and the hamburgers would have
no opportunity cost. If resources were limitless, no
sacrifices would be necessary, and the opportunity cost
of producing anything would be zero.

The concept of opportunity cost, or the value of

the next best alternative that must be sacrificed to
obtain something else, is central to the economic
perspective of the world, and results from scarcity
that forces choices to be made.

Test your understanding 1.4


2 Define opportunity cost.


3 Think of three choices you have made today,

and describe the opportunity cost of each one.

The production possibilities model






Explain that a production possibilities curve (production

possibilities frontier) model may be used to show the
concepts of scarcity, choice, opportunity cost and a
situation of unemployed resources and inefficiency.

The production possibilities model is a simple model

of the economy illustrating some important concepts.

Introducing the production

possibilities curve
Consider a simple hypothetical economy producing
only two goods: microwave ovens and computers.
This economy has a fixed (unchanging) quantity and
quality of resources (factors of production) and a fixed
technology (the method of production is unchanging).
Table 1.1 shows the combinations of the two goods
this economy can produce. Figure 1.1 plots the data of
Table 1.1: the quantity of microwave ovens is plotted
on the vertical axis, and the quantity of computers on
the horizontal axis.
If all the economys resources are used to produce
microwave ovens, the economy will produce
40 microwave ovens and 0 computers, shown by point
A. If all resources are used to produce computers, the
economy will produce 33 computers and 0 microwave
ovens; this is point E. All the points on the curve joining
A and E represent other production possibilities where
some of the resources are used to produce microwave
ovens and the rest to produce computers. For example,
at point B there would be production of 35 microwave
ovens and 17 computers; at point C, 26 microwave
ovens and 25 computers, and so on. The line joining

Microwave ovens










Table 1.1 Combinations of microwave ovens and computers

microwave ovens

1 Explain the relationship between scarcity and






20 25 30



Figure 1.1 Production possibilities curve

points A and E is known as the production possibilities
curve (PPC) or production possibilities frontier (PPF ).
In order for the economy to produce the greatest
possible output, in other words somewhere on the
PPC, two conditions must be met:
All resources must be fully employed. This
means that all resources are being fully used. If there
were unemployment of some resources, in which case
they would be sitting unused, the economy would
not be producing the maximum it can produce.
All resources must be used efficiently.
Specifically, there must be productive efficiency.
The term efficiency in a general sense means
that resources are being used in the best possible
way to avoid waste. (If they are not used in the
best possible way, we say there is inefficiency.)
Productive efficiency means that output is produced
by use of the fewest possible resources; alternatively,
we can say that output is produced at the lowest
possible cost. If output were not produced using the
fewest possible resources, the economy would be
wasting some resources.
The production possibilities curve (or frontier)
represents all combinations of the maximum amounts
of two goods that can be produced by an economy,
given its resources and technology, when there is full
employment of resources and productive efficiency.
All points on the curve known as production
What would happen if either of the two conditions
(full employment and productive efficiency) is not
met? Very simply, the economy will not produce at a

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics

point on the PPC; it will be somewhere inside the PPC,

such as at point F. At F, the economy is producing only
15 microwave ovens and 12 computers, indicating
that there is either unemployment of resources, or
productive inefficiency, or both. If this economy could
use its resources fully and efficiently, it could, for
example, move to point C and produce 26 microwave
ovens and 25 computers.
However, in the real world no economy is ever
likely to produce on its PPC.
An economys actual output, or the quantity of
output actually produced, is always at a point inside
the PPC, because in the real world all economies have
some unemployment of resources and some productive
inefficiency. The greater the unemployment or the
productive inefficiency, the further away is the point of
production from the PPC.

The production possibilities curve and

scarcity, choice and opportunity cost
The production possibilities model is very useful
for illustrating the concepts of scarcity, choice and
opportunity cost:
The condition of scarcity does not allow the
economy to produce outside its PPC. With
its fixed quantity and quality of resources and
technology, the economy cannot move to any point
outside the PPC, such as G, because it does not have
enough resources (there is resource scarcity).

The condition of scarcity means that choices

involve opportunity costs. If the economy were
at any point on the curve, it would be impossible to
increase the quantity produced of one good without
decreasing the quantity produced of the other good.
In other words, when an economy increases its
production of one good, there must necessarily be
a sacrifice of some quantity of the other good; this
sacrifice is the opportunity cost.
Lets consider the last point more carefully. Say the
economy is at point C, producing 26 microwave ovens
and 25 computers. Suppose now that consumers would
like to have more computers. It is impossible to produce
more computers without sacrificing production of some
microwave ovens. For example, a choice to produce 31
computers (a move from C to D) involves a decrease
in microwave oven production from 26 to 15 units,
or a sacrifice of 11 microwave ovens. The sacrifice of
11 microwave ovens is the opportunity cost of 6 extra
computers (increasing the number of computers from
25 to 31). Note that opportunity cost arises when the
economy is on the PPC (or more realistically, somewhere
close to the PPC). If the economy is at a point inside the
curve, it can increase production of both goods with no
sacrifice, hence no opportunity cost, simply by making
better use of its resources: reducing unemployment or
increasing productive efficiency.

The shape of the production

possibilities curve

(a) Increasing opportunity costs

(b) Constant opportunity costs


In Figure 1.2(a) the PPCs shape is similar to that of

Figure 1.1, while in Figure 1.2(b) it is a straight line.
When the PPC bends outward and to the right, as in
Figure 1.2(a), opportunity costs change as the economy
moves from one point on the PPC to another. In part (a),

microwave ovens

The condition of scarcity forces the economy

to make a choice about what particular
combination of goods it wishes to produce.
Assuming it could achieve full employment and
productive efficiency, it must decide at which
particular point on the PPC it wishes to produce.

