When the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin was asked to join a research group to work on economics his first response was “I don’t know anything about economics.” That’s okay, said Mike Brown, the former CFO of Microsoft, “because nobody does and the whole system is about to collapse.”
That was 2007, and the rest is history. And yet, according to Smolin, he found that it is very easy for a physicist to understand economics “because it’s very mathematical.” Moreover, it was actually “physics envy” that got us in trouble in the first place.
Smolin, the author of Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, tells Big Think that economists were seduced by physics because it made their arguments for deregulation seem scientific. They believed, for instance, that an equilibrium was possible. In other words, an equilibrium was supposed to make it impossible “to profit from trading around a circle of goods or a circle of currencies without actually producing anything.” Of course, that is possible, and that did happen, and that’s because, as Smolin tells us, “you’re never really at equilibrium.”