Few Maximize. Most Muddle. Modeling the Few Misleads the Many.

Few maximize. Most muddle. So why do economists mainly model the happy few? It makes the math easier, but risks misusing the massive power of markets. Perhaps, like the muddling masses, they should use less math and more logic. 


1. Few maximize. Most muddle. You know this; you muddle, or see many who do.

2. Yet economists mainly model the happy few. Perhaps, like the muddling masses, economists need less math, and more logic.

3. Maximization makes the math easier. This shapes the deep-metaphors, mathematical toolset, and even goals of many economists (justifying market as best allocator, at sacred equilibria).

4. Perhaps “people maximize” is a good modeling simplification (all models simplify)? As Richard Thaler's American Economic Association president’s address says, we’re neither actual, nor "as if" maximizers.

5. Alan Greenspan in noting models, like maps, must exclude details, is unwittingly wise. Models peer into uncharted futures. But maps can’t cover the undiscovered.

6. Futures relate to pasts in at least three different, increasingly loose, ways — “Newton patterns,” “Darwin patterns,” and “Berlin patterns.”

7. The Newton pattern has universal laws, fixed interactions, tight causality —> detailed predictions.

8. The Darwin pattern has open, generative, universal processes, whose logic locally creates less fixed interactions and looser causalities. Patterns with choice + change + chance —> detailed outcomes are less predictable, less algebraically summarizable, they're atomically algorithmic.

9. The Berlin pattern is less “nomothetic,” (nomos = law, thetic = generating). Isaiah Berlin felt history’s patterns could mutate quickly (=weakly nomothetic, moderately reliable maxims). Equivalent conditions don’t create equivalent results. History, like sports, plays less predictable games.

10. In Newton pattern domains, simplicity guides well, but empirically “nature often” resists Occam’s razor, “prefer[ing] complexity in biological and social” systems.

11. Back to economics, Paul Krugman justifies “equation filtering,” seeing no “rigorous way to model” even "obvious empirical” facts unless they’re in equations.

12. But having the equations ≠ having good models. Even Newton-pattern equations can create cloudy crystal balls — “We’re better at predicting what happens at the edge of the galaxy than ... whether it’ll rain” (Tom Stoppard).

13. Economics has it way worse than the weather modellers. Economies are “complex adaptive systems” (less physic-like, more organism-like, or ecosystem-like).

13. Mark Thoma justifies economic “equilibrium shortcuts,” using frog-spacing strategies around a circular pond containing a snake. The equilibrium solution is simple: One bunched group maximizes survival. For Thoma the “enormous complexities” and umpteen generations getting to equilibrium are “irrelevant." Not to those many unequilibrated generations.

14. Yes swifter economic adaptation —> faster equilibria, but also —> quicker disruption (there’s profit in pushing markets off equilibria).

15. Besides, equilibrium modeling can’t handle beehives, never mind economies (Herbert Gintis). Biologists don’t use math like physicists, (basically different patterns, microphysics can’t model ecosystems).

16. Algorithmic logic can rigorously model what Krugman’s equations can’t. “Agent-based modeling” can re-incorporate excluded behaviors — diverse, scripted logic to model muddlers (with rule-of-thumb maxims, and “cognitive biases,” = game-theoretic patterns).

17. Even if economics fit the Newton pattern, why expect it to beat weather forecasting? Its patterns are closer to evolution, or history, than to physics.

Miscasting us as prudent maximizers misdirects the massive power of markets (=muddled allocations).

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.

 

 

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

What the world will look like in the year 250,002,018

This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now

On Pangaea Proxima, Lagos will be north of New York, and Cape Town close to Mexico City
Surprising Science

To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.

Keep reading Show less

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?

As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.

Photo by Alex Boyd on Unsplash
Personal Growth

'Despite all our medical advances,' my friend Jason used to quip, 'the mortality rate has remained constant – one per person.'

Keep reading Show less

3 mind-blowing space facts with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson dives into the search for alien life, dark matter, and the physics of football.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 3 mind-blowing space facts | Big Think | dotcom
Videos
  • Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joins us to talk about one of our favorite subjects: space.
  • In the three-chaptered video, Tyson speaks about the search for alien life inside and outside of the Goldilocks Zone, why the term "dark matter" should really be called "dark gravity," and how the rotation of the Earth may have been the deciding factor in a football game.
  • These fascinating space facts, as well as others shared in Tyson's books, make it easier for everyone to grasp complex ideas that are literally out of this world.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…