(In the real world, the choice would involve a point

inside the PPC.)

Figure 1.2 Production possibilities curve with increasing and constant opportunity costs



for each additional unit of computers that is produced,

the opportunity cost, consisting of microwave ovens
sacrificed, gets larger and larger as computer production
increases. This happens because of specialisation of
factors of production, which makes them not equally
suitable for the production of different goods and
services. As production switches from microwave
ovens to more computers, it is necessary to give up
increasingly more microwave ovens for each extra unit
of computers produced, because factors of production
suited to microwave oven production will be less suited
to computer production. By contrast, when the PPC is a
straight line (as in Figure 1.2(b)), opportunity costs are
constant (do not change) as the economy moves from
one point of the PPC to another. Constant opportunity
costs arise when the factors of production are equally
well suited to the production of both goods, such as
in the case of basketballs and volleyballs, which are
very similar to each other, therefore needing similarly
specialised factors of production to produce them. As
we can see in Figure 1.2(b), for each additional unit of
volleyballs produced, the opportunity cost, or sacrifice
of basketballs, does not change.

Test your understanding 1.5

1 Consider the production possibilities data
in Table 1.1 and Figure 1.1. If the economy
is initially at point A and moves to point B,
computer production will increase by 17 units.
(a) What is the opportunity cost of the increase
in computer production? (b) If the economy
moves from D to C, what will be the gain and
what will be its opportunity cost? (c) If it moves
from point C to B, what will be the gain and
what will be its opportunity cost?
2 Use the concept of opportunity cost to explain
why the following two statements have the
same meaning: (a) productive efficiency
means producing by use of the fewest possible
resources, and (b) productive efficiency means
producing at the lowest possible cost.
3 (a) Distinguish between output actually
produced and output on the PPC. (b) Why is
an economys actual output most likely to be
located somewhere inside its PPC?
4 Say an economy is initially at point F, producing
15 microwave ovens and 12 computers (Figure 1.1).
What would be the opportunity cost of moving
to a point on the production possibilities curve,
such as point C, where it would be producing
26 microwave ovens and 25 computers?

1.2 Economics as a social science

The nature and method of economics
Economics as a social science

Explain that economics is a social science.

The social sciences are academic disciplines that

study human society and social relationships. They
are concerned with discovering general principles
describing how societies function and are organised.
The social sciences include anthropology, economics,
political science, psychology, sociology and others.
Economics is a social science because it deals with
human society and behaviour, and particularly those
aspects concerned with how people organise their
activities and how they behave to satisfy their needs
and wants. It is a social science because its approach
to studying human society is based on the social
scientific method.

The social scientific method

Outline the social scientific method.

As a social science, economics tries to explain in a

systematic way why economic events happen the way
they do, and attempts to predict economic events
likely to occur in the future. To accomplish all this,
economists use the social scientific method. This
is the same as the scientific method, which you may
already be familiar with through your studies of one
or more of the natural sciences (for example, biology,
chemistry, and physics). It is a method of investigation
used in all the social and natural sciences, allowing us
to acquire knowledge of the world around us.
The social scientific (or scientific) method consists
of the following steps:
Step 1: Make observations of the world
around us, and select an economic question
we want to answer. Lets consider an example
from economics. We observe that people living in
the city of Olemoo buy different amounts of oranges
per week at different times in the year. We want to
answer the question: why are more oranges bought
in some weeks and fewer in others?
Step 2: Identify variables we think are
important to answer the question. A variable
is any measure that can take on different values,
such as temperature, or weight, or distance. In our
example the variables we choose to study are the

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics

quantity of oranges that residents of Olemoo buy

each week, and the price of oranges.
Step 3: Make a hypothesis about how
the variables are related to each other. A
hypothesis is an educated guess, usually indicating
a cause-and-effect relationship about an event.
Hypotheses are often stated as: if . . ., then . . .. Our
hypothesis is the following: if the price of oranges
increases, then the quantity of oranges Olemooans
want to buy each week will fall. Notice that this
hypothesis indicates a cause-and-effect relationship,
where price is the cause and the quantity of
oranges is the effect. The hypothesis also involves
a prediction, because it claims that changes in the
price of oranges will lead to a particular change in
the quantity of oranges Olemooans buy.
Step 4: Make assumptions. An assumption is a
statement we suppose to be true for the purposes
of building our hypothesis. In our example we are
making two important assumptions. (a) We assume
that the price of oranges is the only variable that
influences the quantity of oranges Olemooans
want to buy, while all other variables that could
have influenced their buying choices do not play
a role. (b) We assume that the residents of Olemoo

spend their money on oranges (and other things

they want) so that they will get the greatest possible
satisfaction from their purchases. We will examine
both these assumptions later in this section.
Step 5: Test the hypothesis to see if its
predictions fit with what actually happens
in the real world. To do this, we compare the
predictions of the hypothesis with real-world events,
based on real-world observations. Here, the methods
of economics differ from those of the natural
sciences. Whereas in the natural sciences it is often
(though not always) possible to perform experiments
to test hypotheses, in economics the possibilities for
experiments are very limited. Economists therefore
rely on a branch of statistics called econometrics
to test hypotheses. This involves collecting data
on the variables in the hypothesis, and examining
whether the data fit the relationships stated in the
hypothesis. In our example, we must collect data
on the quantity of oranges bought by Olemoos
residents during different weeks throughout the year,
and compare these quantities with different orange
prices at different times in the year. (Econometrics is
usually studied at university level, and is not part of
IB requirements.)

