ROBBINS DEFINITION SCIENCE OF SCARCITY OR SCIENCE OF CHOICE
Marshall seemed to have settled the matter of the definition of EConomics long ago and a large consensus of expert opinion had been mobilised behind ·him. But the publication of Robbins book..
Nature and SiJ!lIificancc of Economic Science set the ball of controversy rolling once again. Lionel Robbins challenged the traditional view of the nature of economic science. We have noticed some of his objections in the above section. He calls the hitherto accepted and well known definitions of Economics classificatory and unscientific. The word material imposed unnecessary limitation. The welfare conception of Economics lacked universality “Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship bet ween ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.
Robbins claimed that his definition did not suffer from any of these defects. His definition was analytical rather than classificatory. Instead of discussing a certain type of human behaviour, it focussed its attention on a particular aspect of human behaviours; i.e., behaviour concerned with the utilisation of scarce resources to achieve unlimited ends.
Scarcity is not to be taken in an absolute sense. A commodity may exist in a small quantity but if nobody has any use for it, we shall not call it scarce in the economic sense. Thus, rotten eggs, though much fewer than good ones, are not scarce in the economic sense. On the other hand, there may be huge stocks of a commodity like wheat or coal, yet it is called scarce because the demand is even larger than the supply. It is the demand, in relation to supply, for a commodity, and not its quantity alone, which determines whether a commodity is scarce or not. Scarcity is thus a relative term.
The third proposition underlying Robbins definition is that the scarce means are capable of alternative uses. If a commodity could be put only to one use and to none else, few economic problems would arise in its connection. After it has met that use, it will become a free good and will have no further economic significance. Actually, however, the uses to which a commodity can be put are numerous, almost unlimited. Hence, the demand in the aggregate for that commodity is almost insatiable.
Further, these alternative uses are of varying importance; some are more urgent and others less urgent. And we can select the use to which a
commodity may be put. Choice comes in again.
Thus, in the Robbinsian sense, economic activity lies in man’s utilisation of scarce means having alternative uses, for the satisfaction of multiple ends. “Means” refer to time, money or any other form of property. They are all limited. But since the ends are unlimited, choice-making is essential. That is why-Economics has been called a science of choice.
From the point of view of the State, Economics may be defined as the study of those principles on which the resources of a community should be so regulated and administered as to secure the communal ends without waste. ( ic teed. In Stigler’s words, “Economics is the study of the iples governing the allocation of scarce means arc g competing ends when the objective of allocation i to maximise the attainment of the ends.
In other words, Economics i a study the allocation of scarce means, capable of alternative uses, among competing ends for the attainment of a -maximum result in the achievement of these ends.