Richard Feynman on the Deficit

Shortly after I figured out that the Federal Reserve wasn't federal and didn't have any reserves, I concluded that the true laws of economics were essentially laws of physics. In the economics parallel to the laws of thermodynamics, you can't actually create money out of thin air. Sure, you can fake it, but there isn't anything of actual value there and your creation will ultimately collapse. Thinking that way, I was charmed when I stumbled on this quote from physicist Richard Feynman:

"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number, but it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit!

We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers."

Feynman is one of my heroes. Among my most prized books are his lectures on physics. He was the "Joe Lunchbucket" of the elite theoretical physicists. When the space shuttle Challenger's solid rocket booster failed, Feynman ended up on the Rogers Commission investigating the accident. At one point he sent someone out out of the room for a c-clamp which he tightened onto a sample of the seal. He dropped this assembly into his glass of ice water, let it chill for a few minutes and then showed everyone how the seal lost it's flexibility and resilience at low temperatures.

It's a sign of true genius when the brightest guy in the room comes up with a demonstration so simple that even the politicians get it. He was a real thorn in the side of the bureaucrats, saying - among other things - that "NASA had overestimated the reliability of the shuttle to the point of fantasy" and "reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Feynman's wry humor and penchant for simple demonstration would have been a real hit in this age of you tube. One has to love this way of criticizing government spending. Sure, the numbers seem rather quaint at this point, and Feynman himself would surely mourn how much worse they are now.

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