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Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek οá¼°κονομία (oikonomia, "management of a household, administration") from οἶκος (oikos, "house") + νÏŒμος (nomos, "custom" or "law"), hence "rules of the house(hold)". Current economic models developed out of the broader field of political economy in the late 19th century, owing to a desire to use an empirical approach more akin to the physical sciences. A definition that captures much of modern economics is that of Lionel Robbins in a 1932 essay: "the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." Scarcity means that available resources are insufficient to satisfy all wants and needs. Absent scarcity and alternative uses of available resources, there is no economic problem. The subject thus defined involves the study of choices as they are affected by incentives and resources.

Economics aims to explain how economies work and how economic agents interact. Economic analysis is applied throughout society, in business, finance and government, but also in crime, education, the family, health, law, politics, religion, social institutions, war, and science. The expanding domain of economics in the social sciences has been described as economic imperialism. Common distinctions are drawn between various dimensions of economics: between positive economics (describing "what is") and normative economics (advocating "what ought to be") or between economic theory and applied economics or between mainstream economics (more "orthodox" dealing with the "rationality-individualism-equilibrium nexus") and heterodox economics (more "radical" dealing with the "institutions-history-social structure nexus"). However the primary textbook distinction is between microeconomics ("small" economics), which examines the economic behavior of agents (including individuals and firms) and macroeconomics ("big" economics), addressing issues of unemployment, inflation, monetary and fiscal policy for an entire economy.

Supply and demand

The supply and demand model describes how prices vary as a result of a balance between product availability and demand. The graph depicts an increase (that is, right-shift) in demand from D1 to D2 along with the consequent increase in price and quantity required to reach a new equilibrium point on the supply curve (S).

The theory of demand and supply is an organizing principle to explain prices and quantities of goods sold and changes thereof in a market economy. In microeconomic theory, it refers to price and output determination in a perfectly competitive market. This has served as a building block for modeling other market structures and for other theoretical approaches.

For a given market of a commodity, demand shows the quantity that all prospective buyers would be prepared to purchase at each unit price of the good. Demand is often represented using a table or a graph relating price and quantity demanded. Demand theory describes individual consumers as rationally choosing the most preferred quantity of each good, given income, prices, tastes, etc. A term for this is 'constrained utility maximization' (with income as the constraint on demand). Here, utility refers to the (hypothesized) preference relation for individual consumers. Utility and income are then used to model hypothesized properties about the effect of a price change on the quantity demanded. The law of demand states that, in general, price and quantity demanded in a given market are inversely related. In other words, the higher the price of a product, the less of it people would be able and willing to buy of it (other things unchanged). As the price of a commodity rises, overall purchasing power decreases (the income effect) and consumers move toward relatively less expensive goods (the substitution effect). Other factors can also affect demand; for example an increase in income will shift the demand curve outward relative to the origin, as in the figure.

Supply is the relation between the price of a good and the quantity available for sale from suppliers (such as producers) at that price. Supply is often represented using a table or graph relating price and quantity supplied. Producers are hypothesized to be profit-maximizers, meaning that they attempt to produce the amount of goods that will bring them the highest profit. Supply is typically represented as a directly proportional relation between price and quantity supplied (other things unchanged). In other words, the higher the price at which the good can be sold, the more of it producers will supply. The higher price makes it profitable to increase production. At a price below equilibrium, there is a shortage of quantity supplied compared to quantity demanded. This pulls the price up. At a price above equilibrium, there is a surplus of quantity supplied compared to quantity demanded. This pushes the price down. The model of supply and demand predicts that for given supply and demand curves, price and quantity will stabilize at the price that makes quantity supplied equal to quantity demanded. This is at the intersection of the two curves in the graph above, market equilibrium.

For a given quantity of a good, the price point on the demand curve indicates the value, or marginal utility to consumers for that unit of output. It measures what the consumer would be prepared to pay for the corresponding unit of the good. The price point on the supply curve measures marginal cost, the increase in total cost to the supplier for the corresponding unit of the good. The price in equilibrium is determined by supply and demand. In a perfectly competitive market, supply and demand equate cost and value at equilibrium.

Demand and supply can also be used to model the distribution of income to the factors of production, including labour and capital, through factor markets. In a labour market for example, the quantity of labour employed and the price of labour (the wage rate) are modeled as set by the demand for labour (from business firms etc. for production) and supply of labour (from workers).

Demand and supply are used to explain the behavior of perfectly competitive markets, but their usefulness as a standard of performance extends to any type of market. Demand and supply can also be generalized to explain variables applying to the whole economy, for example, quantity of total output and the general price level, studied in macroeconomics.

In supply-and-demand analysis, the price of a good coordinates production and consumption quantities. Price and quantity have been described as the most directly observable characteristics of a good produced for the market. Supply, demand, and market equilibrium are theoretical constructs linking price and quantity. But tracing the effects of factors predicted to change supply and demand—and through them, price and quantity—is a standard exercise in applied microeconomics and macroeconomics. Economic theory can specify under what circumstances price serves as an efficient communication device to regulate quantity. A real-world application might attempt to measure how much variables that increase supply or demand change price and quantity.

Marginalism is the use of marginal concepts within economics. Marginal concepts are associated with a specific change in the quantity used of a good or of a service, as opposed to some notion of the over-all significance of that class of good or service, or of some total quantity thereof. The central concept of marginalism proper is that of marginal utility, but marginalists following the lead of Alfred Marshall were further heavily dependent upon the concept of marginal physical productivity in their explanation of cost; and the neoclassical tradition that emerged from British marginalism generally abandoned the concept of utility and gave marginal rates of substitution a more fundamental rôle in analysis.

Public sector

Public finance is the field of economics that deals with budgeting the revenues and expenditures of a public sector entity, usually government. The subject addresses such matters as tax incidence (who really pays a particular tax), cost-benefit analysis of government programs, effects on economic efficiency and income distribution of different kinds of spending and taxes, and fiscal politics. The latter, an aspect of public choice theory, models public-sector behavior analogously to microeconomics, involving interactions of self-interested voters, politicians, and bureaucrats.

Much of economics is positive, seeking to describe and predict economic phenomena. Normative economics seeks to identify what is economically good and bad.

Welfare economics is a normative branch of economics that uses microeconomic techniques to simultaneously determine the allocative efficiency within an economy and the income distribution associated with it. It attempts to measure social welfare by examining the economic activities of the individuals that comprise society.

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