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How satisfying it must have been to be a scientist in the 18th century, secure in the knowledge that the mathematical predictability revealed by Isaac Newton in the motions of the heavens was sure soon to be extended into every realm of human experience. Thinkers from Kant to Condorcet felt sure that regularities in social behaviour would soon emerge with all the precision and certainty of Newton’s laws of motion, and Adam Smith and his colleague Adam Ferguson encouraged the view that economics had its own gravitational laws too. As Ralph Waldo Emerson later put it, “The level of the…

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