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Scientists and economists

Doris Phelps

On August 6, NASA successfully landed its robot explorer “Curiosity” on Mars, after an eight-month trip of 566 million kilometres. It is awe-inspiring to think of the calculations needed to gently land the robot, after its entry at 21,000km into the Martian atmosphere, in a precise area on Mars.

And, amazingly, the NASA scientists can now direct the robot to drive over to a mountain, to use tools, to poke into rocks, scoop up soil, and send photos back to earth.

What a myriad of problems must the scientists have encountered and had to solve during the development of the project. It is wonderful to contemplate what the mind of man can achieve when the incentive is there.

When I think of the problems of the world’s economic system, it makes me wish that economists were as efficient as scientists at solving problems.

NASA scientists are dealing with a planetary system which has evolved over millions of years, and any calculations they make have to accommodate that system as it is.

Economists, on the other hand, are dealing with a system which has been invented by men, and when it seems that it is not working efficiently, its problems should be solvable by man’s clever mind. When you think about it, could the problems of our financial system possibly be more intricate than those encountered by NASA scientists?

And yet, economists do not seem to be able to tell us how the economy can be kept travelling steadily. They talk of the economic cycle, in which the world economy, or individual economies, are either in boom or recession, as though it is a natural phenomenon. If the cycle were natural, we would have a boom when seasons are good, and a recession when there are floods or droughts, but history shows that this is not so.

Therefore the faults in the economic system must be man-made, and when the economists begin looking for the cause of the problems in the same way as scientists do, the problems should be able to be solved. And that will be a cause for much greater rejoicing than a landing on Mars.

Doris Phelps is an ERA member living in SA

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