Employment and the Unity of Social Sciences


Employment and the unity of social sciences are discussed. The paper argues that employment is the simplest and the best indicator of human-centered sustainable and secure development.

1. Introduction

The 20th century is referred as the measuring century.1 Indeed, the conception of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its operational definition were introduced in the 30s by Simon Kuznets. Later, various improvements of GDP such as Human Development Index (HDI),2 Environmental Performance Index (EPI),3 Happy Planet Index (HPI),4 Globalization Index (GI),5 Competitiveness Index (CI),6 etc. were formulated.7,8It is instructive to compare this flood of measurements with the development of the Standard Units in physical sciences. It took millennia before measures such as meter, kilogram and second could be precisely defined and internationally accepted, and the system of how to improve their precision could be defined and implemented. It is also important to stress that when Kuznets introduced GDP he emphasized its shortcomings. The inadequacy of the GDP has been pointed out by Jan Tinbergen, the first Nobel laureate in economics, and also by R.F. Kennedy in one of his last speeches:9 “GDP counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities…. Yet the GDP does not allow for the health of our chil­dren, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.

Information is very important and ICT has indeed introduced another age by allowing the present wealth of information to be developed and to be used, but information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not truth, and truth is not wisdom, and wisdom is not beauty – to repeat Frank Zappa. Let us not overlook the fact that the first metal to be used 11,000 years ago was gold which was used only for decoration, for beauty.

Lord Kelvin emphasized the importance of measurement and stressed that unless we can measure (and define), the discussion is pointless. If it is correct that measurements relevant for social sciences are rather ill-defined, is it possible to develop the social sciences, notably economics? Again, comparison with physical sciences is useful: pyramids were built and Newtonian laws were formulated before meter, kilogram and second were precisely defined. We have to address important issues with whatever information we have at our disposal.

One of the most serious problems facing humankind today is low and inadequate employ­ment. We argue that employment data are now the best socio-economic-political indicator to assess development – much better than GDP. It looks exaggerating in a world faced by catastrophe that could be caused by wars using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and by enormous destruction of natural capital. Ecological Footprint10,11 is over 50% larger than the Earth’s capacity, and in two decades we will need two Earths to tackle pollution and consumption of natural resources.

The data clearly show that many countries have a huge ecological footprint which is up to five times larger than Earth’s biocapacity and their Human Development Index is essentially constant. Consequently, enormous damage to Earth and huge destruction of natural capital are done without any improvement in human development.12 Comparison of subjective wellbeing and happiness with GDP13 also shows that at a GDP of $9,000/capita subjective wellbeing reaches a plateau. Higher GDP/capita does not increase happiness. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists put in 1947 on its front page a Doomsday clock at 7 minutes to Midnight. When the USA and the USSR tested their H-bomb, they moved the clock to 2 minutes to Midnight, and at the end of the Cold War the clock was at 17 minutes to Midnight. Terrorism as well as the destruction of natural, human and social capitals forced the Bulletin to put on January 14, 2014 the clock at 5 minutes to Midnight. Compounded by East-West tensions and ISIL aggressiveness it is likely that the next clock will be set even closer to Midnight.

Nevertheless, emphasizing low employment as one of the most serious failures of our current econo-political system is not an exaggeration! Employment rate in many European countries is below 75% (actually 75% is the EU goal), and many countries have employment rates not much larger than 50%. In addition to low employment there is also underemploy­ment and misemployment, mal-employment compounded by unnecessary retirement affecting a large and constantly larger percentage of population. Apparently, the social structure is wasting more than 30-40% of human capital, and it looks like we are not even concerned about it. Throughout human history human capital has played a very important role even when its physical aspects were mainly used.

Before proceeding further we have to answer two questions. First, how important is human capital? Is it just a minor fraction of the total sum of all capitals: natural capital – resources, biodiversity, agriculture, water, etc, and human-built capital – roads, buildings, money, etc.? A recent study by Sir Partha Dasgupta and collaborators has shown that human capital is dominant.14 Table 1 summarizes results presented in The Economist in 2012.