Theory of knowledge

More on testing hypotheses and the scientific method

We have seen how hypotheses are tested using the
social scientific method. If the data fit the predictions
of a hypothesis, the hypothesis is accepted. However,
this does not make the hypothesis necessarily true or
correct. The only knowledge we have gained is that
according to the data used, the hypothesis is not false.
There is always a possibility that as testing methods are
improved and as new and possibly more accurate data are
used, a hypothesis that earlier had been accepted now is
rejected as false. Therefore, no matter how many times a
hypothesis is tested, we can never be sure that it is true.
But by the same logic, we can never be sure that
a hypothesis that is rejected is necessarily false. It is
possible that our hypothesis testing, maybe because of
poor data or poor testing methods, incorrectly rejected a
hypothesis. Testing of the same hypothesis with different
methods or data could show that the hypothesis had
been wrongly rejected.
If our results from hypothesis testing are subject to so
many uncertainties, how can economic knowledge about
the world develop and progress? Economists and other

8 Introduction

social and natural scientists work with hypotheses that

have been tested and not falsified (not rejected). While
the possibility exists that the hypotheses may be false,
they use these hypotheses on the assumption that they
are not false. As more and more testing is done, and as
unfalsified hypotheses accumulate, it becomes more and
more likely that they are not false (though we can never
be sure). This way, it is possible to accumulate knowledge
about the world, on the understanding, however, that this
knowledge is tentative and provisional; in other words, it
can never be proven to be correct or true.

Thinking points
Is it possible to ever arrive at the truth of a statement
about the real world based on empirical testing?
Even assuming that testing methods could be
perfected and data vastly improved, can there ever be
complete certainty about our knowledge of the social
(and natural) worlds?

Step 6: Compare the predictions of the

hypothesis with real-world outcomes.
If the data do not fit the predictions of the
hypothesis, the hypothesis is rejected, and the
search for a new hypothesis could begin. In our
example, this would happen if we discovered that
as the price of oranges increases, the quantity
of oranges Olemooans want to buy each week
also increases. Clearly, this would go against
our hypothesis, and we would have to reject
the hypothesis as invalid. If, on the other hand,
the data fit the predictions, the hypothesis is
accepted. In our example, this would occur if our
data show that as the price of oranges increases,
Olemoos residents buy fewer oranges. We can
therefore conclude that according to the evidence,
our hypothesis is a valid one.

Economists as model builders

Explain the process of model building in economics.

In economics, as in other social (and natural)

sciences, our efforts to gain knowledge about the
world involve the formulation of hypotheses,
theories, laws and models. The relationships between
these ideas are explored in the Theory of knowledge
feature on page 10. Here we focus on the role of
Everyone is familiar with the idea of a model. As
children, many of us played with paper aeroplanes,
which are models of real aeroplanes. In chemistry
at school, we studied molecules and atoms, which
are models of what matter is made of. Models are
a simplified representation of something in the
real world, and are used a lot by scientists and
social scientists in their efforts to understand or
explain real-world situations. Models represent
only the important aspects of the real world being
investigated, ignoring unnecessary details, thereby
allowing scientists and social scientists to focus on
important relationships.
Whereas sciences like biology, chemistry
and physics offer the possibility to construct
three-dimensional models (as with molecules
and atoms), this cannot be done in the social
sciences, because these are concerned with human
society and social relationships. In economics,
models are often illustrated by use of diagrams
showing the relationships between important
variables. In more advanced economics, models

are illustrated by use of mathematical equations.

(Note that both diagrams and mathematical
equations are used to represent models in natural
sciences, such as physics, as well.) To construct a
model, economists select particular variables and
make assumptions about how these are interrelated.
Different models represent different aspects of
the economic world. Some models may be better
than others in their ability to explain economic
Models are often closely related to theories, as
well as to laws. A theory tries to explain why certain
events happen and to make predictions; a law is a
concise statement of an event that is supposed to
have universal validity. Models are often built on
the basis of well-established theories or laws, in
which case they may illustrate, through diagrams or
mathematical equations, the important features of
the theory or law. When this happens, economists
use the terms model and theory interchangeably,
because in effect they refer to one and the same
thing. For example, in Chapter 7, we will use models
to illustrate the ideas contained in the theory
of firm behaviour. Later, in Chapter 9, different
models of the macroeconomy will be used to
illustrate alternative theories of income and output
However, models are not always representations
of theories. In some cases, economists use models
to isolate important aspects of the real world and
show connections between variables but without any
explanations as to why the variables are connected
in some particular way. In such cases, models are
purely descriptive; in other words, they describe a
situation, without explaining anything about it. For
example, the production possibilities model, which
we studied on page 5, is a simple model that is very
important because of its ability to describe scarcity,
choice and opportunity cost. The model describes the
basic problem of economics, which is that societies
are forced to make choices that involve sacrifices
because of the condition of scarcity. There is no theory
involved here.
Descriptive models that are not based on a theory
are in no way less important than models that
illustrate a theory. Both kinds of model are very
effective as tools used by economists to highlight and
understand important relationships and phenomena
in the economics world. In our study of economics, we
will encounter a variety of economic models and will
make extensive use of diagrams.

