Capitalism inevitably creates a 'sad' unfair world, physicist says he has proved

Wealth flows around society like water in a river system, naturally gravitating towards the rich, professor claims to have shown in new academic paper

Ian Johnston
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 29 March 2017 14:22 BST
Some see the election of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage's triumph in the Brexit referendum as signs of a backlash against inequality
Some see the election of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage's triumph in the Brexit referendum as signs of a backlash against inequality

Capitalism is inherently unfair and will produce a world full of ‘sad’ and disgusting inequalities, but Communism is also “doomed to fail”, a leading scientist claims to have proved using the laws of physics.

Professor Adrian Bejan told The Independent he was so excited by the “huge” implications of his theory that he kept having to pinch himself.

A former member of the Romanian national basketball team, he is now an expert in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics at Duke University in the US, having written 30 books and more than 600 scientific papers.

He now claims to have shown that physics can essentially explain economics.

Inequality has been seen as a factor in the election of Donald Trump as US President and in the UK referendum vote in favour of Brexit.

According to Oxfam, the richest eight men own the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent of the world's population.

Professor Bejan said it was possible to explain how such inequality can develop by demonstrating that wealth moves around in a society like water in a river basin using the laws of physics.

In a natural environment, water flows from small tributaries into larger and larger streams.

And, according to Professor Bejan’s theory, the same is true of money.

So, in a free market system, wealth will naturally flow from the poorest in the small tributaries to the richest in the wide rivers.

Using this analogy, Communism is comparable to an attempt to restrict the flow of water to a network of equally sized concrete channels, which Professor Bejan said would inevitably be overcome by the forces of nature.

But, just as humans do sometimes harness rivers to produce energy or divert them around cities, it is possible to alter the flow of money in society, he added.

And this is exactly what is being done by liberal democracies around the world with measures such as free education and healthcare, anti-trust regulations designed to prevent large corporations abusing their power, and the rule of law.

“I want to see less inequality in the distribution of wealth. I get not just sad, but disgusted by it,” Professor Bejan said.

“My urge is kind of synonymous with trying to make all the channels in the river basin one size.”

But he said his desire – for everyone to have the same amount of money – was “futile”.

“For the flow to thrive, it must have freedom, so one does not make a river basin out of channels built in cement,” he said.

“The small channels are flowing because of the big channels, the big channels are flowing because of the small channels.

“If the whole flows the best that it can, then everybody is empowered to flow and the access of everybody is maximised … to the big flow.

“Yes, people do redirect river channels for hydro-electric plants or to make the river flow around a city, but the basin is not affected to such an extent so the basin revolts against the human intervention.”

Any such heavy handed intervention in an economy would be soon overturned by the ‘river’.

“This is why it has always been difficult to deal with the unequal distribution of wealth,” Professor Bejan said.

“But difficult doesn’t mean impossible.

“What is incumbent upon the governing person or society as a whole is to be aware of the natural tendency of the movement and then to … use the flow in order to endow the flow with better features for everyone riding about in that flow.”

Simply allowing an entirely free market devoid of any human interference would see a “Wild West distribution” with “no rule of law to curtail the unequal distribution” of wealth, he warned.

“That is where you find a striking discrepancy between the ultra-rich and the very poor,” he said.

“The rule of law is constantly morphing. That’s the great invention of the West and it has this effect of keeping an unequal distribution of everything in the area in check.

“It is very important for people to know first of all why it is difficult to implement what is actually a common urge, which is to basically live together happily.

“The physics explains why experiments such as Communism were doomed to fail and why socialism is a difficult project.”

In an academic paper in the Journal of Applied Physics, Professor Bejan sets out the physics behind his theory.

One main point is that wealth and any kind of ‘movement’, a defining part of life, are essentially synonymous.

Movement requires some kind of power which can come from fuel for machines, solar power or food for animals.

A graph in the paper shows that the amount of fuel consumed by a country is directly proportional to its gross domestic product.

And since all movement on Earth is hierarchical – like a river basin or a tree with smaller and smaller branches, a human lung or traffic in a city – and movement and wealth are synonymous, then wealth must also be hierarchical or iniquitous.

However Professor Jeremy Baumberg, director of the NanoPhotonic Centres at Cambridge University, was distinctly unimpressed.

“It seems to me an extremely poorly written paper, conflating many ideas in a rather unrigorous mishmash," he said.

“I do not believe it even has a new ‘theory’, so not seeing the ‘huge’ implications.”

And, displaying the contempt many scientists have for claims made by the current US President, Professor Frank Close, an Oxford University physicist, said: “'Huge’ seems to be a favourite Trumpism so perhaps not the best claim to be making these days.

“I suggest the authors be invited to make a prediction whose failure would be able to refute their theory. Otherwise it’s not good physics.”

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