Economics are Tools

I read an interesting article on The Atlantic the other day, probably read it in the past as it was an OpEd written in 2013, but is still as important as ever. The article’s premise is that there are no Economic Laws.

This of course is obvious, as in hard science we never refer to anything as “Laws” any more, other than antiquated theories that represent paradigmal thinking from great minds of the past. For example, the Law of Gravity has been significantly modified with the Theory of Relativity. Sure, the underlying math of the “Law” works for the most part, but breaks down under certain conditions. Meaning that it’s not actually an unbreakable law.

Even in Mathematics there are no true laws, there are theorems that are true, however not all those theorems can be proven to be true, according to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

If we are unwilling to say that there are no laws in Mathematics and Physics, how can we so willingly say there are laws in Economics? This is foolish as it pushes us to think that the Economics is unchangeable and thus works consistently across all conditions and times. Recently the IMF released a report essentially arguing that the trickle down effect doesn’t work as it truly doesn’t “raise all boats”.

We must instead look at Economics as a tool, one that is imperfect and should not be used to moralize. However, it can be used in policy as long as we are willing to abandon the tool once we see that it does not work. Furthermore, tools that worked once don’t always work in every situation. There are tools that are more flexible and likely to work than others, similarly to specific frameworks. This is true in Process Improvement as it is in Development and Economics.

We need to seriously look at our policy tools and think about abandoning some of our economic frameworks as they are hurting the economy.

Europe in the Driver’s Seat

Today I woke up to wonderful news. CERN has discovered the Higgs Boson particle, the so called “God” particle and the EU parliament has voted against ACTA. This is a great day for science and for freedom of expression.

What do these mean? Well, the Higgs particle is supposed to be the particle that gives everything else mass. It is the actual building block that everything in our universe is supposedly built upon. Why do I say supposedly? Well, the discovery is with a 5 sigma confidence. This is a really good, but in many cases they like to have 9 sigma. What does that mean in layman’s terms? So most testing is looking for a probability of less than 5% that this could happen by pure happenstance, or random error. This means that 95% of your data bear out the test your trying to answer. This happens around 2 sigma where sigma represents a standard deviation. Most products are made with safety specifications around 2 sigma, maybe three sigma (99.73%). The values that we’re talking about are so high, that you’re starting to get into the range of lottery winning (or plane accidents for that matter) likelihood for 5 or 9 sigma. With such high confidence you actually start to run into a greater likelihood of missing the actual signal than for it to not actually be there. You are being so strict on your data requirements that something that actually is the real signal is ignored by your data set.

Does this change my daily life? No not at all. We won’t be able to do anything functional at this level for more than a century if ever. We’re still working on the results of Einstein’s theories and how to apply them. We haven’t really gotten quantum computing working or any of the other cool things we’re working on (teleporting light and particles for example). However, it does give us a greater understanding of how the universe works and we’ve had to develop a lot of new technologies to detect these particles. The technologies could be very useful in the future for completely unrelated applications.

ACTA is a very different story. I’ve talked about it in the past and mentioned how much of a risk it was to the openness of the internet and to our society as a whole. The largest political body in Europe has decided to reject ACTA. The vote wasn’t even remotely close. Our hard work has paid off and the treaty is effectively dead. In the US it hasn’t been ratified by the Legislative branch and is really only going to be between the US and Morocco, which really isn’t going to be very effective. This is fantastic news and I’m extremely excited about this.

Unfortunately, we can’t just take a break, we have to keep working on the main reason why these laws are even brought up for vote in the first place. The USTR is currently negotiating the TPP which is starting to be viewed in a similar fashion as ACTA. I believe that we’re on the right path for stopping these types of legislation and treaties.

Way to go Europe in two major things.

They’ve gone PLAID!! or CERN finds faster than light particle.

Yes, CERN has claimed that the speed of light has been broken by Neutrinos. What is exactly does that mean and why is it a big deal? First why is breaking the speed of light a big deal? According to the theory of special relativity, the speed of light is the maximum speed that something can accelerate to. Because of the famous equation E=mc2 it would require an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object beyond the speed of light.

What is a Neutrino? A neutrino is one of the particles that make up other particles. It’s part of the building blocks of atomic theory. Neutrinos carry no charge, so they are different than the electron. Since they have no charge they are able to pass through matter. Neutrinos also require very special detection mechanisms. Neutrinos also have mass. 
This is why it is a big deal to have detected the speed of a neutrino at greater than the speed of light. Either the neutrino always has traveled faster than the speed of light or they were somehow able to accelerate to a speed greater than that of light, which requires infinite energy under our current model of physics. Since we’re talking about a particle accelerator here it can be assumed that the collision created the neutrino, thus we know that it is impossible for infinite energy to have be entered into the system.
Now that we understand what is going on, what is at stake here? A particle that is able to accelerate to a speed faster than the speed of light completely shifts our understanding of subatomic particles. Actually, it obliterates it. We will have no clear understand of what is going on at these particle sizes. 
Could this be the greatest finding in the 21st century? Yes. All physicists believe it would be. Are people just accepting these findings? No. There is a great deal of skepticism, and it’s not just from the broader community. The scientists that are presenting the results are basically issuing a challenge to the scientific community to show that they are wrong! Based on their findings these results are in fact statistically significant. 
Are other scientists going to test these results to verify it? Well, there are only two other places in the world that could have the capabilities to test it. Fermilab in Chicago and a Japanese lab that was damaged by the earth quake and tsunami. However, Fermilab’s equipment isn’t sensitive enough to detect the difference in the speeds. Basically, the speed difference is so small it is within the margin of error for the detection equipment.
What’s this all mean to me though? Well, for us non-physicists life goes on as normal. We can’t suddenly travel faster than light. However, this is a case of good science at work. We should seriously pay attention to what happens here. This type of science happens all the time at a smaller scale. For evolution this type of science is happening. Some extraordinary claim is made, which requires extraordinary data to support it, then is tested by other people. IF the claim withstands additional scrutiny the claim is accepted. In some cases where the claim is so extraordinary that the people making the claims don’t really buy it, then it is the duty of the scientific community and the larger community to give them the support they need to determine the validity of the results.
Here’s some comments from British CERN physicists Brian Cox.