Thesis, the economy, and writing

For the last couple of months I have been spending most time working on my thesis. It has been actually very enjoyable, for the most part. There have been some days where it has been somewhat painful. The quick update is that it is going well and that I still hope to submit very soon. As expected, there are many experiments, and tasks, and analysis that I would like to expand into. But I’m going to have to leave it for later. As Inman keeps reminding me, there is no such thing as a finished thesis…

But this post is not really about the thesis. I wanted to mention my increasing interest in the economy as an evolving complex dynamical system. This interest is not entirely new for me. I first became involved in the computational study of economic processes modeled as dynamic systems of interacting agents when I was assisting Prof. Raul Jimenez back in Universidad Simon Bolivar. However, it was the book “The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical Remaking of Economics” by Eric D. Beinhocker – as brought to my attention by Chrisantha – which has gotten me thinking more seriously about the area again.

Prof. Tesfatsion has a very useful online resource on the area. These are some of the interesting questions that she raises: “Why have particular observed regularities evolved and persisted despite the absence of top-down planning and control?” and “How can computational models be used to gain a better understanding of economic systems through a better understanding of their full range of potential behaviors over time (equilibria plus basins of attraction)?”

I have also been most interested with Friederich von Hayek’s and Adam Smith’s work for a while. In fact, I have been recommending many Venezuelans to read Hayek’s seminal “Road to Serfdom” for the last several months. These gentleman wondered about the self-organizing capabilities of decentralized market economies. This is still an unresolved concern. One which I find ever so necessary to resolve.

Perhaps what I find most interesting about computational economic models is the potential to introduce all of the tools from dynamical, complex, adaptive, evolutionary, embedded, enactive and other biologically-inspired systems trade, as Beinhocker points out in his book.

I’m particularly interested in `out of equilibrium’ economics. Traditional economic models have been based around homogeneous all-knowing agents in a discrete-time world. And most of the analysis has been applied to when the market settles down to its equilibrium. Brian Arthur and some other people have done a lot of interesting work with their Santa Fe Institute artificial stock market (SFI-ASM). But from what I have seen so far, there is still a lot of space for improvement. There is also a lot of space for  understanding these models using dynamical systems analysis.

That’s it for the moment on computational economics. But I would like to mention a couple of other side things before I disappear into my latex files. I have also been reading “On writing well: the classic guide to writing nonfiction” by William K. Zinsser. This book complements very well W. Strunk and E.B. White’s “The Elements of Style”, as the author suggests.

It’s only until you read something as well written as this book that you realise how awful most of us write. And I’m not talking merely about blogs and things online, I’m talking about many papers and books out there. Zinsser puts it this way: “The man or woman snoozing in a chair with a magazine or a book is a person who was being given too much unnecessary trouble by the writer”. On the contrary, every paragraph in this book is refreshing and it gives me more energy to keep reading the next.

Anyways, I do hope to improve my writing with it. What I like about this book the most is that he acknowledges that good writing is hard. “A clear sentence is no accident” is the way he puts it. There is a lot of emphasis on clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity. He also stresses the importance of how the written text ‘sounds’. Also the necessity of pruning, rewriting, reading aloud and rewriting over again, several times. All of these suggestions are obvious. But it’s worth being reminded about them often. He recommends reading White and Strunk’s book every year. I agree. I also think this is true for his book.

Well, as it turns out this post was about all sorts of things and nothing at the same time. So while I’m at it, why not tell you the one other thing, after the thesis, that has been taking up most of my time: planning for the future. That’s right. Short and medium term future is what’s at stake. A lot of brainstorming about concrete research projects that I would like to carry out, with whom and where. I think I know pretty well what I want. More on this later.

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