The Difference Between Physics and Mainstream Economics

Newspapers this morning were full of the story of how physicists at CERN in Geneva have demonstrated that a particle (sub-atomic one) could go faster than the speed of light.  I’m no physicist, (although I do make extensive use of the principles of gravity and inertia), but this appears to be a rather startling result – one of those things current accepted theory says can’t happen.  The Globe and Mail report:

 A fundamental pillar of physics – that nothing can go faster than the speed of light – appears to be smashed by an oddball subatomic particle that has apparently made a giant end run around Albert Einstein’s theories.

Scientists at the world’s largest physics lab said Thursday they have clocked neutrinos travelling faster than light. That’s something that according to Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity – the famous E (equals) mc2 equation – just doesn’t happen.

Mr. Gillies told The Associated Press that the readings have so astounded researchers that they are asking others to independently verify the measurements before claiming an actual discovery.

“They are inviting the broader physics community to look at what they’ve done and really scrutinize it in great detail, and ideally for someone elsewhere in the world to repeat the measurements,” he said Thursday.

Scientists at the competing Fermilab in Chicago have promised to start such work immediately.

“It’s a shock,” said Fermilab head theoretician Stephen Parke, who was not part of the research in Geneva. “It’s going to cause us problems, no doubt about that – if it’s true.”

Wow. What a difference. So when reality demonstrates something that theory says can’t happen, the physicists think it’s a problem and set out to: (a) verify the results, and (b) revise theory to account for it.  In mainstream macroeconomics as it’s been practiced since the 1970’s, they do just the opposite.  If something happens in reality that theory says or assumes can’t happen, mainstream macro-economists will just ignore facts. After all, an elegant mathematical theory is just too beautiful to abandon.  Why describe the workings of the real world when you can build models of hypothetical mathematical worlds that can never exist.   </end snarky sarcasm>

The Fed’s New “Twist” – Not Likely To Help

Late Wednesday The Federal Reserve announced a new program to try to stimulate  the economy so that maybe somebody, somewhere could get a new job, or maybe it’s so that critics would shut-up about employment.  It’s always hard to tell what The Fed’s real objectives are.  I don’t have time to explain now why it’s not likely to do much. But I didn’t want it to go unnoticed, so I’ll give you Stephanie Kelton from neweconomicperpectives, the UM Kansas City MMT people:

Ben Kenobi Launches Operation Twist: Will it Save the Republic?

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) just announced that it’s going to begin another round of asset buying, this time offsetting its purchases of longer-dated securities with sales of shorter term holdings. The goal? Flatten the yield curve. The hope? Engineer a recovery by helping homeowners refinance at lower rates and making broader financial conditions more attractive to would-be-borrowers.

At this point, it looks like Obi-Ben Kenobi realizes that Congress isn’t going to lend a hand with the recovery. Indeed, as a scholar of the Great Depression, he’s probably deeply concerned by the “Go Big” mantra that is now drawing support from people like Alice Rivlin, former Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve.  And so it is Ben, and Ben alone, who must fight to prevent the double-dip. It is as if he’s responding to the public’s desperate cry, “Help me Obi-Ben Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Will it work?  Not a chance, but that conversation is taking place over at Pragmatic Capitalism, so drop in and find out why.  Below is a description, taken from the full FRB press release, that describes just what the Fed is going to do.  May the force be with us all.

“To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with the dual mandate, the Committee decided today to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities. The Committee intends to purchase, by the end of June 2012, $400 billion of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 6 years to 30 years and to sell an equal amount of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 3 years or less. This program should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and help make broader financial conditions more accommodative. The Committee will regularly review the size and composition of its securities holdings and is prepared to adjust those holdings as appropriate.

To help support conditions in mortgage markets, the Committee will now reinvest principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. In addition, the Committee will maintain its existing policy of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction.”