George Dyson on ‘Economics is Not a Science’

One of my heroes, George Dyson, posted this in reaction to my recent Edge essay, Economics is Not a Natural Science.

Rushkoff is right: our 21st-century global computing platform is still running a 13th-century banking system, and the resulting performance sucks.

In any hydrodynamic system, the non-dimensional Reynolds Number characterizes the ratio between inertial forces (the result of mass and velocity) to viscous forces (the result of the inherent stickiness of the fluid). When the Reynolds number reaches a certain critical value, the system changes from laminar to turbulent flow. There is an equivalent to the Reynolds Number for an economic system: the ratio between the speed (and amplitude) at which currency is flowing through the system to the viscosity of the financial medium. The Reynolds number of our electronically-mediated economy has recently gone way up, with destabilizing results. The latest problem is that automated programs — -the barnacles of the New Economy — -are now trading *within* the frequency spectrum of the turbulent boundary layer. If this happens to a ship, it will slow down, and if it happens to an airplane, it will go into a stall. Where’s the anti-fouling paint?

How to best transcend the current economic mess? Put Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar, Elon Musk, Tim O’Reilly, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Nathan Myhrvold, and Danny Hillis in a room somewhere and don’t let them out until they have framed a new, massively-distributed financial system, founded on sound, open, peer-to-peer principles, from the start. And don’t call it a bank. Launch a new financial medium that is as open, scale-free, universally accessible, self-improving, and non-proprietary as the Internet, and leave the 13th century behind.”

Please do check out the essay. It’s the most important thing I’ve written in a long time.