Economics as an Exact Science

Ray H. Taber

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June 1940]

In these last few years, thanks to Ingersoll, Beckwith and others, a new realization seems to have developed of the immediate need for a scientific approach to this subject of Economics. While the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Engineering have been studiously classifying and organizing their data, Economics appears to have marked time, in this respect. Isn't it the duty of this generation to correct this condition?

To date, so far as I am aware, there is no such thing as a Scientific Text-book of Economics. We have books galore, it is true, but no logical, consecutive chain of reasoning from the simple to the complex. The subject appears to be in the same stage of evolution as Mathematics in the pre-Euclidean era, a verbal foot-ball to be argued about and kicked around from pillar to post.

It seems to me that any attempt to bring order out of the present chaos requires:

  1. Authoritative definitions of terms.
  2. Axiomatic statements of basic truths.
  3. A system of rigid, consistent, step-by-step proofs from axioms to theorems representing basic laws and principles by as nearly mathematical treatment as possible.
  4. Units for measurement and comparison of quantitative relations.
  5. Symbols and formulae for brevity and exactitude of expression.

Just because the field of Economics involves the sometimes uncertain element of human nature, do we have to throw up our hands and say no positive statement is possible? Personally, I am unwilling to admit it.

Economics deals with "Matter," as does Physics, only Economic Matter consists of "Goods with the power of satisfying Desire." It deals with "Force," but instead of a push or pull, Economic Force is "Desire," the greatest of all forces. And it deals with "Resistance," but instead of mechanical friction or electrical ohms, "Economic Resistance" is the man-hours of work to be overcome in the production and transportation from raw material to product in the consumer's hands. Tie these quantities together by the formula W = JD R

where W = Wealth expressed in Goods
D = Desire
R = Resistance

and we have the simplest possible expression of a basic truth.

The above is mentioned only as a sample. The ground work of definitions and axioms should of course come first; then the super- structure. Yet if such a method could once establish the truths of Economics on as sound and reliable a basis as has been laid for our other Sciences, one of the greatest sources of confusion and misunderstanding would be removed.

We no longer argue about the law of gravity, the combination chemical reagents, the bending movement of a beam or the flow of current in an electric circuit. We know these things. In case a question arises, we turn directly to the text-book for verification. Why not for Economics?

LAND AND FREEDOM is our best publication. It can speak most authoritatively for the movement. It has the widest circle of contacts. Would it not be worth while to invite its readers to offer their consideration toward such a purpose, so that after summarizing and sifting out the best of the material received, publication of the final results might be made in text-book form?