Two winner’s trophies side by side
(featured image: Arek Socha via pixabay)

So, are we then really not all economists?

Economics is part and parcel of most human interaction, but does that mean we understand it?

Koen Smets
7 min readMay 14, 2021


My very first post hereabouts carried the somewhat bold title, “We are all economists”. Even if we know nothing about economics, we do face competing calls on our scarce resources (money, time, or attention, for example) that cannot all be fulfilled at the same time, and we need to make trade-offs in order to resolve this. Two core aspects of economics happen to be the allocation of scarce resources and trade-offs, so the claim that early post makes is not without merit.

We have been paying attention to how we allocate scarce resources since long before, in 1776, Adam Smith marked the start of modern economics. Being able to utilize scarce resources efficiently is advantageous. When our ancestors Ug and Ag figured out which foodstuffs kept longer and which went off rapidly, and consumed them accordingly, they wasted less food, and needed to spend less time hunting and gathering than their ignorant neighbours Og and Eg, who often first ate the stuff that would have kept longer. Whether Ug and Ag’s offspring inherited this valuable ability, we do not know. But while Og and Eg were busy getting more food, Ug and Ag would have had a more enjoyable time (perhaps engaging in activities that might produce offspring).

Society’s killer app

That is, however, not the whole story. There is another economic phenomenon: the win-win transaction. While we encounter scarce resources and trade-offs even when there is nobody else involved, transactions take place between people. Some transactions have a winner and a loser: what one party gains, is the other’s loss. Stealing — not uncommon among animals and humans alike — is a prime example of such a zero-sum transaction.

But it is win-win transactions that are the of complex human societies: voluntary exchanges in which both participants bring something to the party, and leave with more than they came with. Magic!

A board with bread and cheese
Nice, but I do fancy a bit of boar with berries now and again (image: nastyasensei via Pexels)



Koen Smets

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius