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Posted by Aurino Souza on September 18, 2002 18:59:06 UTC

For Alan's benefit, here's the essence of Dick's work as I understand it. Hopefully someone else might learn something from it.

It is known that the price of a certain good is a function of supply and demand. Prices are directly proportional to demand and inversely proportional to supply. Economists talk about a demand curve and a supply curve, which are simply two mathematical functions, p = S(s) and p = D(d). At any point in time, the price of a good is given by the intersection S(s) = D(d). That is a law of economics, which is identical to any law of physics.

Does the law of supply and demand, as economists call it, describe economic reality? Or is it a tautology? Let's look at the issue.

The first thing that is clear is that supply and demand are not measurable. You can't measure S(s) or dD(d). In other words, S(s) and D(d) are "unknowable data". (Does that sound familiar?) And that means that the law of supply and demand is indeed a tautology and therefore true by definition. It applies to all economic systems, no matter what the "real" rules behind those economic systems might be (does this also sound familiar?)

Should we burn our economy books then? Not so fast. By itself, the law of supply and demand is pretty useless, but the fact is that it doesn't exist in a vaccuum. We have economic theories which make our law, our tautology, extremely useful. For instance, there is a theory that the demand for electricity is a function of the temperature. The theory is based on the idea that the hotter the weather, the more energy is used by air-conditioners. This is NOT a tautology, but it has been verified experimentally.

Now using our Theory of Electricity Demand together with our knowledge of the Law of Supply and Demand, we can predict that the price for electricity will rise if the temperature rises. If we run enough experiments, we can come up with precise mathematical models which yield dollar figures in terms of degrees Celsius.

If you understand that, you understand the foundations of any science which relies on math, including physics. There's no voodoo, no big secret, no conspiracy, only clever solutions to difficult problems.

The important point here, the one our would-be Nobel prize winner keeps missing, is not that much of our knowledge consists of tautologies, but the fact that some tautologies are extremely useful while others are useless. That fact makes it impossible to advance any science simply by thinking about it, but that's not news, any scientist already knows that.

And from this post on I intend to be silent on the subject.

Have fun,


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