Physics and the Economy
We Take Too Many Things for Granted
Is there a link between physics and the economy? As a civilisation, we have reached a point where we take a lot of technological developments for granted. Films such as water would remind us of the importance of having a piece of land to grow food. If also watch Rango, you will appreciate a drop of water. Water World is about the abundance of water with no land and Rango is the opposite, lots of land without water. Scarcity motivates human politics. We find for the control of limited resources.
Our children are growing up in an era where they take a lot of things for granted. They have a new normal compared to what we experienced growing. Perhaps our parents also thought the same about us. I believe that the gap is much wider between our children and due to the speed of technological innovation in the last few decades. I wonder what our kids will say about their children? I had no access to computers until my early twenties. Now I’m experiencing cloud computing and perhaps augmented and virtual reality soon.
Some people joke to say that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should be updated to include WiFi. For our children, scarcity is no longer the problem but abundance. We have to teach them to manage wealth. There’s so much to do and so little time to do it. We all have to manage abundance. Endless possibilities. We are tempted to do it all, but we don’t have the time. We have to specialise in our areas of expertise, to focus on our strengths.
I choose science because it allows me to find a context in everything that is happening around me. In science, we call them phenomena. We follow the energy. When energy changes from one form of energy to another form, the machine has to do some work. Work is the rate at which we convert energy from one form to another. When you are walking, you are working because you are converting the chemical energy from the food you eat into the kinetic or movement energy of your muscles and your body. In fact, when you are walking, you are pushing the ground backwards, and the ground is pushing you forward. We call this Newton’s Third law of Motion: to every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. The effect of pushing the ground backwards reacts to pushing you forward.
Even when you are standing, you are pushing the earth downwards, and the earth is pushing upwards with the same force. If the force from the ground were less, you would sink into the floor, and if was more, you would propel upwards. There would be a resultant force causing you to accelerate upwards. The resultant force causes acceleration according to Newton’s Second Law of Motion. But what does the first law say? Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object will continue in its state of rest or constant motion in a straight line unless an external force acts on it. In other words, the object will stay where it is unless a force acts on it in which case it will move, turn, twist, rotate, get squashed etc. If it is already moving with constant motion then if a force is applied, it will accelerate, decelerate or stop.
We measure work in joules. The greater the rate of energy conversion, the more the work is done. How about the speed at which we do work? It is called the power. We measure it in joules per second or watts. One thousand watts is one kilowatt. The word kilo means one thousand. When you study economic growth and development, you can think about the amount of goods and services produced by a country. The country needs the energy to do this. It needs to convert energy from one form to another to do work and produce goods and services. Nation states with abundant energy supplies can grow their economies. A country needs healthy citizens who feed well to be able to work.
The biggest challenge humanity faces whether it’s rich or developing countries, is the unequal and unfair distribution of goods and services. Resentment causes conflict. We have entrusted politicians to solve our problems, and that is a problem. Politicians have to take of their personal needs and those of their friends and families first. It is particularly the case for emerging economies where the politicians are emerging from poor backgrounds, and they want to catch up with their international counterparts through the primitive accumulation of capital. They neglect science and technology as the drivers of economic growth and development. They focus on the collection of physical assets. They ignore entrepreneurship as the long term solution to wealth creation and distribution. Entrepreneurs employ people, so they need to be supported through economic policy by the incumbent government.
Embrace Science and Technology
The primary function of government these days should be the infrastructural development that only the state can mobilise. Individuals can only do so much when it comes to projects such as electricity generation and the transport network. Once the infrastructure is in place, innovative entrepreneurs can build businesses on top of that. Transport operators can move goods around the country; others can engage in energy distribution. We now have the added advantage of the internet and software applications. Evry individual now can tell stories about their areas of expertise. We can finally do the things that we have always wanted to do. As a teacher, I can open a school online and teach only the physics I have always wanted to focus on delivering.
The governments of emerging economies should embrace science and technology to drive economic growth and development. They should also promote and support entrepreneurship, and small businesses as these can transform into global corporations. For that reason, I will focus on being the ambassador of science and point out how science, technology, and entrepreneurship can drive economic growth and development, and hence bridge the inequality gap.