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Complexity and Economic Policy: A Paradigm Shift or a Change in Perspective? A Review Essay on David Colander and Roland Kupers's Complexity and the Art of Public Policy

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  • Alan Kirman

Abstract

In their recent book, Colander and Kupers (2014) argue that viewing the economy as a complex adaptive system should change the way in which we make economic policy. This would necessitate a paradigm shift. Economics has, over time, tried to produce a coherent model to underpin the dominant laissez-faire liberal approach. But we have never proved, in that model, that left to their own devices, the participants in an economy will self-organize into a satisfactory state. This is an assumption. Complex interactive systems with direct interaction between heterogeneous agents may show no tendency to self-equilibrate and will undergo endogenous crises. Economists should concentrate on the emergence of certain patterns. Colander and Kupers suggest that we may be able to nudge the system into "good" basins of attraction. A more radical view is that there are no fixed basins of attraction; these change with the evolution of the system and it is illusory to believe that we can choose good basins. We may be able to recognize and influence the emergence of certain states of the economy, but we are far from Leon Walras's dream of economics as a science like astrophysics.

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  • Alan Kirman, 2016. "Complexity and Economic Policy: A Paradigm Shift or a Change in Perspective? A Review Essay on David Colander and Roland Kupers's Complexity and the Art of Public Policy," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 54(2), pages 534-572, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jeclit:v:54:y:2016:i:2:p:534-72
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jel.54.2.534
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    6. Richard G. Lipsey & Yew-Kwang Ng, 2017. "Concluding Comments to the Debate," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 22(2), pages 213-228, May.
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    8. Dosi, G. & Virgillito, M.E., 2021. "In order to stand up you must keep cycling: Change and coordination in complex evolving economies," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 353-364.
    9. Paul Lewis, 2017. "The Ostroms and Hayek as Theorists of Complex Adaptive Systems: Commonality and Complementarity," Advances in Austrian Economics, in: Paul Dragos Aligica & Paul Lewis & Virgil H. Storr (ed.), The Austrian and Bloomington Schools of Political Economy, volume 22, pages 49-80, Emerald Publishing Ltd.

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    JEL classification:

    • B10 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - General
    • B20 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - General
    • C63 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Computational Techniques
    • D04 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Policy: Formulation; Implementation; Evaluation
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination

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