Table 1: Real Wealth of Nations (2008): Human, Natural and Human-made Capital


(1 T$ = $1012, values in parentheses list the percentage of the total wealth of each nation that is contributed by human capital)

Obviously, human capital is very important. The second question is how reliable are measurements of human capital? Can human capital and natural capital be expressed in dollars even if they are corrected for inflation by purchasing power parity (PPP), and what does PPP mean in a global world? The value of the human capital can be qualitatively assessed by evaluating historical progress. The very fact that contemporary world witnesses numerous improvements in all domains of human activities – science, technology, life expectancy, better international and national laws, higher GDP/capita and better quality of life – indicates (though it does not convincingly prove) that human capital is increasing. Garry Jacobs and I have argued in a previous paper that human capital is self-augmenting by a bootstrapping process.15

2. Two Cultures and Three Cultures

On May 7, 1959 in his now famous Rede lecture entitled “The Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution,”16 C.P. Snow emphasized that science and art were becoming two different cultures. It looks like the split is getting worse nowadays: split into three cultures,17 i.e. natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities. However, the separation of scholarly/scientific disciplines is barely 200 years old and the term “scientist” was coined in 1833. In 1882 another Rede lecturer M. Arnold discussed whether classical education is still relevant in an age of scientific discoveries. This was the time of a debate on the theory of evolution and physics just accomplished a fraction of its revolutions. Nobel laureate Sir Andrew Huxley recalls that when he was a student and wanted to switch from classics to physics the headmaster of the Westminster College accused him of “forsaking virtue for pleasure”.18 The view that higher education overcomes these “cultural” splits was outlined in a keynote address at the International Association of Universities meeting in Zagreb in 1982.19 Recently, the World Academy of Art and Science established the World University Consortium with the aim to contribute to the fulfillment of higher education. As formulated by WAAS Fellow and Academia Europaea Former President S. Strömholm, “University has a mission and a responsibility which goes far beyond the task of providing industry with efficient employees, marketable ideas or science-based solutions…. The mission is the production of mature, independent, critical, responsible personalities, who are not tools in the service of Church, State, party, business or trade unions. The scholars are treated with respect if they maintain their dignity and uphold their own standards against those of the world at large, in those cases where the conflict emerges, and with contempt, and soon enough as simple goods, if they accept the rules of the outside world.”20

Natural sciences proceed through unifications. Newton unified heaven and Earth – circular motions along “perfect” circles and along straight lines, Faraday and Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism and as a bonus found the speed of light and consequently, optics. Quantum physics united physics and chemistry, and it seems biology was influenced as well, as Jacques Monod describes in his 1970 book Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology.21 Unification in physics proceeds on and on toward a possible Theory of Everything, but as soon as we think we have accomplished describing (not necessarily understanding) “everything”, that “everything” reduces to a small fraction, i.e. less than 5% of our universe,22 possibly just one of the infinite number of universes.23 [The fact that our universe is fine-tuned to the existence of humans led to the idea of infinitely many universes where one has laws and basic constants fine-tuned to our existence]. On the other hand methodology and pattern of thought of physics and mathematics infiltrate into many scientific/scholarly activities. Several new disciplines are emerging such as astro-archaeology, bio-archaeology, and anthropology (anthropology for quite some time was split into physical and cultural anthropology). Most Nobel prizes in economics were given for econometrics and the first one was given to a former physicist Jan Tinbergen. This tendency is quite old and as early as Spinoza’s Ethics. Attempts were made to use axiomatic geometrical approach to formulate social sciences.

The thought pattern of physics and mathematics is at least to some extent based on the fact that basic components of the physical universe (“elementary particles”, basic constants and laws) did not change for almost 13.7 billion years (proposal by Dirac to explain a huge ratio of strengths of the electromagnetic to gravitational forces by assuming that they change with time is experimentally proven to be incorrect). On the other hand within physics and mathematics, scientific disciplines develop which have significant implication for social sciences. Examples are: complexity theory (the property of a real world that is manifest in an inability of any formalism being adequate to capture all of its properties. It requires that we find distinctly different ways of interacting with the system. “Distinctly different” in a sense that when we make successful models, the formal systems needed to describe each distinct aspect are not derivable from each other (B. Rosen, D. Mikulecky, Merrill Flood, S. Kaufmann and Murray Gell-Mann’s The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex)), fractals, game theory (John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, 1944) and Catastrophe theory.24

