A few days ago, IFO posted a piece about Issawi’s Law. She remembered seeing an article from many years ago, but some of the details of the memory were way off.
Now, guess what? In that office move she is nearly finished with, she found a file with the actual article in it! It was published in the Summer 1970 issue of the Columbia Forum, author was Charles Issawi.
He started with a very provocative lead sentence: “The low esteem in which the social sciences are so widely held is well deserved; it is in large measure due to the timorous and parochial outlook of their practitioners.”
He proceeds to list his brilliant “Laws of Social Motion:”
1. The Law of Conservation of Evil. The total amount of evil in any system remains constant. Hence any diminution in one direction for instance a reduction in poverty or unemployment — is accompanied by an increase in another, e.g., crime or air pollution.
2. The Course of Progress. Most things get steadily worse. (Note: this does not contradict (1), for a few things have become much better, e.g., surgery, economic theory, long-playing records.)
3. The Path of Progress. A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.
4. The Dialectics of Progress. Direct action produces direct reaction.
5. The Pace of Progress. Society is a mule, not a car. Once cannot just press on the accelerator and go exactly where one wishes, as fast as one wishes.
6. On Reform. Most people do not go to the dentist until they have a toothache; most societies do not reform abuses until the victims begin tomake life uncomfortable for others.
7. On Revolution. Revolutions revolve 360 degrees.
8. On Unexpected Side-effects. If economic theory, historical perspective, and political sagacity give you reason to believe that A leads to B, then if you are wrong, or unlucky, you will get X instead. But if your sums are correct and you have a reasonable measure of luck, by producing A you should get B. However, you can be sure that, at the same time, you will get C, D, and E, whose existence neither you nor anyone else ever suspected.
—continued in the next post —