Positive Economics: Insights and Applications


Positive economics is the objective analysis of economic phenomena, focusing on facts and data rather than value judgments. This article delves into the history, theory, pros and cons, and real-world examples of positive economics. Understanding this field is essential for policymakers, economists, and anyone interested in making informed economic decisions. Discover the advantages and disadvantages of positive economics and its role in shaping public policies. Explore the distinction between positive and normative economics and how they work together. This comprehensive guide sheds light on the world of economic analysis.

What is positive economics?

Positive economics, also known as “what is” economics, is a branch of economic analysis that is grounded in objectivity, relying on verifiable facts and data. Unlike normative economics, which is driven by value judgments and subjective opinions, positive economics seeks to understand economic phenomena based on what has happened and what is currently happening in a given economy. It plays a crucial role in forming the foundation for predictions about future economic trends and behaviors.

Understanding positive economics

The cornerstone of positive economics is the examination of fact-based economic behaviors, relationships, and cause-and-effect interactions to develop economic theories. It takes a psychology-based approach, assuming that individuals make rational financial decisions based on the information available to them. Positive economics is often referred to as “what is” economics because it relies on fact-based determinations of economic thought, in contrast to normative economics, which focuses on “what should have been” or “what ought to be” studies.

Historically, positive economics has played a vital role in shaping economic thought and policy. Its roots can be traced back to the 19th century when early economists such as John Neville Keynes and John Stuart Mill identified the distinction between what is and what should be.

History of positive economics

John Neville Keynes and John Stuart Mill were among the pioneers of positive economics. Keynes emphasized the importance of logic and methodology in the study of economics, focusing on the examination of economic relationships, such as supply and demand, through data analysis rather than subjective value judgments.

These early economists developed economic theories supported by factual evidence from the economic conditions of their time. Their ideas influenced contemporary economists like Milton Friedman, one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. Friedman’s theories, known as monetarism, emphasized the importance of the free-market capitalistic system and criticized the role of monetary policy in economic downturns.

Testing positive economic theories

One of the key features of positive economics is the ability to verify and support conclusions with data. For example, the prediction that higher interest rates lead to increased savings is based on positive economics because it is supported by historical behavioral patterns.

Positive economics is objective by nature, in contrast to normative statements and theories, which are subjective and value-based. Much of the information presented in the news media combines both positive and normative economic statements or assumptions.

Positive economic theory can provide a valuable foundation for policymakers to implement normative value judgments. For instance, it can explain how the government can influence inflation by increasing the money supply, supported by data and behavioral analyses. However, it does not dictate specific policy actions.

Advantages and disadvantages of positive economics

Positive economics offers several advantages and disadvantages, shaping its role in economic analysis and decision-making.

Pros and cons

Weigh the Risks and Benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks associated with positive economics.

  • Relies on objective data, not opinions or value judgments.
  • Provides a factual basis for understanding economic phenomena.
  • Empowers policymakers to formulate effective economic measures.
  • Enables individuals to make informed financial decisions based on data.
  • Emotions can influence economic decisions despite the availability of data.
  • Economics, whether positive or normative, isn’t an exact science.
  • Policy solutions derived from positive economics may not have uniform effects on all individuals.

Real-world examples of positive economics

Positive economics plays a significant role in shaping public policy and understanding economic behaviors in the real world. One notable example is the ongoing debate surrounding the “Fight for 15,” a nationwide movement advocating for a $15 minimum wage.

The stance on a $15 minimum wage is a value judgment, a normative economic perspective. Proponents argue that raising the minimum wage would be beneficial, while opponents contend that it would have negative consequences. While there is ongoing research on the impact of minimum wage increases, there are no definitive findings that offer broad conclusions about whether higher minimum wages are universally good or bad.

The seattle ordinance

In 2015, the city of Seattle passed a local ordinance to gradually increase the minimum wage for workers. The ordinance aimed to ensure that all workers in the city would earn at least $15 per hour by 2021 or sooner, depending on specific employment details. Subsequent studies have been conducted to assess the impact of this policy.

For example, a study by researchers from the University of California-Berkeley focused on restaurant employees. Their analysis indicated that unemployment in Seattle decreased from 5.7% in 2012 to 3.6% in 2016, and median annual earnings for employees increased by 13.4% over the same period.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Washington reached a different conclusion, suggesting that the minimum wage increase was not successful. Some of their specific data showed that, following the wage hike, low-wage employees worked fewer hours, resulting in a decrease in total payroll for low-income workers.

While the specific data collected represents positive economics, the researchers’ conclusions remain a matter of debate due to the potential impact of unaccounted factors.

Applications of positive economics

Positive economics finds application in various domains, offering valuable insights for decision-making. Here are a few key areas where positive economics plays a crucial role:

Economic forecasting

One of the primary applications of positive economics is economic forecasting. Economists analyze historical economic data and current trends to make predictions about future economic conditions. For example, they may use past consumer spending patterns to forecast future trends in retail sales. These forecasts are essential for businesses, policymakers, and investors to make informed decisions.