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics

Theory of knowledge

Hypotheses, theories, laws and models

We have seen that a hypothesis is an educated guess
about a cause-and-effect relationship in a single event.
A theory is a more general explanation of a set of
interrelated events, usually (though not always) based on
several hypotheses that have been tested successfully
(in other words, they have not been rejected, based
on evidence; see the Theory of knowledge feature on
page 8). A theory is a generalisation about the real world
that attempts to organise complex and interrelated
events and present them in a systematic and coherent
way to explain why these events happen. Based on their
ability to systematically explain events, theories attempt
to make predictions.
A law, on the other hand, is a statement that
describes an event in a concise way, and is supposed to
have universal validity; in other words, to be valid at all
times and in all places. Laws are based on theories and
are known to be valid in the sense that they have been
successfully tested very many times. They are often
used in practical applications and in the development of
further theories because of their great predictive powers.
However, laws are much simpler than theories, and do
not try to explain events the way theories do.
Referring to the example of oranges (page 7), the
relationship between the price of oranges and the
quantity of oranges residents of Olemoo buy at each
price was a hypothesis. This kind of hypothesis has been
successfully tested a great many times for many different
goods, and the data support the presence in the real
world of such a relationship. However, this relationship
is not a theory, because it only shows how two variables
relate to each other, and does not explain anything about
why buyers behave the way they do when they make
decisions to buy something. To explain this relationship
in a general way, economists have developed marginal

utility theory and indifference curve analysis based on

a more complicated analysis involving more variables,
assumptions and interrelationships. These theories try
to answer the question why people behave in ways
that make the observed relationship between price and
quantity a valid one.
Yet, the simple relationship between the quantity of
a good that people want to buy and its price, while not
a theory, has the status of one of the most important
laws of economics, called the law of demand. This law
is a statement describing an event in a simple way. It
has great predictive powers and is used as a building
block for very many complex theories. We will study
the law of demand in detail in Chapter 2 and we will
use it repeatedly throughout this book in numerous
applications, and as a building block for many theories.
In your study of economics, you will encounter many
theories and some laws. Your study of both theories and
laws will make great use of economic models. Models,
as explained in the text, are sometimes used to illustrate
theories (or laws) and sometimes to describe the
connections between variables.

Thinking points
The relationships between hypotheses, theories, laws and
models described here apply generally to all the sciences
and social sciences based on the scientific method. Yet
they may differ between disciplines in the ways they are
used and interpreted. As you study economics, you may
want to think about the following.
How are theories and laws used in economics as
compared with other disciplines? Do they play the
same role? Are they derived in the same ways? Do
they have the same meaning?

Two assumptions in economic model-building

Test your understanding 1.6

Ceteris paribus

1 Explain the social scientific method. What steps

does it involve?

2 Why is it important to compare the predictions

of a hypothesis with real-world outcomes?
3 How do models help economists in their work
as social scientists?

10 Introduction

Explain that economists must use the ceteris paribus

assumption when developing economic models.

When we try to understand the relationship between

two or more variables in the context of a hypothesis,
or economic theory or model, we must assume that
everything else, other than the variables we are
studying, does not change. We do this by use of the
ceteris paribus assumption:

Ceteris paribus is a Latin expression that means

other things equal. Another way of saying this is
that all other things are assumed to be constant or
Consider the simple relationship discussed earlier, in Step
3 of the scientific method. Our hypothesis stated that
the quantity of oranges that will be bought is determined
by their price. Surely, however, price cannot be the only
variable that influences how many oranges Olemooans
want to buy. What if the population of Olemoo
increases? What if the incomes of Olemooans increase?
And what if an advertising campaign proclaiming the
health benefits of eating oranges influences the tastes
of Olemooans? As a result of any or all of these factors,
Olemooans will want to buy more oranges.
This complicates our analysis, because if all these
variables change at the same time, we have no way of
knowing what effect each one of them individually
has on the quantity people want to buy. We want
to be able to isolate the effects of each one of these
variables; to test our hypothesis we specifically wanted
to study the effects of the price of oranges alone.
This means we have to make an assumption that all
other things that could affect the relationship we
are studying must be constant, or unchanging. More
formally, we would say that we are examining the
effect of orange prices on quantity of oranges people
want to buy, ceteris paribus. This means simply that
we are studying the relationship between prices and
quantity on the assumption that nothing else happens
that can influence this relationship. By eliminating all
other possible interferences, we isolate the impact of
price on quantity, so we can study it alone. (Note that
this was the first assumption we made in Step 4 of our
discussion of the scientific method above.)
In the real world all variables are likely to be
changing at the same time. The ceteris paribus
assumption does not say anything about what
happens in the real world. It is simply a tool used
by economists to construct hypotheses, models and
theories, thus allowing us to isolate and study the
effects of one variable at a time. We will be making
extensive use of the ceteris paribus assumption in
our study of economics. (For more information on
the ceteris paribus assumption, see Quantitative
techniques chapter on the CD-ROM, page 11).

Rational economic decision-making

Examine the assumption of rational economic


Economic theories and models are based on

another important assumption, that of rational

self-interest, or rational economic decisionmaking. This means that individuals are assumed to
act in their best self-interest, trying to maximise (make
as large as possible) the satisfaction they expect to
receive from their economic decisions. It is assumed
that consumers spend their money on purchases
to maximise the satisfaction they get from buying
different goods and services. (You may recall that this
was the second assumption we made in Step 4 of the
scientific method.) Similarly, it is assumed that firms
(or producers) try to maximise the profits they make
from their businesses; workers try to secure the highest
possible wage when they get a job; investors in the
stock market try to get the highest possible returns on
their investments, and so on.
Why do we assume in economics that people
act in their best self-interest? As we will discover in
Chapter 2, in a market economy, the self-interested
behaviour of countless economic decision-makers
is also likely to be in societys best interests. This
conclusion may appear strange to you, but will
become clearer after you have studied the model of
demand and supply and its implications in Chapter 2.

