Laws of social and natural sciences

Senators are blowing smoke on gas - Los Angeles Times  Unless they can repeal the law of supply and demand, they can't do a thing about prices.
Gas, like everything else, has its price set by supply and demand. No company charges what it thinks is fair. They charge as much as they can get away with.
Prices fluctuate. That's the deal with this capitalism thing.
I know the high cost of energy takes an unfair toll on the poor because it's a much bigger percentage of their income. ... But the government should be helping them more directly with aid programs and public transportation. ... Helping people in need is the government's job, not something we should rely on business for.
But the truth is, in a capitalist system, you don't have a right to affordable energy any more than you have a right to affordable Rolexes.

This LA Times Op-Ed by Joel Stein makes some very interesting points and is also interesting for its unsusual juxtappositions such as the advocacy of the free market (and opposition to a windfall tax on oil companies) and the emphasis on government-run welfare alongside a mistrust of 'big business'. These are not often found together. Personally, I'm not sure that the occasional wind-fall tax is such a bad thing - it is simply a part of the necessary regulation just like antimonopoly statutes but the thrust of the argument finds me sympathetic.

Particularly, since it brings up (and I'm afraid I'll be using a variation on this phrase a lot in this blog) the issue of 'natural laws'. We know from science that we can do nothing about 'laws'. It would be stupid to try to defy gravity or the 2nd law of thermodynamics. But we can certainly make adjustments to how these laws affect us. We can build parachutes or trampolines to deal with gravity and steam engines and insulation to respectively harness and mitigate the consequences of thermodynamics. We can establish breeding programs to give 'the law of evolution a nudge'.  (And of course, some of these efforts are more successful than others.)

Now, outside of economics, we almost never talk about 'laws of the social science'. This is partly a legacy of humanism (which, as we all know, economists lack). In a world where the individual's free will (otherwise known as a right to self-determination) is what defines humanity. It is hard to talk about laws. However (and I think chaos theory and its fractals and attractors might be relevant here) it might not be such a bad idea to suspend (for the purposes of particular mental experiments) the 'society is a person' metaphor. In which case, we could describe groups of people as behaving according to laws over which the individuals have very little power if they behave according to the 'if-only-everyone-was-like-me' principle. If we accept those laws, we might then have a conversation about how to mitigate their impact on individuals. Thus preserving the best ideals of left-wing thought while not succumbing to the dangers of 'scientifically managed' societies.

Of course, the situation is complicated by the fact that these 'laws' (and many have been suggested under different guises - it is my dream to once list them) are likely to be chaotic (in the sense of sensitivity to initial conditions and nonlinear progressions) so the best predictions we can hope for are some fuzzy attractors. This might be hard to present as rigorous scholarship until another paradigm shift.

(There is also the intriguing idea that social insitutions or groups are not chaotic or non-linear dynamic systems. Or in other words, that their complexity is of another nature. Maybe we need Asimov's Hari Sheldon and his psychohistory to sort this out.)