Building Better Ecological Machines: Complexity Theory and Alternative Economic Models

  • Jess Bier Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Willem Schinkel Erasmus University Rotterdam
Keywords: complexity, modeling, macroeconomics, machine, ecology, emergence, crisis


Computer models of the economy are regularly used to predict economic phenomena and set financial policy. However, the conventional macroeconomic models are currently being reimagined after they failed to foresee the current economic crisis, the outlines of which began to be understood only in 2007-2008. In this article we analyze the most prominent of this reimagining: Agent-Based models (ABMs). ABMs are an influential alternative to standard economic models, and they are one focus of complexity theory, a discipline that is a more open successor to the conventional chaos and fractal modeling of the 1990s. The modelers who create ABMs claim that their models depict markets as ecologies, and that they are more responsive than conventional models that depict markets as machines. We challenge this presentation, arguing instead that recent modeling efforts amount to the creation of models as ecological machines. Our paper aims to contribute to an understanding of the organizing metaphors of macroeconomic models, which we argue is relevant conceptually and politically, e.g., when models are used for regulatory purposes.

Author Biographies

Jess Bier, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Jess Bier is a postdoctoral researcher in the Visualizing Capital subproject of the ERC-funded Monitoring Modernity project at Erasmus University Rotterdam. 

Willem Schinkel, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Willem Schinkel is a professor of social theory and the principal investigator of the ERC-funded Monitoring Modernity project at Erasmus University. He is also a member of The Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

04 Dec 2016
Research Articles