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W. Brian Arthur
Complexity: A different way to look at the ec onomy
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Economics is a stately subject, one that has altered little since its modern foundations were laid in Victorian times. Now it is changing radically. Standard economics is suddenly being challenged by a number of new approaches: behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, new institutional economics. One of the new approaches came to life at the Santa Fe Institute: complexity economics. Complexity economics got its start in 1987 when a now-famous conference of scientists and economists convened by physicist Philip Anderson and economist Kenneth Arrow met to discuss the economy as an evolving complex system. That conference gave birth a year later to the Institute’s first research program – the Economy as an Evolving Complex System – and I was asked to lead this. That program in turn has gone on to lay down a new and different way to look at the economy. To see how complexity economics works, think of the agents in the economy – consumers, firms, banks, investors – as buying and selling, producing, strategizing, and forecasting. From all this behavior markets form, prices form, trading patterns form: aggregate patterns form. Complexity economics asks how individual behaviors in a situation might react to the pattern they together create, and how that pattern would alter itself as a result, causing the agents to react anew.

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