Prof. Stephen Hawking
Dear Prof. Hawking
After reading your comments about technology creating mass unemployment and causing dangerous degrees of economic inequality in the absence of government-enforced wealth “redistribution” (“Stephen Hawking says we should really be scared of capitalism, not robots,” Church and State, Nov. 2015), I wondered what an economist might say if he or she pronounced authoritatively on matters studied by experts in the physical sciences. That economist might well offer the following description of physical reality:
“I’m convinced – by a widely held and time-tested popular belief – that the universe was created 6,000 years ago, over the course of six earth days, by God. God also designed and created whole all plants and animals as we know them. (In addition, God created countless fossils that he uses to test our faith by presenting false evidence that creatures roamed the earth and swam the seas millions of years earlier.)
“Further, the allegedly ‘scientific’ truth that neither light nor anything else can travel faster than 3 X 10^8 meters per second is false. I know this ‘truth’ to be false because, having seen many movies and television shows featuring faster-than-light-speed travel, I have no difficulty imagining such super-fast travel. And I’m quite confident that, if I and many other people can imagine something to be true – such as faster-than-light-speed travel – then that something is indeed true.”
The above, Prof. Hawking, is, as you know, what people who know nothing of physics often sound like when they rely upon popular myths and personal intuition to make sense of physical reality. And it’s pretty much what you, a brilliant physicist who knows nothing of economics, sound like when you rely upon popular myths and personal intuition to make sense of economic reality.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
A pernicious myth is that justly acknowledged excellence in a field other than economics – such as acting, sports, politics, or physics – qualifies a person to pronounce authoritatively on economic matters.