Beinhocker Book on Wealth, Complexity, and Economic Theory

Lynne Kiesling

Mark Thoma draws our attention to a recent Martin Wolf column in the FT, discussing complexity and evolution as a methodological framework for economic modeling and analysis.

[M]ost [economists] must also know that the economy is not characterised by perfect foresight and equilibrium, but by trial and error and evolution. That was the intuition of the Austrian economists, Joseph Schumpeter and Friedrich Hayek. But this vision has had next to no influence in the discipline itself.

This observation is a lead-in to discussing Eric Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Mark’s post has useful excerpts from Fox’s column.

I have not yet read Beinhocker’s book, but I think his point about economic methodology is important. Models premised on perfect foresight and completely knowable information sets, and focused on outcomes instead of processes, are going to do a bad job of helping us to understand economic behavior and phenomena that are complicated, like growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I also contend that they do a bad job of helping us to design regulatory institutions that can adapt to changing and unknown conditions. That’s why I pay attention to complexity science, because I think it can help us build more useful models of institutional change.


One thought on “Beinhocker Book on Wealth, Complexity, and Economic Theory

  1. This book was already on my Wish List, but Ormerod’s book jumped ahead of it in reading order. 😉 This one may be next.

    Every day I watch people do long-range planning based on the same old equilibrium-based models. I see long-range forecasters turning the crank over and over, even when they know from personal long-term experience that it’s almost meaningless. As analysts they have no methodological alternatives. At their age, the managers have no educational background in complexity science, and they feel a very strong need to maintain consistency with convention to please even-older top management. As an observer, I see this cycle continue, but I can only imagine what it will take to change it. [I’m speaking of a regulated-utility environment.]

    I don’t know what it tells us we should do, beyond admitting that most of our assumptions and analyses are bunk of a sort. It is bunk that deserves careful consideration as to what it can tell us, given that there is so much that is impossible for us to know. There are few people willing to look at it from that perspective.

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