Test your understanding 1.7

1 Consider the statement, If you increase
your consumption of calories, you will put
on weight. Do you think this statement is
necessarily true? Why or why not? How could
you rephrase the statement to make it more
2 What does it mean to be rational in
economics? Do you think this is a realistic

Positive and normative concepts


Distinguish between positive and normative economics.

Economists think about the economic world in two

different ways: one way tries to describe and explain
how things in the economy actually work, and the
other deals with how things ought to work.
The first of these is based on positive statements,
which are about something that is, was or will be.
Positive statements are used in several ways:
They may describe something (e.g. the unemployment
rate is 5%; industrial output grew by 3%).
They may be about a cause-and-effect relationship,
such as in a hypothesis (e.g. if the government
increases spending, unemployment will fall).

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics


They may be statements in a theory, model or law

(e.g. a higher rate of inflation is associated with a
lower unemployment rate).
The second way of thinking about the economic
world, dealing with how things ought to work, is
based on normative statements, which are about what
ought to be. These are subjective statements about
what should happen. Examples include the following:
The unemployment rate should be lower.
Health care should be available free of charge.
Extreme poverty should be eradicated (eliminated).
Positive statements may be true or they may be false.
For example, we may say that the unemployment
rate is 5%; if in fact the unemployment rate is 5%
this statement is true; but if the unemployment rate
is actually 7%, the statement is false. Normative
statements, by contrast, cannot be true or false.
They can only be assessed relative to beliefs and value
judgements. Consider the normative statement the
unemployment rate should be lower. We cannot say
whether this statement is true or false, though we may
agree or disagree with it, depending on our beliefs
about unemployment. If we believe that the present
unemployment rate is too high, then we will agree;
but if we believe that the present unemployment rate
is not too high, then we will disagree.
Positive statements play an important role in
positive economics where they are used to describe
economic events and to construct theories and models
that try to explain these events. Positive statements
are also used in stating laws. It should be stressed
that the social scientific method, described above,
is based on positive thinking. In their role as social
scientists, economists use positive statements in order
to describe, explain and predict.
Normative statements are important in normative
economics, where they form the basis of economic
policy-making. Economic policies are government
actions that try to solve economic problems.
When a government makes a policy to lower the
unemployment rate, this is based on a belief that
the unemployment rate is too high, and the value
judgement that high unemployment is not a good
thing. If a government pursues a policy to make
health care available free of charge, this is based on a
belief that people should not have to pay for receiving
health care services.
Positive and normative economics, while
distinct, often work together. To be successful, an
economic policy aimed at lowering unemployment
(the normative dimension) must be based on a
body of economic knowledge about what causes

12 Introduction

unemployment (the positive dimension). The positive

dimension provides guidance to policy-makers on how
to achieve their economic goals.

Test your understanding 1.8

1 Which of the following are positive statements
and which are normative?
(a) It is raining today.
(b) It is too humid today.
(c) Economics is a study of choices.
(d) Economics should be concerned with how
to reduce poverty.
(e) If household saving increases, ceteris paribus,
there will be a fall in household spending.
(f) Households save too little of their income.
2 Why do you think it is important to make a
distinction between positive and normative
statements in economics?

Microeconomics and macroeconomics

Economics is studied on two levels. Microeconomics
examines the behaviour of individual decisionmaking units in the economy. The two main groups
of decision-makers we study are consumers (or
households) and firms (or businesses). Microeconomics
is concerned with how these decision-makers behave,
how they make choices and how their interactions in
markets determine prices.
Macroeconomics examines the economy as a
whole, to obtain a broad or overall picture, by use
of aggregates, which are wholes or collections of
many individual units, such as the sum of consumer
behaviours and the sum of firm behaviours, and
total income and output of the entire economy,
as well as total employment and the general price

1.3 Central themes


Explain that the economics course will focus on several

themes, which include:
the distinction between economic growth and
economic development
the threat to sustainability as a result of the current
patterns of resource allocation
the extent to which governments should intervene in
the allocation of resources
the extent to which the goal of economic efficiency
may conflict with the goal of equity.

In this section we will examine some central economic

themes that will run through your study of economics.
Each of the themes is beset by conflicts, or unresolved
questions, over which there is disagreement among
economists. There is no single right or wrong
answer to the issues posed; answers provided by
different economists depend on different perspectives.
Whereas economists attempt to justify one or another
perspective on the basis of economic theories or
models, ultimately a decision in favour of one or
another perspective may depend on the economists
personal preference for one theory over another.

