A Skeptical Physicist Argues With An Economist

glowingballVia Do The Math, physicist Tom Murphy shares his dinner conversation (with a pro-growth economist) in which he finds that the laws of mainstream economics do not jibe with his understanding of the laws of reality:

Some while back, I found myself sitting next to an accomplished economics professor. After pleasantries, I said to him, “economic growth cannot continue indefinitely,” just to see where things would go. It was a lively and informative conversation. I was somewhat alarmed by the disconnect between economic theory and physical constraints—not for the first time, but here it was up-close and personal.

We do not share the view of many of our economics colleagues that growth will solve the economic problem, that narrow self-interest is the only dependable human motive, that technology will always find a substitute for any depleted resource, that the market can efficiently allocate all types of goods, that free markets always lead to an equilibrium balancing supply and demand, or that the laws of thermodynamics are irrelevant to economics.

Read more here.

  • rtb61

    The economist “Consider virtualisation. Imagine that in the future, we could all own virtual mansions and have our every need satisfied”.
    Dear economist, we could do that now with drugs, cheap and simple but the psychopaths and narcissists running our insane society demand that the people around them suffer, in order to feed the ego of those psychopaths and narcissists (if they want to protect drug users why do they destroy the lives of drug users by sending them to prison, stoned for four hours, prison for four years).
    The rich and greedy, demand wealth and resources well beyond what they could ever reasonably consume, in fact the demand it just to deny others access too it, to generate a sense false superiority based around their insane selfishness.
    In the same regard as they deny recreational drugs to the majority they would also deny virtualisation to the majority, for them it is not about how much they have it is all about the power to deny others.

    • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

      And that is why they must all die.

      • rtb61

         Of old age in a prison cell, with all their assets confiscated, after a fair trial with all their crimes and corrupt practices exposed.

        • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

          Or from my size 14 boot crushing their skulls like ripe melons against their Italian marble floors.


  • Liam_McGonagle

    Reader’s Digest condensed version:

    Physicist:  “. . . It will always take 4184 Joules to heat a liter of water one degree Celsius. . . .”

    Economist:  ” . . . Imagine that in the future, we could all own virtual mansions and have our every need satisfied: all by stimulative neurological trickery. . . .”

    Editor’s Note:  For this Jah gave the herb to Man.

    • emperorreagan

      Economist: “What if the matrix was real except that it didn’t suck!”
      Physicist: “When I’m not being a downer thinking about the energy trap, I like to sniff real flowers.”

  • emperorreagan

    The limits of growth are something that we’ve managed to frequently dodge: first with cycles of invasion/colonization then with low cost energy coupled with energy intensive technology.

    I think it’s really weird that the discipline of economics depends entirely on scarcity but so many economists seem to be completely oblivious about the hard constraints imposed by the physical and biological systems on this planet.  

    • Andrew

       Economics isn’t science, it’s religion.

      • Liam_McGonagle

        Fair play.

        And when you’re dealing with cartoon characters like Thomas Sowell, it’s barely a “discipline”.

      • The only thing to get is money

        Economics is neither science nor religion, it’s an art. Irrational, erratic, created in various methods and ways, with no empirical standard. It takes a creative person to make tons of cash.

        • Andrew

          No, it’s not an art, and it doesn’t take much creativity to “make” a lot of money.  It just takes good math skills and a knowledge of how to manipulate the rules (that’s where a little creativity comes in).  Some creative people do actually innovate and earn money off their work, so yes, creativity can earn you money, but most fortunes these days are made by financial juggling and chicanery.

          I will take back what I said about it being a religion.  It’s actually a game.

          • The only thing to get is money

            I agree with your point of it being a “game” and “financial juggling” and “chicanery” But the richest people on earth are some of the most creative people ever. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah. This cannot be denied.

          • Andrew

            Yes it can!  Jobs and Gates are fairly creative, but Buffet and Winfrey aren’t, and none of them are even close to Leonardo, Edison, Cage, etc.

    • Hollister David

      Are we constrained to resources from this planet?

  • Unsympathetic Reality

    Tom Murphy’s Do The Math articles are great.

  • Alex

    It’s about time that economics is classed as a pseudoscience, riding the coat tails of econometrics in the same way that astrology abuses the calculations of astronomy to legitimise their brain farts.

    • Redacted

      I agree. Economists are little more than witch doctors tossing chicken bones on the ground to predict the future.

      • Calypso_1

        For better economics try sheep livers.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

       Not all economists. Paul Krugman is a good example of someone who is moving economics towards an actually sensible field.

      But the problems facing economic science are twofold:

      1) people are irrational, so some aspects of economics will always be impervious to rational analysis
      2) most economists are paid by the power structure, and thus beholden to it – so economists can tend to teach themselves to be self-censoring and pre-approving of what the powerful classes consider in their own best interest.

  • Okarin

    economics is academic and students don’t get accredited unless they think a certain way, and now that economics is heavy politicized their new discoveries are based on what the politicians want them to say.

    • Okarin

       for better economics try austrian economics

      • Andrew

        For better economics, try neuroeconomics.

      • Unsympathetic Reality

        Yes, for when you want a rich oligarch class to rule over a caste of wage slaves. Fuck austrian economics, the proponents are all fucking fascists. 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

         Sorry, Keynes wins. Ibid: how the US got of the Great Depression, and why Clinton had a boom and a surplus while GWB crushed both.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Hence Snezhevsky’s Soviet model of schizophrenia:


      You can have an unregulated economy or you can have an unregulated academia–but you cannot have both.

  • Hadrian999

    modern capitalist economics works by externalizing costs, then pretending those costs don’t exist, it only works as long as you have frontiers and colonies left to exploit, you can’t constantly expand inside a closed system.

  • http://www.jaycob.co.nf/ Scruffy

    Wasn’t it an insane Russle Crow that came up with the math they use?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

    I appreciated and agree with some of the physicist’s economic opinions. But, I do think it’s important say *what kind* of economist. Not all economists agree the invisible hand of the market is the best way to allocate resources, as only one example.

    Also, the creation of new technology actually *does* transcend current physical constraints.

    Also it’s fair to note that physicists’ theories have led them to some very non-intuitive conclusions that seem to contradict a non-expert’s experience of reality. Consider every single theory pertaining to subatomic physics.