Science is how people attempt to see the world as it truly is. That's why I'm drawing the title of this new column from the wisdom of the greatest of scientists. Since Isaac Newton first stated his Second Law of Motion, we have understood that "force" is really a product of mass and acceleration: F = ma. Move more things faster, and they will exert more force.
Newton's insight holds true not just in the physics lab but everywhere. We think of ourselves as becoming more virtual in this age of data and social networks, but we still live in a material world, and we prosper by making and moving material things. That's why a distributor of consumer goods (Wal-Mart) is the second largest company in the world—and why the other seven biggest companies on the planet by sales are in the energy business.
It takes energy to make and move material things: energy to build airplanes, energy to divert rivers, energy to light up cities and, increasingly, energy to operate the computers we use to develop new and better ways to do everything else. (A single Google search takes about as much power as turning on a 60-watt lightbulb for 17 seconds, and server farms now use at least 1.5 percent of the world's electricity.)
We should not be surprised, then, that the two most economically powerful nations on Earth are also the two greatest producers of energy. The U.S. led the world in tapping the combined energies of coal, hydroelectric dams, oil, natural gas, nuclear fission and wind until 2006, when China's energy output surpassed ours. And in 2009, China became the largest consumer of energy as well.
One might argue that Americans are worse off for falling behind, and that China has a brighter future. But here physics provides another insight: Power is easily transferred. The U.S. ranks just behind Russia and Saudi Arabia in domestic oil production, and yet we also continue to import oil from abroad. China, meanwhile, is so hungry for energy to fuel its economy that it has followed a similar pattern with coal; it is the world's largest coal producer yet remains a net coal importer. In fact, the U.S. is one of China's suppliers. And China uses all of that energy not only to grow its own economy but also to make more things that it ships to us.
Who benefits from the force generated by this accelerating mass? Economists would say all of us. "Economic growth," which is just another way to describe more material moving faster, has long been the basic metric by which we measure national health. Moving more things faster isn't always desirable, though. Cars crash, or burn fuel that changes the climate.
To see things as they truly are, we must take into account another equation: W = Fd. Work is what happens when someone applies force over distance. Not simply more mass moving more quickly, but the right mass moving in the right direction. In the months ahead, I'll be looking at the ways we direct the great forces that science has put at our disposal.
Luke Mitchell (email@example.com) is the magazine's Ideas Editor
this is very true since once we understand what we want achieve we have exert that energy toward that goal
This may also be true for bodybuilding, instead using momentum to exert force, Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer advocate a slow muscular contraction to maximize gain.
How nice of PopSci to try to use the laws of physics to solve an economics problem. You'd do better reading up on Austrian economists like F.A. Hayek than trying to use physics. You see, physics is a science/tool based off of empirical evidence pertaining to physical objects. While this tool can be practically used to great ends, it cannot predict the organic nature of economies and people's wants, desires, and drive. You cannot use calculus to determine who I will buy from or what I will buy. It just doesn't work like that. So, in short, we should not try to plan economies based on our preconceived notions gleaned from a study of physics or a model some Keynesian proposes. A simple look at any of our regulated markets should prove this to be true. I'll just mention the market for corn at this time though. Thanks to the federal requirements on ethanol, we are seeing rising food costs, increased dependency on a failing monoculture system, and our vehicles are getting less miles per gallon with alot more wear per mile. This is but a sample of the ineptitude of government in trying to coordinate markets to "improve" the economy. Should I even mention Wickard v. Filburn?
I suppose concepts and theories could be off, but the wonderful beauty of numbers is they are always true,...... happy sigh!;)
It's a story... an analogy... even, maybe, a parable. Though your comment was well written and seemingly logical (I plan on reading up on the authors you mention), the fact that you believed this article to be a serious attempt at explaining the complexities of our socio-economic world is... just... wow.