The Proper Sphere

To take another classical idea, each science (or discipline, in the modern sense) was fitted to a proper sphere.

Ethics was the science of the sphere of habit (ethos), and specifically the habits that form our characters. Our word “economy,” in contrast, comes from the Greek oikonomia, or the governance (use) of the things of the household, or oikos, which could variously mean family, home, and property.

I’ve always found it helpful to think of economics in terms of how we manage families, homes, and property, rather than specifically how we manage (or make) money, goods, and services in “the economy” of the colloquial sense.

Beginning from families and households rather than abstractions like GDP or supply-and-demand graphs helps me keep the fundamentally human element of economics more firmly in mind. After all, other creatures don’t really have economies in the way people do — certainly not at the scale that could shape the destiny of the planet.

And so, as we proceed — here and in daily life — let’s try to begin from the idea of “economics as if people mattered,” in E. F. Schumacher’s words.