“Einstein stressed that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

Einstein stressed that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible, but M. Rees at the Academia Europaea Annual Conference in Liverpool in 2008 questioned: “Are we capable of understanding the physical universe?” Eugene Wigner in his article published in 1960 stressed the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences:25 “Enormous usefulness of mathematics in natural sciences borders on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.” It is not surprising: that physicists were led to introduce fuzzy logic (i.e. certain to some extent), that arguing with a friend N. Bohr said, “You are not thinking, you are just being logical!”, that K. Gödel showed that there are truths beyond proof and R. Penrose wrote that “reason destroys itself”,26 that Einstein claimed that “common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18”, that Pascal claimed, “We know the truth not only by reason, but also by our heart. It is through the latter that we know the first principle, and reason – which has nothing to do with it – tries in vain to refute it.”27 Is common sense that segment of our thought that is generated by evolution, and can we ask the unthinkable – for e.g. in the third generation warfare, where plans are prepared for unthinkable attacks? Of course, art knew it much earlier. Dostoyevsky wrote in Notes from Underground that blind faith in reason is dangerous. “The most destructive and dangerous of all religions is the newfound faith in the power of reason and perfectibility of man.” Humans cannot live by rational thoughts alone.28


* Published in Informatologia, Vol. 47 No. 4, 2014
Ivo Šlaus: Honorary President, World Academy of Art & Science; Dean, Dag Hammarskjöld University College of International Relations & Diplomacy, Zagreb, Croatia
1. Theodore Caplow, Louis Hicks and Ben J. Wattenberg, The First Measured Century (Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute, 2001)
2. Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq, “Human Development Report 2013: The Rise of the South,” UNDP Human Development Reports
3. “2005 Environmental Sustainability Index,” Yale University
4. Ruut Veenhoven, Database of Happiness
5. Globalisation index 2003 (Washington, D.C.: A.T. Kearney and Foreign Policy Magazine, 2003)
6. National Competitiveness Council
7. Garry Jacobs and Ivo Šlaus, “Indicators of Economics Progress: The Power of Measurement and Human Welfare,” Cadmus 1, no. 1 (2010): 53-113
8. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, “Report 2008,” Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress
9. “Robert F. Kennedy Speeches – Remarks at the University of Kansas,” JFK Library
10. Mathis Wackernagel and William E. Rees, Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth (Vancouver: New Society Publishers, 1996)
11. Mathis Wackernagel et al., “Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 99, no. 14 (2002): 9266–9271
12. Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström, Bankrupting Nature (New York: Earthscan/ Routledge, 2012)
13. “World Values Survey,” World Development Report 1997 (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1997)
14. “The real wealth of nations,” The Economist, 30th June 2012
15. Ivo Šlaus and Garry Jacobs, “Human Capital and Sustainability,” Sustainability 3, no. 1 (2011): 97-154
16. C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1961). Snow’s lectures stimulated many debates, pros and cons and one is a vitriolic attack by a literary critic C.F. Leavis published in 1962.
17. Jerome Kagan, The Three Cultures: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and the Humanities in the 21st Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
18. Robert Whelan, “Fifty years on, CP Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ are united in desperation,” The Telegraph, 5th May 2 2009
19. Ivo Šlaus, “The University and the Link Between Two Cultures: Scientific-Technological and Humanistics,” Interciencia 9 (1984): 69-74
20. Stig Strömhölm, “Universities and industry,” European Review 2, no. 1 (1994): 31-36
21. Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology, trans. Austryn Wainhouse
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971)
22. “BICEP2 2014 Results Release,” National Science Foundation. BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization aimed to measure polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) operates from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Observatory. Preliminary results indicate: ordinary matter = 4.9%, dark matter = 26.8% and dark energy 68.3% and possibly even a signal for inflation and phase transition at 10-35 seconds enlarging, inflating our universe by 1026 times.
23. John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford University Press, 1988)
24. René Thom, Structural Stability and Morphogenesis: An Outline of a General Theory of Models (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1989)
25. Eugene Wigner, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” Communication in Pure and
Applied Mathematics 13, no. 1 (1960): 1-14
26. Roger Penrose, “Reason destroys itself,” New Scientist, no. 2666 (2008): 49
27. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Franklin Library, 1979)
28. “Editorial : Humankind cannot live by rational thought alone,” New Scientist, no. 2629 (2007): 3

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