The distinction between economic growth

and economic development
The meaning of economic growth and
economic development
All economies produce some output, which includes
goods and services produced for consumers, as
well as capital goods (physical capital). Over time,
the quantity of output produced changes. When it
increases, there is economic growth; if it decreases,
there is economic contraction or negative economic
Usually, the quantity of output produced by
countries increases over long periods of time, but
there are enormous differences between countries in
how much output they produce and in how quickly
or slowly this increases over time. Whereas countries
are commonly referred to as being rich or poor,
economists try to classify them in a more precise
way. The World Bank (an international financial
institution that we will study in Chapter 18) divides
them into more developed and less developed
according to their income levels, which as we will
discover are closely related to quantities of output
Yet differences between countries in their level
of economic development involve much more than
just differences in incomes and quantities of output
produced. Economic development refers to raising
the standard of living and well-being of people. This
means not only increasing incomes and output,
but also reducing poverty among very poor people,
redistributing income so that the differences between
the very rich and very poor become smaller, reducing
unemployment, and increasing provision of important
goods and services such as food and shelter, sanitation,
education and health care services so that they can be
enjoyed by everyone in a population.
We can see from this definition that economic
development is quite different from economic

growth. Economic growth, or growing output, is

important as a basis for economic development,
because it means that more goods and services are
being produced, and therefore the standards of living
of people could be potentially increased. However,
economic development may not follow automatically
from economic growth. It is possible to have growth
in the quantity of output produced, but this may not
result in a reduction of income inequalities, poverty
or unemployment, or in the provision of increased
social services such as education, health care and

Where economists disagree

While economists agree on the distinction between
economic growth and economic development, and
on the point that developing countries should have
policies to encourage growth and development,
there are disagreements over how this should be
done. For example, should growth be a priority, on
the assumption that some development will follow
if growth occurs? Or should development objectives
be a direct priority? What are the best policies that
governments and international organisations can
pursue to help countries achieve both economic
growth and economic development? As we will see in
Section 4 of this book, there are no simple answers to
these questions.

Test your understanding 1.9

1 Explain the difference between economic
growth and economic development.
2 Which country do you think is more
developed: one with higher levels of output
and low provision of social services (such as
health care services and sanitation), or one with
lower levels of output and higher provision of
social services?

Current patterns of resource allocation as a

threat to sustainability
The meaning of sustainability
Economic growth and economic development in
many (if not most) countries are often achieved
at the expense of the natural environment
and natural resources. Growth in output, or a
general improvement in the standard of living
of the population, very often result in increased
air and water pollution, and the destruction or
depletion of forests, wildlife and the ozone layer,

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics


among many other natural resources. Growing

awareness of this issue has given rise to the concept of
sustainable development, defined as development which
meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own
Sustainable development occurs when societies grow
and develop without leaving behind fewer or lowerquality resources for future generations. If we in the
present use up resources at a rate that leaves fewer or
lower-quality resources behind, we are satisfying our
needs and wants now at the expense of people in the
future, who with fewer or lower-quality resources will
be less able to satisfy their own needs and wants. If we
enjoy the benefits today of production and consumption
by changing the global climate and by using up clean
air, seas and rivers, forests and the ozone layer, we are
putting future generations at a disadvantage.
Using the definition of sustainable development,
we can see that sustainability involves using
resources in ways that do not reduce their quantity or
quality over time. As a rule it is used with reference
to renewable resources, or those kinds of natural
resources that are able to reproduce themselves (such
as forests, fish and sea life, air quality, the fertility of
the soil). Sustainable resource use does not mean that
these kinds of natural resources should not be used at
all, but rather that they should be used at a rate that
gives them enough time to reproduce themselves, so
that they can be maintained over time and not be
destroyed or depleted.
Threats to sustainability arise from the ways that
societies answer mainly the first two of the three
basic economic questions. Major threats come from
our current patterns of resource allocation, in other
words, from the ways societies are choosing to answer
the what to produce and the how to produce questions.
In the what to produce part of resource allocation, the
issue in high income societies involves consumption
relying strongly on fossil fuels that pollute the
environment (for example, excessive use of private
cars, home heating and air conditioners). In the how to
produce part of resource allocation, the issue involves
methods of production (industrial production) that
also rely on heavy use of fossil fuels. In very poor
societies, inappropriate resource allocation is often
caused by poverty itself, which drives very poor people
to destroy their natural environment as they make
an effort to survive. Examples include cutting down
forests, overgrazing, soil erosion, and many more. In
all these cases, there may be an unsustainable use of
1 Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and
Development) (1987) Our Common Future, Oxford University Press.

14 Introduction

resources, as fewer and lower-quality resources are left

behind for future generations.

Where economists disagree

While virtually everyone today agrees on the
importance of sustainability, there is vast disagreement
about what this means from a practical point of
view, and how this can be achieved in practice. One
important reason is that the concept of sustainable
resource use involves very large numbers of variables
relating to scientific, environmental, economic, social
and institutional conditions, that are interrelated
in very complex ways, many of which are not fully
understood by scientists and social scientists, are
subject to numerous uncertainties and cannot even
be accurately measured given the present state of
scientific knowledge.
Another reason is that even if it were possible to
provide answers to the technical questions, there are still
very important issues of an ethical and philosophical
nature that science and social science are not equipped
to address. These issues are discussed in the Theory of
knowledge feature in Chapter 5, page 127.

Test your understanding 1.10

1 Explain the meaning of sustainability.
2 Consider the following: But just as the speed and
scale of Chinas rise as an economic power have no
clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem
has shattered all precedents. Environmental
degradation is now so severe that pollution poses
not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese
public but also an acute political challenge to the
ruling Communist Party.
(a) In your opinion, is China achieving
sustainable development?
(b) What can you conclude about Chinas rapid
economic growth and its impacts on future

