The Physics Behind Freedom


Ethan Yang -

It’s not often that I come across truly novel ideas that pertain to economics and policy when I do these book reviews. Usually the authors, as brilliant as they may be, just apply established concepts in a new way or expand upon an earlier idea. I think Dr. Adrian Bejan’s latest work is in that rare category of truly new ideas because he isn’t an economist or a political scientist.

He’s an actual scientist. An award-winning professor of physics who trained at MIT to be exact. In particular, he is credited for discovering what he calls the constructal law. Duke University states

“The constructal law is the law of physics that accounts for the phenomenon of evolution (configuration, form, design) throughout nature, inanimate flow systems and animate systems together.”

It applies to the manner in which things evolve to become more efficient and effective. As a law of physics, this implies that such a process is inherent to the way the universe operates.

Bejan first discovered this law when he was investigating the best way to cool electronic components, where he noted that the best design was one that involved small paths leading to large ones. He noticed how it resembled designs found throughout nature, like tree roots, or a river delta, or a fracture in a solid object. He noticed that there is a natural law that governs how energy moves throughout a system.

Bejan notes,

“For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.”

Everything in the universe, from trees to electrical wiring to the evolution of animals to human society, is shaped by the constructal law. In order for things to persist and survive, they must be free to adapt and optimize. That process often leads to similar results throughout all of nature.

What Does This Have To Do with Human Freedom and Economics?

Dr. Bejan was kind enough to send me his latest book Freedom and Evolution after reading my article comparing Communism to Capitalism. In the article, I talk about how capitalist reforms in communist countries like China and Vietnam drastically improved quality of life. My initial reaction was why is an influential physics professor so interested in my work about political economy? To which he explained that my observation about free markets vs authoritarian command control demonstrated how the Constructal Law applied to human society. That there is an optimal manner in which society can organize itself to evolve and progress. When society is free then it can make these necessary changes, but when it is not free it cannot. Because the constructal law is essentially a law of nature. That is why without economic and social freedom, societies are doomed to starvation and stagnation.


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