Economics

Managing Complexity

The U.S. economy consists of millions of buyers and sellers of goods and services. Think about all the economic activity near where you live. Even in a small town there are dozens of businesses, hundreds of workers, and thousands of items that could be purchased on any given day. You could not possibly keep track of all the decisions that affect the economy of a small town.

Modern complex economies involve the interactions of large numbers of people and organizations. These economic agents fall into one of three categories: business, households, government, and the rest-of-the-world. Economists find it useful to think of these groupings as sectors of the economy. Let's look at each of these sectors in turn:

There has long been something appealing for economists about the idea that the economy may behave with the same mathematical predictability of scientific laws such as Newton’s laws of motion. Newton’s laws reduce the whole complex, teeming, physical universe to three simple, reliable mathematical relationships. Is it possible to find similar relationships in the complex, changing world of markets?

It has frequently been observed that interest in business or trade cycle theory is itself cyclical (e.g. Zarnowitz 1985, p.524). In periods of sustained prosperity interest wanes, as it did in the 1960s and early 1970s when research into macroeconomic dynamics concentrated on growth theory. At the end of the 1960s, the continued existence of business cycles was questioned. The experiences of the 1970s and early 1980s, especially following the 1973 and 1979 oil price shocks, brought a resurgence of interest in business cycles.

Back to Top