Lionel Robbins’ definition of economics/ economics as a science of scarcity and choice

Lionel Robbins’ definition of economics

L. Robbins

Lionel Robbins’ definition of economics/ Economics as a science of scarcity and choice:

After criticizing Alfred Marshall's definition of economics, Lionel Robbins, a famous British economist gave his own definition of economics in his book " An essay on the nature and significance of economic science" published in 1932. He has given scarcity definition of economics as, " Economics is a science that studies human behavior as a relationship between limited resources and unlimited wants which have alternative uses."

The fundamental propositions of Robbins' definition of economics are as follows:

a) Unlimited wants (ends)
b) Scarce resources (limited means)
c) Alternative use of resources
d) Economizing resources
e) Problem of choice

1) Unlimited wants:
Whenever a want is satisfied, automatically several wants grow up. So a man's wants are unlimited in number. Wants are growing and never-ending.

2) Scarce resources:
Human wants are unlimited but resources to satisfy them are limited. The material and non-material resources like time, services, money, etc are scarce.

3) Alternative use of resources:

All the scarce means can be used in more than one purpose. For instance, the land is very scarce, but land can be used for the construction of buildings, cultivation, etc. So, goods can be put to alternative uses of varying importance.

4) Economizing resources:
It means, choice of the making of economic activity. In fact, Economics is the study of a certain kind of economics that is economizing the resources.

5) The problem of choice:
The problem of economic resources leads to the problem of choice. Since wants and desires are numerous and mean to fulfill those wants are scarce, we have to choose urgent wants from those unlimited wants. So, economics is also termed as a science of choice.

Criticisms of Lionel Robbins' definition of economics:

Scarcity definition is more scientific than old definitions but the modern economists like J.M Keynes, P.A Samuelson, Benham, Frazer, Hicks have criticized it on the following grounds:

1) Static:
Professor Samuelson pointed correctly Robbins' definition is not dynamic in nature, because it has only discussed the problems of the present generation. So, the definition suffers from the problem of economic growth.

2) Abundance is also an economic problem:
Some economists claimed that economic problem also arises from plenty of goods, overproduction, money inflation, and unemployment. These are the problems of abundance rather than scarcity.

3) Relation with welfare:
Robbins criticized Marshall's definition on the ground of Welfare. However, limited means are also used to fulfill unlimited wants. Thus, it means that the maximum satisfaction leads to more welfare. So, welfare is also included in Robbins' definition.

4) Not fit for the rich country:

The economic problem for a rich and sound economy is different from the underdeveloped economy. Here, the resources are not limited, rather plenty.

5) Others:
 Not fit for a socialist economy, ignores the burning economic issues like national income, poverty, unemployment, economic growth, etc.,

Although Robbins definition has been criticized, it is still more scientific and comprehensive definition than the old definitions of economics.

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