Economics distinguished from Politics and Ethics
Politics and ethics are normative studies, that is to say they are concerned with norms or standards.Politics and ethics are not merely concerned with what is but also with what ought to be. Politics and ethics are concerned with the ends which people seek to promote as being valuable. Ethics deals with the nature of the good, whether or not we ought to live in a particular way, or acknowledge particular obligations. Politics is ethics applied to the state and raises such questions as whether to constrain people or allow them as much freedom as possible, the nature of freedom, the legitimate functions of the state, and so on. Economics is a positive science, that is to say it is concerned with what is and not with that ought to be. In this respect it resembles the natural sciences of chemistry and physics which are concerned with explaining the world as it is and not with passing value judgements on it. This does not mean that the economist may not have an opinion as a citizen on what ought to be done in society butthat when he pronounces on such matters he does so not as an economist but as a citizen. It is useful to keep economic studies clear of ethical considerations as while it is usually possible to arrive at an agreement on what is, it is seldom possible to do so on what ought to be.
Nevertheless many economists have argued that the only reason for studying economics is the hope that social betterment will result from a more complete understanding of it. This is perfectly consistent with the view that it is a positive science not concerned with moral problems. The problems which the engineer studies are not moral problems and yet it is possible for an engineer to see the justification for his studies in the higher standard of living which results from technical progress. Thus Professor Pigou says,” The complicated analyses which economists endeavour to carry through are not mere gymnastic. They are instruments for the bettering of human life. The misery and squalor that surround us, the injurious luxury of some wealthy families, the terrible uncertainty overshadowing many families of the poor, these are evils too plain to be ignored. By the knowledge that our science seeks it is possible that they may be restained.”
If this is so, then economics is not a branch of knowledge which is pursued for its own sake but one which is pursued for the benefit which understanding of it confers on society.