Newton’s three laws of motion in economics

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

1. Every object in a state of uniform motion will remain in that state of motion unless an external force acts on it.

2. Force equals mass times acceleration

3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Newton’s three laws of motion

To put it simply, Newton’s three laws of motion apply to anything that moves. That could be a baseball, a car or economic trends. Or even fashion or social movements.

Newton’s first law of motion essentially posits that any force, movement or action will, without external counter-forces, perpetuate itself.

Again, we see this principle at work in every aspect of life from the progression of seasons, to economic recessions and times of growth to one’s career trajectory.

And, according to Newton’s second law of motion, force, as any child throwing or hitting a ball might notice, is the summation/product of mass (as in a baseball) and acceleration (as in how hard a ball is hit by a bat).

And then we have the inevitable reaction where every action inspires and initiates an equal and opposite reaction.

In other words, in economics or baseball or even one’s career track, movement occurs until something interferes, or, to put it into more familiar terms, an object is in motion until it isn’t.

Again, this applies to everything from a child’s growth to the stock market.


Everything has momentum. You could say that any movement or growth wants, above all, to continue. Outside forces will always have an impact, and, in fact, according to the third law, will be inspired, even focused and energized by the initial action or movement.

Every action or movement, inspires, or at least holds the key to its own counter movement or what has been recently called, “cancelling”. From the “Black Lives Matter” movement to low (or high) interest rates, every movement, idea or action gives birth to its own negation. This “negation” is often called “blow-back”, but it is, at least according to Newton, a basic principle of physics.

What goes up, must come down

So what do Newton’s laws of motion have to do with business or the economy? Or life in general?

First of all, the core principle (that most of us, to some degree deny) is that nothing goes on forever. From good relationships to terrible, from bad jobs to great ones, from economic downturns to up-swings, nothing lasts forever.

We see Newton’s second principle at work in our economy through interest rates, technological developments and other outside “forces” from war to pandemics and climactic disruptions – among many others.

Massive hiring binges by high tech companies, from Google to Microsoft, must, according to Newton’s third law, be met by resulting, eventual, equally massive layoffs.

Record low interest rates must be, as they have been, replaced by near-record high rates. “Woke” must engender its “anti-woke” counterpart.

Is housing the best – or the worst – investment ever? It certainly can be, and has been, both.

It all depends where you find yourself in the course and flow of the momentum. The only constant, as the saying goes, is change. So invest, and live accordingly.

Don’t fight the force

This is not a Star Wars metaphor. “Force” could be market forces, interest rates, demographic forces or even your energy level any given day, but the premise is the same; flow with, or roll with, the forces around you.

In every arena, from real estate prices to interest rates to technological, political or fashion trends, opportunity abounds for those who can see it.

Like the ocean tides, trends and forces ebb and flow, rise and fall in an (almost) predictable pattern.

One way to make it through the noise is to consider what this decision will look like a year, or fives years, from now.

The ultimate question is, how much value, permanent value, are we bringing to any given situation? Is this decision something we will be proud of a year from now? Am I moving toward (or away from) something I would want to be associated with in the future?

Our decisions, one way or another, are likely to become part of our legacy. Is this something that would make my parents (or children, or ancestors) proud?

Every idea or innovation finds its roots deep in what, to most, seems like unfruitful soil, and yet the seeds remain, just waiting for the right time.

What seems like the impossible, is only waiting for the right moment. Or the right touch.

Every gardener knows that there is a time for planting and a time for harvesting. And a time to let things alone. The same with every market. And relationship. And movement.

In short, alongside, or behind, every challenge or even catastrophe, lies potential, if only we knew how to recognize it.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

In other words, in technology, if not every other area of life, what you see is what you get. We just need to get into the habit of seeing opportunity instead of obstacles.

Failure is always an option

But so is success. Inertia is rarely, if ever a successful, or even survival, strategy.

In virtually every situation, any action, or response, is better than no action.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s the facing of it and moving anyway.

As Newton might put it, movement is essential, opposition is inevitable and failure is never final. As always perhaps, where we set our eyes, and our attention, is where we will go.

Success, satisfaction and failure are, in most cases, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. And no matter how compelling or convincing they might be, they too, will not last forever.

Our focus, for better or worse, defines our journey and our destination.

If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail. – Kobe Bryant