The Laws of Physics apply to all of Life
We often think of human interactions, the social and economic systems we establish, as a special. In reality, they operate in much the same way normal things around us do. In fact, the concepts behind Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are as applicable to the made-made world as they are to physics.
The First Law states that “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” Objects in the physical world don’t move of their own accord, nor do they in societal relations.
For example, no company starts without the deliberate application of energy. Without a concerted effort by an entrepreneur to identify a need and create a solution, there would be no new businesses.
However, we do not operate in a vacuum. There are always forces acting against progress. Consequently, things tend to decay over time. Activity drops off and costs increase as motivation wanes.
This occurs because there is always friction in the social environment: leaders and structures stiffen as rules and regulations increase. All of this mitigate against change
This is where Newton’s Second Law seems most relevant, particularly with respect to government and bureaucracies. It states that “the force applied to an object equals its mass times the acceleration.” The larger the organization, the more entrenched its bureaucracy, the greater the mass you are pushing against. It seems to require the application of extraordinary energy to get it to move even a small amount.
Within large organizations inertia rules. Often, the easiest course of action is simply to do what you are doing. Everyone knows the routine. No additional expenditure of time, effort or money is required. Like lemmings, we seem to move towards catastrophe, unable to alter course despite the readily apparent looming disaster.
Perhaps our greatest mistake in the modern world is that we have allowed government to grow seemingly beyond the ability of any single individual to affect change. “One person, one vote” may be the basis of our democracy, yet one vote seems lost in a sea of stagnation.
Our hope lies in the Third Law, the one everyone remembers. It states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Swing the bat, hit the pitch and off it flies into center field. The same is true with social games.
It is only when someone seizes the initiative, looks at what is wrong and takes an action to correct it, that things change. This is why small business are often successful even when directly competing with a larger more established firm. They are more agile because they can adjust to market conditions, even with more limited resources.
Despite the fact that humans generally seem docile by nature, more sheep than wolves, change somehow does occur. When conditions are ripe, when things become intolerable even to the meek, a little spark can cause an explosion of enormous magnitude. It is why revolutions occur and governments are overthrown.
We have seen this occur throughout history, yet the precise conditions that allow that to occur remain elusive. As in nature, there are simply things that appear beyond human understanding. However, there are some clear lessons.
First, nothing occurs without somebody exerting effort to make it happen. This is when great leaders emerge. We need more of them, so act. Often, motion in any direction is progress.
Second, the greater the headwind, the larger the bureaucratic inertia, the more effort it takes to move the organization even a tiny bit. Volunteer, vote, do something. We must try to reign in the goliath that government has become, even if it is minute steps.
Third, when the people stop rowing, the boat stops moving. Despite what seems like infinitesimal progress, never stop rowing. You never know when you may be the spark that ignites change.