Provocation #162 Numbers in physics and economics.
The fact of money as numbers is like catnip for the mathematically inclined. But for something to become a number subject to economic analysis it has to go through a very complex social process of culture building, trust, faith, shared intuition about the worth of something in dollar terms, and the growth of supporting institutions..
Physics is just the opposite.The numbers are given by nature. True, a social process of inventing physics is necessary to be able to see the numbers, but the numbers are not generated by a social process.
The result is that the potentially most interesting parts of economics are ignored: how trust develops, the interaction between the social and the physical worlds, how desires and needs are amplified by media, how style emerges, how preferences form (the Trojan Horse of a more human centered economics), for example the US style stand-alone house vs. the close structure of the European hill-towns. Reflexivity means dynamics of a social field, but people are treated as isolated with internal preferences a bit like Plato’s innate ideas.
Economics could be about how society works and how to manage the interactions between humans and environment more skillfully – but not if sych workings with all their complexity are not seen as a question.
Economics students are told “search for data bases” and apply math and create your career.
A a 50 to 150 million dollar severance package after sexual misconduct? This is a symptom, not the sex but the money, of a broken society. Does it get questioned? Or is it just the productive function working its logic and acquiesced to by economists?
I keep coming back to Tim Cook: where is the analysis that says his compensation is based on an adequate economic model of real contributions to Apple’s success? Its customers, for example, are able to use an iPhone because of an expensive education (yes, even a four year old has benefited from much of society allowing them to become customers), but that is treated by Apple as an external it can monetize without having to pay for it. Cook’s wealth is socially generated, privately consumed. This is crazy making – to wit, the current deteriorating state of society which is unnerving us all, and, as Stieglitz says, inequality will continue to get worse. As is often argued, being at the top of a large pyramid should pay more than being at the top of a small pyramid. but this ignores that the existence of both pyramids is the work of a whole society over a number of years. Even the increasing size of a hierarchy under the guidance of a leader pulls together people, ideas, and properties created by others. Each building block of an organization has a history before its incorporation.
“The economy is doing well but society is doing badly.” Employment and the stock market are up, but impact of new jobs on the environment is continuing to increase the stress.
It is all very interesting and very important. But the siloed contributions found in most economic journal articles do not touch on these issues. If you Google “guaranteed annual income and inflation” simple issues like increases in rents and befits to owners and banks are not discussed or brushed over quickly. “The amount of cash put into society by a GAI is small in comparison to the overall GNP.” The reality of a homeless person with their GAI check trying to rent when all the spaces are rented is not explored. It is all gobbledygook with grammatical but not empirical integrity. Lets strive to be more relevant and interesting.
Meanwhile global temperatures and effects ratchet upwards where physics numbers and economic numbers occupy the same space.