1882. Economics and the problem with the mechanical vs organic.

provocation # 98 the mechanical and the organic.

Both the culture of public policy and science support a platonic approach: find the truth buried in the flow of phenomena. get it right. There is one truth and its form is universal, abstract and hopefully mathematical. The task is to find it. The underlying dynamics of markets are always described by the same set of equations.)

What if this has economics and much of social science on the wrong path, trying to pull the machine – timeless and fixed – out of the organic which is constantly emerging and new? What if the important phenomena is in the ephemeral?

The common approach implies the existence of a reality that can eventually be captured in one picture. What if this is just wrong, that history – societies unfolding in time – are always moved by conflict? And no serious conflict, involving world views, can be solved within a world view. That is why any world view must include, if only covert like the Trojan Horse, a value system.

People try to create models (or write papers, not exactly the same) that deal with something such as “Trade and the size of asymmetric populations” But this leaves out all the issues of changing taste, income, needs of the time (shift to solar panels) and all the interesting issues of why people do what they do. It also assumes capitalism, money and a regulatory environment. May this is where the questions ought to be?

Reality of today is different from a few days ago, and tomorrow will be a new emergent and these emergents are ahead of our thinking. Adam Smith, to Schumpeter (and along the way others who were marginalized) understood this and argued against modelling and math.

Modelling as such can fit some aspects of reality pretty well, but shifting public policy and the economy created by it are exactly where the gaming of the system is happening and the situation is always new. Put another way, because it is always new the shifting in the current system attracts the game players and the ambitious. Economics, looking for the mechanical, misses all this.

The majority of economists seem to understand that their task is to create security, calm, and achieve equilibrium. But another group, especially including fund managers, understand that serious money can only be made across discontinuities of which cycles (buy cheap sell expensive) are opportunities.

A major example. Two places both with too much population. Each desires to increase its population in order to defeat the other. The only way to get to a “rational” solution would be to treat the two together as a single system with an authoritarian leader.

System thinking always turns towards the abstract and the need for a decisive choice.

The alternative way of thinking is to recognize that humanity is a species driven in part by its biology and we are not one thing but from many perspectives very  plural. In such a world the science that looks for the machine in the organic, for the timeless and universal in the ephemeral, may not be the best approach. Aristotle was very clear that each phenomena had its appropriate methods of study.

Imagine a rock in a garden.
Science looks at the rock
and poetry looks at the flowers.
We need to rethink who we are as a species
And who we are as a planet
And we need to rethink the relationship between us.
It will be tough because the problems we face simultaneously global warming, increasing population, migrations, inequality of income and other inequalities, quality of life, bad government and a tendency toward war rather than diplomacy.
Are we at the limit of our thinking, or can we do better?
Imagine a rock in a garden.
Science looks at the rock
and poetry looks at the flowers.
Science has a bias toward exploring the universal, the timeless., and the mechanical.  Life is ephemeral, fleeting, Vague.
Where is the better value?

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