Apr 30 2012
At this point in the course, you may find yourself asking, “what is the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics?” It has been a long time since we first defined these terms at the beginning of the course. The purpose of this post is to introduce some basic Macro concepts help clear up the confusing and not so obvious differences between these two areas of economics.
A teacher of mine once explained the difference between micro and macro using the example of a tree and a forest. Microeconomics is the like the study of an individual tree, standing in a thick forest of thousands of individual trees of different species. A microeconomist might study the systems that make an individual tree function efficiently, providing it with the sustanence it needs to thrive in the forest. A macroeconomist, however, will take a broader look at the forest as a whole, and observe how the thousands of trees work together in conjunction with the sun, the soil, the oxygen, nitrogen, and H2O in the environment that make the entire forest function efficiently as one giant organism.
Put literally, the tree is like an individual market. This may be a product market like the market for apples, or a resource market like the market for apple pickers. Microeconomists will study the characteristics of an individual market: the firms and their costs, tradeoffs, challenges presented by competition or the inefficiencies that result from a lack thereof, and the buyers in the market: the alternatives and trade-offs they face, the utility they receive and the decisions they make based on these factors. Microeconomics concerns itself not with the health of the economy as a whole, rather with the individual markets, firms, and consumers within the economy, and the challenges of efficiency and resource allocation faced by those markets.
Macroeconomics, on the other hand, studies the health of the economy as a whole. Macro deals with aggregates, or “collections of specific economic units treated as if they were one. ” For example, instead of studying price of a product, as a microeconomist would, a macroeconomist looks at the price level in the whole economy. Whereas a microeconomist looks at supply and demand in a particular market, a macroeconomist studies aggregate supply and aggregate demand, assessing the collective marginal benefit of all consumers and marginal costs of all producers. Instead of quantity supplied, the macroeconomist examines aggregate output, or gross domestic product. Instead of underallocation and overallocation of resources, the macroeconomists concerns himself with unemployment and inflation.
When it comes to the role of government, macroeconomics has a lot more to say about the role a central government should play in managing the economy as a whole. One major theme of microeconomics is that competitive markets, when left alone by government, tend to achieve efficient allocations of resources. You’ll find that in Macro, however, the government often plays a central part in stimulating and slowing down the level of economic activity in the economy, using tools such as fiscal and monetary policy.
Also in macroeconomics, we’ll study in more depth the role that comparative advantage plays in the economic exchanges that take place between nations. International trade also involves the exchange of foreign currencies, which we’ll try to understand by studying exchange rates and the role that governments play in manipulating and controlling the values of their currencies.
Macroeconomics will prove to be particularly relevant to the events going on in the recent turbulent global economy. If have listened to the news lately you’ve heard world leaders, political pundits and commentators from all political and economic leanings use words like “bailout”, “fiscal stimulus”, “monetary easing”, “deficit spending” and others; all concepts having to do with macroeconomics. In the next few months, you will begin to see the forest through the trees as we take on the exciting and challenging field of macroeconomics.
Assignment: Using your economics text and the Economic Dictionary at Econclassroom.com, complete the table below.
- On the left are microeconomics concepts you have already studied as part of the course. Each of these concepts needs to be defined or explained.
- In the right column are the macro concept that corresponds with each of the micro concepts. Each of these terms or concepts needs to be defined and/or explained.