Saturday, January 31, 2015

Politics and the Inverse Square Law

The farther you are from something, the less you know about. In physics, this applies to the force of gravity, to electro-static attraction or repulsion, to the intensity of sound.  More generally, it applies to social and political distances.  Political decisions made at city hall, the county seat, the state capital, and Washington D.C. must suffer by the square of the distance from a lack of information.

On the other hand, when you make economic choices for yourself, your family, or household, you are most directly informed about the facts and the consequences.  The further into the future you plan, the less you know and the greater your risks.

Political plans to save the planet and the future generations that inhabit it must suffer from degradations of knowledge along every dimension of true costs, actual benefits, and both primary and secondary consequences intended and unintended.  Indeed, it is quite likely that many, if not most, future generations will not even be on this planet.

The world’s oldest continuing companies (see Wikipedia here) are all narrowly focused on mundane pursuits such as beer, wine, candy, jewelry, and hospitality.  It is hard enough to make beer successfully for 200 years.  The oldest companies in the United States (Wikipedia here) reflect the economic paradigm of capitalism: pencils, chemicals, tools, and newspapers. And we still have old breweries and continuing farms.
 Governments are less successful.  The UK and USA are wonderful exceptions. England last executed a king in 1649.  The Glorious Revolution of 1688 defined the status of crown and parliament.  The Constitution of the United States was ratified a hundred years later.  Although Iceland does claim the longest continuing parliament, the Althing, that institution only existed within a context of subordination to Norway, Sweden, or Denmark, as Iceland was not politically independent from 1262 to 1944. Generally, governments come and go with alarming regularity exactly because they are so poor at both predicting the future and responding to new circumstances.
SUNY Canton Engineering
and Construction Management

Interactive here.

Perhaps the best judgment came from Prof. Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House.  Addressing a Republican Party fund-raiser, he said of the government, “These people are not evil. They just have the wrong information system.”  In other words, they are informed by power, not market.  And the physics of power is not encouraging. Though not all analogies between electrical circuits and political action are valid, generally, any resistance can draw more power until the system overloads.   


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