Last Chance Rodeo

Sense of Wonder

There’s this sci-fi trope where our time-travelling hero in the past lets the future know when she is by taking out a classified ad for something that couldn’t exist at the time.

When I was studying physics at school, mechanics was just classical mechanics, and I kind of got this because I was studying physics just as the “standard model” was being named. Being a kid, I thought quantum mechanics, all the extra-curricular stuff I was reading about, was pretty new.

Imagine my surprise when, learning more about the history of science, I found out that “old” quantum mechanics was developed in the Victorian era, and “modern” quantum mechanics - that is, the stuff I thought was pretty recent - in the 1920s. That’s the same 1920s when planes had propellers and two wings, and Americans couldn’t buy a drink.

It was like Paul Dirac was marooned in the past, and letting the future know when he was.

Today, I chanced on a comment by Ian Tresman on a blog post by Richard Murphy that referenced a piece by Beardsley Ruml, then chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The piece was published in the winter 1946 edition of “American Affairs”, though was initially presented during the second world war. You can find it online - the article starts at page 35.

Give it a read. But beware: it will blow your mind. You won’t find anything in contemporary economics that so clearly and lucidly addresses the question “why does the government need to tax at all?” Almost 80 years and classical economics hasn’t caught up.

It’s like Beardsley Ruml is marooned in the past, and is letting our future know where he was.