Economics focuses on the behaviour and interactions of economic agents and how economies work. Microeconomics analyzes basic elements in the economy, including individual agents and markets, their interactions, and the outcomes of interactions. Individual agents may include, for example, households, firms, buyers, and sellers. Macroeconomics analyzes the entire economy (meaning aggregated production, consumption, savings, and investment) and issues affecting it, including unemployment of resources (labour, capital, and land), inflation, economic growth, and the public policies that address these issues (monetary, fiscal, and other policies). See glossary of economics.
Other broad distinctions within economics include those between positive economics, describing "what is", and normative economics, advocating "what ought to be"; between economic theory and applied economics; between rational and behavioural economics; and between mainstream economics and heterodox economics.
The discipline was renamed in the late 19th century primarily due to Alfred Marshall from "political economy" to "economics" as a shorter term for "economic science". At that time, it became more open to rigorous thinking and made increased use of mathematics, which helped support efforts to have it accepted as a science and as a separate discipline outside of political science and other social sciences. The ultimate goal of economics is to improve the living conditions of people in their everyday life.
Economic analysis can be applied throughout society, in business, finance, health care, and government. Economic analysis is sometimes also applied to such diverse subjects as crime, education, the family, law, politics, religion, social institutions, war, science, and the environment.
There are a variety of modern definitions of economics; some reflect evolving views of the subject or different views among economists. Scottish philosopher Adam Smith (1776) defined what was then called political economy as "an inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations", in particular as: