Economists are uniquely qualified in their understanding of one particular aspect of human activity, and that activity is unique to humans. No other animal trades, or exchanges, among its kind. Adam Smith wrote that “the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.” And no other discipline focuses on trade as much as economics does. Indeed, the most parsimonious description of economics is that it is the systematic study of trade, and trade-offs.
The story of human civilization can be told as a tale of ever-expanding scale and scope of exchanges. Foraging tribes of the distant past produced very little of what they consumed. They lived in groups of 100 to 150 people, and subsisted on whatever they could hunt and gather. What little exchange they did was limited to one’s kin and neighbors, and did not extend to strangers. Continue reading