If we see Economy as a system of making and trading things of value (goods/services), can we correctly affirm that it is human life?

I can see that, making/trading those values depend on human life, but can we say that there is life without making and trading things of value? Should the trades that happen in a cellular level be considered when considering an individualistic life?

That sentence has been linked with arguments on "saving" the economy, suggesting that it is a false dichotomy as "Economy is human life".

Assuming that we can say that "Economy is human life", are we implying that if we do not save the economy, we do not save human lives?

It is extremely important to make sure the concept of "Economy" and "human life" are being understood in the same way.

  • Economics is a social science. If you believe that individualistic existence isn't life, may be. Animals usually don't have such sophisticated system of trading, but they definitely have 'life' and have emotions too.
    – Ajax
    May 13, 2020 at 10:29
  • Maybe we can say that there is no social life without economy. May 13, 2020 at 10:33
  • Should the trades that happen in a cellular level be considered when considering an individualistic life? May 13, 2020 at 10:33
  • 3
    "It is easy to be always right, one just has to be sufficiently vague", Peirce. Robinson Crusoe was not trading things for lack of trading partners, but he was eating and breathing, and so making something, and it was of value, since he would die without it. Even ascetic monks in a monastery do it in breaks between prayers. We can say it, but it does not amount to saying much of anything. But there is plenty of human life outside of economy in any reasonably cogent sense.
    – Conifold
    May 13, 2020 at 12:05
  • 2
    Superb question! One of the most galling features in all economic theories is the total absence of the part that humanity plays in any economic equation. For me this renders all economic theory artificial and irrelevant, which is being demonstrated more and more since inflation no longer bears any relationship to the other indicators and the unemployment figure has always been artificial since it discounts anyone not actively seeking work, whatever that means when there are no viable, well paying jobs. Your equation of Economy equals life is quite astute and deserves plaudits.
    – user37981
    May 16, 2020 at 15:22

5 Answers 5


For just about any discipline, if one interprets it sufficiently broadly, one might argue that in some sense it captures all of human life. E.g.: psychology captures all of human life since all we care about happens in the brain. History captures all of human life since all we do eventually becomes part of history. Surely one can do the same for economics.

On the other hand, if we interpret economics (or "the economy") sufficiently narrowly, then clearly it is not true. For example, economists acknowledge the shortcomings of a measure such as GDP: https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/ap-macroeconomics/economic-iondicators-and-the-business-cycle/limitations-of-gdp/a/lesson-summary-the-limitations-of-gdp One might well argue that the activities that are missed by a measure such as GDP are in some sense still "economic"; e.g., when I hug my child that creates value for me and my child. That is fine for some purposes. But of course sometimes it's good to look at things from a different perspective as well.


Of course it is not

Economy and economics as science that studies economy are very much narrow fields. They assume existence of humans as a species, they assume certain social conventions like property and ownership, they assume existence of markets etc ... All of that is not given, for example system that makes your money yours is not natural, it is a very thin and relatively unprotected human convention which was historically broken many times (various expropriations, inflation etc ...)

If you want to go deeper, you will absolutely certainly cross into domain of sociology and history, which would explain property rights, emergence of money, first markets etc ... Then you could ask yourself why food has certain value (and dirt is almost useless and worthless ) and you will go to biology for these answers. Then you will learn that cells actually do not trade, instead they depend on certain chemical processes to exchange energy. And if you want to study energy, you will undoubtedly end up with physics.

Finally, if you want to find meaning (or discover there is no meaning) in all of this, you could turn to philosophy and try to connect all of these scientific disciplines into one system.

  • 1
    From my question "If we see Economy as a system of making and trading things of value (goods/services)". From this, it raises two questions: can we see Economy as that? If yes, can we correctly affirm that it is human life? May 15, 2020 at 13:37
  • 1
    @GonçaloPeres龚燿禄 You assume too much. First ask yourself what is trading, and what conditions must be fulfilled for trade to happen. Then ask yourself why some things have value, and other do not. When you answer those questions, you will understand limits of economy.
    – rs.29
    May 15, 2020 at 19:05
  • According to Marx, life is not economy, but work.

A human life is defined by action / praxis in which humans put at work their properly human potentialities ( intelligence, will) in a social context that allows them to realize the nature of man as " zoon politikon" or " animal socialis".

So I live a human life when I live for workin ( because action / praxis is the essence of human life).

Note : according to Aristotle properly human action ( praxis) is distinguisehed from " poièsis" ( production) ; Marx's point is that production ( labour) is the true praxis.

  • Economy represents a total perversion of this natural order. In the economic system, means become ends : money that is only a tool for exchange becomes a goal in itself; men do no longer live for working, but, instead, work for a living. That is, they use their properly human abilities and potentialities as a means to survive, to entertain their life in the biological sense of the term.

As Marx says, work is no longer the expression of life ( a neeed in itself) but the sacrifice of life.

Marx, Wage labour and Capital

"Consequently, labour-power is a commodity which its possessor, the wage-worker, sells to the capitalist. Why does he sell it? It is in order to live.

But the putting of labour-power into action – i.e., the work – is the active expression of the labourer's own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another. The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity. What he produces for himself is not the silk that he weaves, not the gold that he draws up the mining shaft, not the palace that he builds. What he produces for himself is wages; and the silk, the gold, and the palace are resolved for him into a certain quantity of necessaries of life, perhaps into a cotton jacket, into copper coins, and into a basement dwelling. And the labourer who for 12 hours long, weaves, spins, bores, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stone, carries hods, and so on – is this 12 hours' weaving, spinning, boring, turning, building, shovelling, stone-breaking, regarded by him as a manifestation of life, as life? Quite the contrary. Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the table, at the tavern, in bed.

The 12 hours' work, on the other hand, has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, boring, and so on, but only as earnings, which enable him to sit down at a table, to take his seat in the tavern, and to lie down in a bed. If the silk-worm's object in spinning were to prolong its existence as caterpillar, it would be a perfect example of a wage-worker. "


Yep, it does depending on the definition. People forget the basic definition of the economy: the study of how things are made, moved around, and used. An economy is based on how people and creatures manage available resources and studying that on a base level. There are more complex definitions, but the basic definition only presumes two things:

  • Resources are limited
  • Someone has a system/s to determine what can be used and how

Unless you have a truly post-scarcity world (which should not be possible since energy is finite, thus so are resources) or have someone who truly never interacts with others to exchange resources, then you will have an economy. For example, nature 'creates' fruit, and economics would be studying how the resource is shared between different intelligent creatures, how it is consumed, and what system determines who gets some and when.


While absolutely all interactions (social, cultural, personal, familiar, comercial, organizational, etc.) produce a positive or a negative result, there is much more than economy.

Economy is the system of exchanges that are performed by means of money.

When you teach something to your kid, you benefit yourself with the time passed with him, with his presence, etc. while he benefits of the interaction by obtaining knowledge that will contribute in a minor or major measure to his survival. None of this elements in the interaction have nothing to do with economy, with money etc. so, they are not characterized commonly as such.

Anyway, economy is a loose term, and informally it is applied in any kind of interaction.

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