Monday, 21 March 2016

Keynes' Gravitational Waves?

"Einstein actually did for Physics what Mr. Keynes believes himself to have done for Economics." (A.C. Pigou)

Last week's Question and Answer show (Monday, March 13), broadcast by ABC and hosted by Tony Jones, featured a panel of five scientific guests, including Brian Greene -- yes, that Prof. Greene -- answering audience questions.

The first question was:
"What does the detection of gravitational waves actually mean for those of us who aren't so scientifically minded, and what repercussions does it hold for everyone?"

Jones added:
"Where do they come from, these gravitational waves, because it’s 1.3 billion years?"
Part of Greene's answer:
"This particular example is a wonderful episode that happened 1.3 billion years ago. So it’s 1.3 billion light years away, which is far. It’s very far away. So it’s an amazing thing. While there were, you know, single-celled organisms floating in earth's oceans -- right? -- these two black holes on the other side of the universe slammed into each other. They set off this tidal wave of a ripple in space. It goes toward the Earth. Roughly 50,000 years ago when Homo sapiens are just starting to rise up and take over, the wave reaches the Milky Way Galaxy -- right? Then about 100 years ago, one member of our species, Albert Einstein, sits down and starts to calculate: 'there may be these gravitational waves'. The waves are already long since in transit. And then, September of 2015, that wave finally hits Earth's shores and what it does is, it shakes a detector by a fraction of an atomic diameter. This is a detector in Louisiana in Washington State, four kilometre-long arms with lasers rushing down them. This wave goes by. It stretches one arm, squeezes the other by less than an atomic diameter and, holy cow, they are able to detect that and see that these waves are real."


One doesn't need to be a theoretical physicist to appreciate -- intuitively, at least -- the magnitude of that discovery, and that Greene's excitement is justified. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is a landmark intellectual achievement, not only of physics or science, but of humanity.

That discovery is also an incredible technical and engineering feat: a design flaw, a mistake in the detector construction, or in the execution of the measurement (or even in the official willingness to fund the project, as suggested later in the show), and there would have been no finding at all.


The quote opening comes from A.C. Pigou's 1936 review "Mr J.M. Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money".

Perhaps readers will not share this, but I wonder whether Keynes did honestly believe his "General Theory" and Einstein's General Theory were on the same league. Did he really believe himself and his achievements were on a par with Einstein and his achievements?

More importantly for us, moderns: do modern Keynesian economists really believe that?

Like, really?

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to add that those "modern Keynesian economists" who really believe that often find themselves in positions of authority. They call themselves technocrats.

    The inmates running the asylum. That's scary.

    Nigel O.