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Complexity Economics: A Different Framework for Economic Thought

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  • W. Brian Arthur
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    Abstract

    This paper provides a logical framework for complexity economics. Complexity economics builds from the proposition that the economy is not necessarily in equilibrium: economic agents (firms, consumers, investors) constantly change their actions and strategies in response to the outcome they mutually create. This further changes the outcome, which requires them to adjust afresh. Agents thus live in a world where their beliefs and strategies are constantly being “tested” for survival within an outcome or “ecology” these beliefs and strategies together create. Economics has largely avoided this nonequilibrium view in the past, but if we allow it, we see patterns or phenomena not visible to equilibrium analysis. These emerge probabilistically, last for some time and dissipate, and they correspond to complex structures in other fields. We also see the economy not as something given and existing but forming from a constantly developing set of technological innovations, institutions, and arrangements that draw forth further innovations, institutions and arrangements. Complexity economics sees the economy as in motion, perpetually “computing” itself— perpetually constructing itself anew. Where equilibrium economics emphasizes order, determinacy, deduction, and stasis, complexity economics emphasizes contingency, indeterminacy, sense-making, and openness to change. In this framework time, in the sense of real historical time, becomes important, and a solution is no longer necessarily a set of mathematical conditions but a pattern, a set of emergent phenomena, a set of changes that may induce further changes, a set of existing entities creating novel entities. Equilibrium economics is a special case of nonequilibrium and hence complexity economics, therefore complexity economics is economics done in a more general way. It shows us an economy perpetually inventing itself, creating novel structures and possibilities for exploitation, and perpetually open to response.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) in its series INET Research Notes with number 33.

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    Date of creation: Mar 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:thk:rnotes:33

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    1. LeBaron, Blake & Arthur, W. Brian & Palmer, Richard, 1999. "Time series properties of an artificial stock market," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 23(9-10), pages 1487-1516, September.
    2. Richard Holt & J. Barkley Rosser & David Colander, 2011. "The Complexity Era in Economics," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(3), pages 357-369.
    3. David Colander & Hans Föllmer & Armin Haas & Michael Goldberg & Katarina Juselius & Alan Kirman & Thomas Lux & Brigitte Sloth, 2009. "The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics," Kiel Working Papers 1489, Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
    4. John B. Davis, 2008. "The turn in recent economics and return of orthodoxy," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 32(3), pages 349-366, May.
    5. Blaug, Mark, 2003. "The Formalist Revolution of the 1950s," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(02), pages 145-156, June.
    6. Beinhocker, Eric D., 2011. "Evolution as computation: integrating self-organization with generalized Darwinism," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(03), pages 393-423, September.
    7. George-Marios Angeletos & Jennifer La'O, 2011. "Decentralization, Communication, and the Origins of Fluctuations," NBER Working Papers 17060, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Brock, W. & Lakonishok, J. & Lebaron, B., 1991. "Simple Technical Trading Rules And The Stochastic Properties Of Stock Returns," Working papers 90-22, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    9. Robinson, Joan, 1980. "Time in Economic Theory," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(2), pages 219-29.
    10. Fontana, Magda, 2010. "Can neoclassical economics handle complexity? The fallacy of the oil spot dynamic," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 584-596, December.
    11. Arthur, W Brian, 1989. "Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In by Historical Events," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(394), pages 116-31, March.
    12. Kurt Dopfer & John Foster & Jason Potts, 2004. "Micro-meso-macro," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 263-279, 07.
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    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Bulletin: Brian Arthur Has Just Invented Austrian Economics
      by Dick Langlois in Organizations and Markets on 2013-10-09 16:48:54
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    Cited by:
    1. Hardy Hanappi, 2014. "Evolutionary Political Economy in Crisis Mode," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Department of Statistics and Economics, vol. 234(2-3), pages 422-440, April.

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