A categorical word

01 Economics: philosophy & science: Placed in this category are columns that tell you a bit about what economists think about, what economics is, and how it relates to other academic disciplines. Perhaps more importantly, these columns may give you a surprising sense of what economics is not about. For example, it is not about materialism, nor primarily about money. Instead, it is about observing people’s behavior, it is wondering about the choices they make, and what consequences these choices entail. It is about an underlying philosophy. These columns make for good bed-time reading. They nudge you a bit before you nod off to well-deserved sleep.

02 Bandits, settlers, & sheriffs: Economies do not exist for their own end. They exist because humans make them. For humans to make something called an economy, some basic preconditions must be in place. One of them is personal security, that is, security about one’s person, one’s family, and one’s belongings. If one has to fear for one’s life and for that of one’s family, chances are that constant worry will not allow one to just hum away at the daily task of bread-winning. Trained as a development economist, someone who studies economies of poor countries—the Brazil’s and India’s and Sudan’s of the world—I noticed something strange in my textbooks: none of them acknowledged the obvious and pervasive economic dislocation on account of violence and war. How can there possibly be development when one’s belongings are looted, livestock slaughtered, roads, schools, and clinics destroyed, and people shot, maimed, and killed? And so, I became a peace economist. Without security, no economy. These columns explore the topic.

03 Foundation Trilogy: For many years I preached that sound economies require health, education, and personal security for its citizens. The threesomemy “Foundation Trilogy”are not sufficient conditions for prosperity; they do not guarantee that the economy will be sound. But surely they are necessary conditions. Take any one of the three away, and the economy will suffer. In truth, there is more to the trilogy, including the role of private property, the rule of law, and the importance of trust. The columns in this category address some of the preconditions of well-functioning economies. I have always thought it far more interesting to examine and explore the foundations of economicsthat which makes well-functioning economies possible in the first placerather than the hum-drum, ordinary economics that most economists concern themselves with. So, here’s a go at the Foundations.

04 Money & finance: Money is probably the one thing people think of when they think of economics at all. I well remember the dentist who, upon learning my profession, asked: “If you had $100,000, where would you invest it?” That was not a good question to ask of meand not because I had my mouth stuffed full with dental instruments. What fascinates me about money is not where to put it, but its social function, and how money came to be. The mechanics are as fascinating as the underlying concepts. Still, I am an economist, and I do observe the financial markets. After all, my own nest egg is not kept under my mattress.

05 The economy at large: The discipline of economics is parceled out into the fiefdoms of micro and macroeconomics. Microeconomics deals with the economic behavior of individualsor groups that act as if they were a unitary actorand the consequences these behaviors entail. What determines your consumption pattern? What determines a family’s vacation decision? What determines a firm’s hiring pattern? What determines a labor union’s bargaining strategy? And what determines government decisionmaking? The contribution of the individuals that make up a group is also analyzed. Columns in other categories deal with microeconomics. In contrast, macroeconomics deal with the “big picture.” It deals with unemployment, inflation, economy-wide booms and busts, and with policy issues of how to steer and grow the economy. This is what the columns placed in this category explore.

06 The local dollar: Living in Augusta, Georgia, and initially writing for the local folks, one would expect me to write a few columns on local and regional matters. You may be tempted to skip these columns, but remember that you, too, live in some community somewhere. Not unlikely, your community and district, province, or state face economic issues not dissimilar to those commented on in these columns. Do not tune out too soon.

07 Labor & Work: I am not a labor economist, but occasionally have views on what’s happening to labor.

08 Business, industry, & markets: I love markets. They are so varied. Children compete in the market for attention. Your Christmas gifts are brought to you courtesy of container-shipping companies that compete for transoceanic business. Even illegal marketsfor trade in endangered species, illicit drugs, or stolen auto partsare markets. Markets obtain their variety because the conditions under which buyers and sellers exchange what they have to offer differ so much and because each participant tries to skew those conditions in his favor. The columns assembled here provide examples of the endless variety of markets, and of the politics and culture that attends them.

09 Gloabl trade, finance, & development: The world is large. Seven billion people inhabit our planet and fewer than five percent of them are U.S. Americans. But the world beats on our doors, as we beat on theirs. One of every eight jobs or so is now tied to international trade. This includes international shipping, finance, insurance, and trade and tourism. It also includes the many people who work for nonprofit organizations concerned with international affairs, be it human rights in Burma, the protection of orangutans in Indonesia, or food aid to Africa. These columns look at global aspects of economics.

10 Government & governance: Good or bad governance one finds not only in government, but also in families, clubs, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Good or bad governance can be traced to the incentives in the system that make people behave the way they do. Sadly, “the system made me do it” is sometimes the correct answer to the question of why things went wrong. But not all government is bad. (My favorite U.S. government agency is the Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s audit agency.) The columns in this category examine government and governance issues.

11 Law & Politics: A branch of economics examines incentives and disincentives written into law, even into constitutions, and addresses questions such as “What economic functions are served by law?” and “What are the economic ramifications of law?” This theme deserves a category.  The politics rubric speaks to global political matters but on the whole is less concerned with the economics of politics (another branch of economics) and more with politicians (usually their follies).

12 Odds and ends: Placed here are columns that do not fit well into any of the other categories, such economics of sports, of ecology and biology, of medicine, of technology, and on and on.