Study proposes to explain physics of wealth inequality

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A new study puts forward an explanation as to why income disparity in America between the rich and poor continues to grow and according to authors of the study it is all because of physics.

According to Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, physics and economics are two sides of the same coin and using the laws of physics we will be able to understand the reasons behind wealth inequality.

Bejan initially proposed the physics law that dictates income disparity and a variety of other phenomena over two decades ago, back in 1996. As per the law, for any flowing system to survive, it must evolve to increase its access to flow. To help it explain, consider the case of human vascular system wherein main arteries take blood to smaller arteries to even smaller capillaries. A river system is another example of such a system.

Apart from such biological and natural processes, Bejan argues in a paper published today in the Journal of Applied Physics that the same natural tendency governs the flow of goods, services and money in the world’s economies. Bejan says that all types of movements – be it biological, or natural or man-made, are naturally hierarchical. Consider the case of our highway system and roads: there are few major highways that connect major states, from which branch out smaller highways that connect cities and each of these cities have smaller internal roads, and so on and so forth.

“If movement is hierarchical, naturally, then so is the wealth,” said Bejan.

Bejan explains that society started off in little groups of people that were more or less having an equal economic status. As communities grew, they built paths to other communities and this interconnection helped them evolve and grow. Their movement increases and so did their economic status and this effectively led to growth of wealth inequality as well.

This never-ending trend is alive and well today with globalization, where the ever-expanding movement of goods continues to create greater nonuniformity in the distribution of wealth over the population. As time moves forward and societies evolve, movement and energy consumption grow and economic disparities naturally become greater.

“As wealth inequalities grow, the population demands more equality,” said Bejan. “With developed representative governments, laws are passed to push the line back toward more equality. But as time moves on, the inequality begins to grow again and people are always curious as to why inequality is difficult to erase. This phenomenon is a natural law of physics, and as such it cannot be avoided”, Bejan says.