Tradeoffs – Newton had it right

by Edward Henkler on October 22, 2013

Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Recognizing that a lot of students are not fond of physics, perhaps that’s why Congress and so many others have forgotten how to negotiate effectively.  It’s about tradeoffs.  Reducing the size of government may be a good idea but it will put people out of work and may reduce services.  Ending the wars sounds like a good idea but it also leads to a downsized military, with unemployed veterans in an economy already reeling from high unemployment.  Reducing social assistance programs and driving more personal responsibility sounds good but it means more unemployment of social service program providers and it is also likely that more folks will fall through the cracks.  Please note that this is not intended as a political commentary with the possible exception of lamenting the sad state of our very partisan Congress.  If they’d honestly and transparently consider tradeoffs, perhaps compromise would become possible.

Unfortunately the discussions seem to only focus on the action; the first half of Newton’s law.  We should reduce the nation’s debt.  Agreed but how do we deal with the equal and opposite reaction?  If we stop borrowing, some spending must be reduced which will either put more folks out of work, reduce services or a combination.  Let’s start working through those scenarios by identifying our top priorities, then deciding how we can transition to that new state.  There will be some pain but if we acknowledge the equal and opposite reaction half of Newton’s law, maybe we can start having better discussions.

The same applies at any business.  I managed the research capital plan at Merck for many years.  Everyone had a pet project but capital is a limited resource, which means if we funded one project, another project had to be deferred or eliminated.  We tried to make that decision dispassionate by aligning projects with the strategic plan and evaluating the merits based on their contribution to delivering the strategy.  The same argument can be made about objectives.  As the year proceeds, new and important objectives arise.  We will only succeed if we examine priorities and drop the lowest priority objective before adding a new one (assuming equal effort is involved).

Newtonian dynamics

For every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction

Newton had it right and it’s time we benefited from his insights in our daily activities.

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