Policy evaluation

Positive economics is often used to evaluate the effectiveness of economic policies. For instance, if a government implements a tax policy change, economists can use data and analysis to determine whether the policy achieved its intended goals, such as stimulating economic growth or reducing income inequality. This evaluation helps policymakers refine their strategies based on factual evidence.

Positive economics in financial markets

Financial markets are heavily influenced by positive economics. Investors and traders rely on data and economic indicators to make investment decisions. Here are some examples of how positive economics impacts financial markets:

Stock market analysis

Positive economics is integral to stock market analysis. Investors closely monitor economic indicators like GDP growth, employment rates, and inflation to assess the overall health of the economy. Positive economic data often leads to bullish sentiment in the stock market, while negative data can trigger bearish sentiments. This analysis informs investment decisions, asset allocation, and risk management strategies.

Monetary policy and interest rates

The decisions of central banks, such as the Federal Reserve in the United States, are influenced by positive economics. Central banks use economic data and analysis to set monetary policy, including interest rates. Positive economics helps central banks determine the appropriate timing and magnitude of interest rate changes to control inflation and support economic growth. These policy decisions have significant implications for bond markets, foreign exchange markets, and overall economic stability.

Positive economics and behavioral economics

While positive economics primarily relies on objective data, it intersects with behavioral economics in understanding how individuals make financial decisions. Behavioral economics examines the psychological and emotional factors that influence economic choices. Combining insights from positive economics and behavioral economics provides a more comprehensive view of economic behavior.

The role of information

Positive economics recognizes the importance of information in economic decision-making. People often rely on information to make rational choices. For example, positive economics can show how providing consumers with clear and accurate information about the risks and benefits of different financial products can lead to better financial decisions.

Nudging in policy

Positive economics can inform “nudging” strategies in policy-making. Nudging is a concept from behavioral economics that involves gently guiding people towards making better decisions. Policymakers can use insights from positive economics to design nudges based on factual data to encourage behaviors like saving for retirement or reducing energy consumption.


Positive economics is a fundamental concept in the field of economics, offering a data-driven and objective approach to understanding economic behaviors and phenomena. By relying on facts and historical data, it empowers individuals and policymakers to make informed decisions. However, it’s important to recognize that economics, whether positive or normative, is not an exact science, and policy solutions may have varying effects on different segments of the population. By combining both positive and normative economics, a more holistic understanding of economic issues can be achieved, allowing for well-informed policy decisions and personal financial choices.

Frequently asked questions

What are some key economic indicators used in positive economics analysis?

Positive economics relies on a range of economic indicators, including GDP growth, unemployment rates, inflation rates, and consumer spending. These indicators provide factual data that economists use to analyze economic conditions and make predictions.

How does positive economics differ from normative economics?

Positive economics focuses on objective analysis and relies on verifiable facts and data, while normative economics involves subjective value judgments and considerations of what economic behavior should be in the future. Positive economics deals with what is happening, while normative economics explores what should happen.

Can positive economics help in shaping effective economic policies?

Yes, positive economics plays a crucial role in policy-making by providing a factual basis for understanding economic phenomena. Policymakers use insights from positive economics to design and evaluate policies, ensuring they are grounded in data and evidence.

How does positive economics impact investment decisions in financial markets?

Positive economics influences investment decisions in financial markets by providing objective data and analysis. Investors rely on economic indicators like GDP growth, employment rates, and inflation to assess economic conditions and make informed investment choices.

What is the significance of combining positive economics and behavioral economics?

Combining insights from positive economics and behavioral economics offers a more comprehensive understanding of economic behavior. Positive economics provides data-driven analysis, while behavioral economics explores the psychological and emotional factors that influence economic choices. This combination helps policymakers and individuals make well-informed decisions.

Key takeaways

  • Positive economics relies on objective analysis and factual data to understand economic phenomena.
  • It plays a critical role in economic forecasting, helping economists and policymakers make informed predictions about future economic conditions.
  • Positive economics is essential for evaluating the effectiveness of economic policies, providing a basis for evidence-based decision-making.
  • Financial markets are heavily influenced by positive economics, impacting investment decisions, asset allocation, and market sentiment.
  • Understanding the intersection of positive economics and behavioral economics provides a more comprehensive view of economic behavior and decision-making.
  • Information plays a vital role in economic choices, and positive economics can inform strategies for providing clear and accurate information to consumers.
  • Nudging strategies, informed by positive economics, can guide individuals towards making better financial decisions and contribute to societal well-being.
View Article Sources
  1. Definition of Positive Economics – Higher Rock Education
  2. Exploring Economics: Welcome – Exploring Economics
  3. Normative and Positive Economics – Economics Help