Friday, October 22, 2010


Marshall’s Definition

“Economics is the study of man in ordinary business of life. It enquires how he gets his income and here he uses it. It examines that part of individual and social action, which is most closely connected with the attainment and with the use of material requisites of well-being………………..It is the study of wealth on one side and on the other side, which is more important, it is a part of the study of man.”

Robbin’s Definition

“Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between multiple ends and scarce means, which have alternative uses.”

A comparative study of both the definitions is made on the basis of their similarities and differences.

SIMILARITIES between Robbins' & Marshall's Definition

1. Human behavior

Both the definitions are concerned with human behavior.

2. Optimization

Both the definitions concentrate on optimization i.e. the best possible situation within given conditions. In Marshall’s definition, our aim is to maximize material welfare and in Robbin’s definition, we are concerned with maximization of satisfaction.

3. Basic pillars

Consumption, production, exchange and distribution of wealth are the basic pillars of both the definitions.

4. Same characteristics of wealth and scarce resources

According to Marshall, wealth is the basic source of maximization of material welfare. Robbins is of the opinion that we maximize our satisfaction by scarce resources. Both the concepts of wealth and scarce resources are synonymous as both have the same characteristics, i.e. utility, transfer-ability and scarcity.

Reading: Scope of Economics

5. Analytical

Marshall’s definition is based on the attainment and use of material requisites. Robbin’s definition is based on the problem of choice. Hence both the definitions are analytical in nature.

DIFFERENCES Between Marshall's & Robbins Definition

We observe the following dissimilarities between the two definitions.

1. Economic activity – material / immaterial:

  • Marshall believes in only material activities which promote material welfare.
  • Robbins believes in both material and immaterial activities to tackle the problem of choice.

2. Social science / natural science:

  • For Marshall, Economics is a social science.
  • On the other hands, Robbins is of the view that Economics is natural science like Physics, Chemistry etc.

Reading: Importance of Economics

3. Normative science / positive science

  • Marshall is of the opinion that in Economics, we not only consider the problems as they are but we also suggest that how the given problem should be tackled. It means according to Marshall, Economics is basically a normative science.
  • Robbins thinks otherwise. He says that economists must be just neutral observers of economic events around them, ignoring their personal likings. They can talk of facts only. Hence Robbins believes that Economics is basically a positive science in which the economists describe the economics facts as they are.

4. Classification / universality

  • Marshall has classified the goods into material / non-material and Individuals into social / isolated.
  • Robbins does not believe in such artificial classification. He has analyzed economic problem which appears due to multiple wants and scarce means. It is a universal phenomenon.

5. Practical / theoretical

  • Marshall’s definition is practical in nature. This definition is useful for economic policies.
  • Robbins definition is theoretical in nature.

6. Social / isolated individual:

  • Marshall considers only the activities of a social person. It ignores the activities of an isolated person.
  • Robbins considers activities of both the persons, i.e. activities of a social person and activities of an isolated person.
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7. Appreciable / non-appreciable activities:

  • Marshall considers only appreciable activities of a social person.
  • Robbins considers both appreciable and inappreciable activities of both the social person and isolated person.

8. Human touch

  • Marshall concentrates on human material welfare. He gives due importance to man.
  • Robbins focuses on scarcity of resources. He gives no importance of man.

9. Welfare / scarcity

  • Marshall’s definition is based on the concept of human material welfare.
  • Robbin’s definition is based on the concept of scarcity of resources.

10. Scope of Economics

  • Marshall considers only material aspects of human welfare. It reflects limited scope of Economics.
  • Robbins makes no difference between material and non-material aspects. It indicates wider scope of Economics.

11. Moral values

  • Marshall’s definition makes a direct link of economic activities with moral values.
  • Robbin’s definition has nothing to do with moral or ethical values. It is the problem of social reformers, politicians etc.

12. Subjective / objective

  • The concept of welfare in Marshall’s definition is subjective and it varies from person to person and place to place.
  • The concept of scarcity in Robbins’ definition is objective and applicable equally to every person or to every place.
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13. Qualitative / quantitative

  • The concept of welfare is a qualitative phenomenon in Marshall’s definition and we cannot measure it.
  • The concept of scarcity is a quantitative phenomenon in Robbin’s definition and we can measure it.

14. Cause / effect

  • In Marshall’s definition, major concern is of material welfare which is the effect of economic development.
  • Robbin’s definition is primarily concerned with allocation of scarce resources which is the cause of economic development.

15. Vague / clear

  • The pivot of Marshall’s definition is welfare which is a vague concept and its indicators change with the passage of time.
  • Robbin’s definitions is based on a clear concept of scarcity and its basic indicator, i.e. excess demand sustains.

16. Macro / micro approach

  • In Marshall’s definition, material welfare is a macro phenomenon.
  • In Robbin’s definition, major macro problems like unemployment, inflation etc. has not been considered. It concentrates only on micro aspects of economic activities.


On the basis of above-mentioned facts, it is concluded that though Marshall’s definition of Economics has a remarkable status in economic literature, yet Robbin’s definition is logically better. That is why modern economists own it and prefers it to classical’s and neo-classical’s definition of Economics.


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