The extent to which governments should

intervene in the allocation of resources
The meaning of government intervention
in the market
Countries around the world differ enormously in the
ways they make allocation and distribution decisions.
At the heart of their differences lie the methods used

to make the choices required by the what, how and

for whom to produce questions. There are two main
methods that can be used to make these choices: the
market method and the command method.
In the market method, resources are owned by
private individuals or groups of individuals, and it
is mainly consumers and firms (or businesses) who
make economic decisions by responding to prices
that are determined in markets (we will see how this
happens in Chapter 2). In the command method,
resources (land and capital in particular) are owned by
the government, which makes economic decisions by
commands. In practice, commands involve legislation
and regulations by the government, or in general any
kind of government decision-making that affects the
In the real world, there has never been an
economy that is entirely a market economy or
entirely a command economy. Real-world economies
combine markets and commands in many different
ways, and each country is unique in the ways they
combine them. Economies may lean more toward
the command economy (as in communist systems),
or more toward the market economy (as in highly
market-oriented economies). Whatever the case, in
the last 30 or so years, there has been a trend around
the world for economies to rely more and more on
markets and less on commands. Economies that
are based strongly on markets but also have some
command methods are called mixed market economies.
In mixed market economies, the command methods
of making allocation and distribution decisions
are referred to as government intervention,
because the government intervenes (or interferes) in
the workings of markets. Examples of government
intervention include provision of public education,
public health care, public parks, road systems, national
defence, flood control, minimum wage legislation,
restrictions on imports, anti-monopoly legislation, tax
collection, income redistribution, and many more.
Whatever the reasons for and types of government
intervention in the market, government
intervention changes the allocation of resources
(and distribution of output and income) from what
markets working on their own would have achieved.
The market economy offers important benefits that
we will discover in Chapter 2. Yet it does not always
produce the best answers to the what, how and for
whom questions for many reasons to be discussed
in later chapters. Therefore, a market economy
cannot operate effectively without some government

Where economists disagree

Whereas everyone agrees that some government
intervention in markets is necessary, economists
disagree widely over how much governments should
intervene and how they should intervene. There
are two broad schools of thought on this issue. One
focuses on the positive aspects of markets, while the
other focuses on the imperfections of markets.
According to the first, it is argued that in spite of
imperfections, markets are able to work reasonably
well on their own, and can produce outcomes that
generally promote societys well-being. Markets can
achieve a reasonably good allocation of resources,
answering the what to produce and how to produce
questions quite well. Government intervention
changes this allocation of resources, and often worsens
it, giving rise to resource waste. Therefore, while some
minimum government intervention may be needed in
certain situations, this should not be very extensive.
According to the second school of thought, markets
have the potential to work well, but in the real world
their imperfections may be so important that they
make government intervention necessary for their
correction. This means that markets, working on their
own, do not do a very good job of allocating resources
in societys best interests; the purpose of government
intervention therefore is to help markets work better
and arrive at a better pattern of resource allocation and
distribution of income and output.

Test your understanding 1.11

1 Provide some more examples of command
methods (government intervention) in mixed
market economies.
2 What is the main source of the disagreement
between those who argue there should be little
government intervention in the economy and
those who argue that government intervention
should be more extensive?

The extent to which the goals of economic

efficiency and equity might conflict
The meaning of economic efficiency
and equity
Economic efficiency involves making the best
use of resources and avoiding waste. It involves
answering the what and how to produce questions by
allocating resources in the best possible way to avoid
resource waste (page 2). When economic efficiency
is achieved, it means resources are allocated in a way

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics


that the economy produces the most of those goods

society mostly prefers. Therefore, an important goal of
government policies virtually everywhere is to increase
efficiency in the economy as much as possible.
Equity refers to the idea of being fair or just.
Equity is not the same as equality. Equality is one
possible interpretation of equity, but there are also
other possible interpretations. For example, in many
countries in the world, it is considered equitable that
people with higher incomes and wealth pay higher
taxes than people with lower incomes and wealth.
Clearly, this notion of equity involves treating people
unequally. (This will be discussed in the Theory of
Knowledge feature on page 315.)
The idea of equity in economics often arises in
connection with the distribution of income (and
output), involving the for whom to produce question.
Equity, or fairness, in the distribution of income is often
interpreted as greater equality (or less inequality) in
the share of income received by individuals or families
in a society. The aim is not to make the distribution
of income completely equal, but to ensure that people
who would have little or no income in a market
economy, and cannot secure enough of essential goods
and services, such as food, shelter, health care, and so
on, will be able to survive. Therefore, equity is also an
important goal of government policies.

Where economists disagree

According to many economists, there is a trade-off
between efficiency and equity (in the sense of a more
equal income distribution): more income equality
involves less efficiency, and vice versa. The reason
they may conflict is that government intervention in
markets to achieve equity (or anything else for that
matter) changes the allocation of resources. What
if these changes in resource allocation make the
economy less efficient; what if they do not allow the
economy to answer the what to produce and how to
produce questions in the best possible way?
This idea emerged in the 1970s from a highly
influential book written by a famous economist,
Arthur Okun, who argued that the conflict between
equality and economic efficiency is inescapable
(Equity and Efficiency: The Big Trade-off, 1975).
The following example helps explain the idea of a
conflict between efficiency and equity. Imagine a pie
representing societys income, distributed between the
people in the economy according to how much they
contribute to baking it. Some peoples pieces are much

16 Introduction

larger than others; it is believed that this is unfair, and

a decision is made to change how the pie is divided
up so that everyone receives a fair share. A fair share
is interpreted to mean an equal share, and the pie
is cut so everyone has equal size pieces. However, in
the following year, when the pie is baked again, the
overall size of the pie is smaller than the year before.
The shrinking of the pie means that due to income
redistribution, the amount of output produced (and
the income corresponding to this output) decreased.
The reason behind the decrease can be found in the
poorer allocation of resources, which did not allow the
economy to produce the greatest possible amount of
output with its resources.
Why did this happen? Arthur Okun argued that
government intervention to redistribute income
results in changes in work effort (people do not work
as hard), in changes in savings and investment (people
save and invest less) and in changes in attitudes (for
example, people have less of an incentive to train and
get new skills to become more productive). It follows,
then, that there is a conflict between efficiency and
equity (in the sense of income equality).
Other economists claim that there need not always
be a conflict between equity and efficiency. According
to one argument, government intervention to
change income distribution could result in changes
in behaviour that lead to greater rather than less
efficiency. For example, suppose an economy has
income inequalities so great that very low income
people are too discouraged, or too unhealthy, or
too unskilled to be able to work. Some income
redistribution in their favour could increase their
ability to work and make them more productive, thus
increasing both income equality and efficiency (the size of
the future pie). Therefore, in this view there need not be
an inevitable conflict between efficiency and equity,
and the two may be compatible.

Test your understanding 1.12

1 Why are the goals of efficiency and equity
important for any economy?
2 Can you think of any situations where
inequality might be equitable?
3 What assumptions relating to human behaviour
underlie the different perspectives on the
relationship between equity and efficiency?

Theory of knowledge

Why do economists disagree?

In examining the four themes that run through your
study of economics, we have discovered four major
areas where economists disagree (you will discover
many more areas of disagreement as you read this book).
Why do economists disagree so much? It would seem
that use of the social scientific method in economics,
by forcing hypotheses to undergo tests, and allowing
the real-world evidence to sift through valid and invalid
hypotheses, would eliminate much disagreement. Why
do economists continue to disagree in spite of their
use of the social scientific method? To try to answer
this question, we should consider the point mentioned
earlier on the difficulties of testing hypotheses due
to the inability of economists to perform controlled
experiments (page 8).
The social scientific method, as we have seen,
involves relating evidence to educated guesses about
cause-and-effect relationships between variables to
see if they match. Economists face some difficulties
in this effort. First, the inability to perform controlled
experiments means that economists collect data about
real-world events that are the result of many variables
changing at the same time. To test hypotheses,
economists devise complicated econometric
models that try to isolate the interfering effects of
numerous variables, and try to link causes with effects.
Sometimes, economists have to deal with incomplete
or unreliable real-world data. In some cases, they
may even be faced with variables that are not
measurable and have no data, in which case they must
use substitute variables (called proxy variables) or
substitute relationships between variables. As a result
of these difficulties, it is not unusual for two or more
economists to be testing the same hypothesis and to
come up with conflicting results.
For all these reasons, while the testing methods
of economists do produce some useful results, these
are sometimes not as accurate and as reliable as the
results of experiments in other disciplines performed
under controlled conditions. This means it may be more
difficult for hypothesis testing in economics to refute
(reject) invalid hypotheses. If the evidence does not
reject a hypothesis, economists hold on to it and may
continue to use it in their work (possibly until further
testing in the future). However, this does not mean that

the hypothesis is a valid one. It may be invalid, but the

evidence just has not been discriminating enough to
reject it. This has important implications for economics.
It means that there may be several conflicting hypotheses
that economists are holding on to and working with, not
all of which are valid hypotheses, and some of which may
be false.
Moreover, economists may use these hypotheses to
build theories. A theory was described in the Theory
of knowledge feature on page 10 as being based on
several hypotheses that have not been rejected, based
on evidence. This means it is possible to have theories
built on invalid hypotheses, which simply have not (yet)
been shown to be invalid. But if the hypotheses on which
theories are built are invalid, then surely the theories
themselves are also invalid. This explains one possible
reason why we sometimes see several conflicting
theories being used at the same time. Maybe only one
of them (or even none of them) is valid. Whatever the
case, as economists usually prefer to support one theory
over another, this may be an important reason why they
sometimes disagree.

Thinking points
As you read this book and learn more about economics,
you may want to keep the following questions in mind:
Can you think of other possible reasons why
economists often disagree?
What other social sciences/sciences cannot test
hypotheses by performing controlled experiments?
Do you think economists disagree more or
less than (or the same as) other social and natural
Do you think the difficulties of economics are due
to its being a young social science that will slowly
mature and resolve these difficulties as econometric
methods and the quality of data improve, or are they
due to problems that are inherent in the nature of the
subject and cannot be easily resolved?
Do you think these difficulties seriously affect
the progress and development of new economic
knowledge, or can economics continue to progress in
spite of these difficulties?

Chapter 1 The foundations of economics


Chapter 1 is an introduction to the IB Economics
syllabus. There will be no examination questions based
directly on the material presented here. This material
will be assessed wherever it appears throughout the
four sections of the IB syllabus.

18 Introduction

Section 1
Microeconomics is concerned with the behaviour of
consumers, firms and resource owners, who are the most
important economic decision-makers in a market economy.
We will study the model of demand and supply, which
forms the basis of the market economy and is one of the
most important analytical tools in microeconomics. We will
learn about the benefits and imperfections of free markets.
We will also examine the role of governments in a variety
of situations. We will see what effects governments have
when they interfere in markets, as well as how they can help
achieve better social outcomes when markets fail to perform
In addition, Section 1 will be concerned with market
structures (at higher level). We will learn about different
ways in which real-world industries are organised, and their
advantages and disadvantages from the perspectives of
consumers, firms and societies.
The tools we will develop in microeconomics are important
because they provide many insights into the workings of
the market economy, and into the effects of different types
of government intervention. In addition, these tools are
important because they form the basis of additional topics we
will study in later parts of this book.