Complexity creates stability.

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Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Fri Nov 25, 2016 1:40 am

Just reading my latest issue of New Scientist, and an article aroused my ire. Title "What if Civilisation Collapses?" written by Debora MacKenzie. I disagree with its catastrophist point of view. But let me attack one point mainly. She claimed that the complexity of modern economies make them vulnerable and subject to massive collapse. My thesis is the opposite.

If you look at ecology, you will clearly see that the more complex an ecosystem, the more stable it is. Simple Arctic ecosystems are subject to substantial and often regular changes. Just check lemming populations, which rise drastically and crash equally drastically. But a coral reef or tropical rainforest ecosystem does not do this (unless someone does something really, really drastic, like cutting down all the trees). Those complex ecosystems are very stable.

I suggest the same applies to economic systems. A very simple system is subject to collapse. Imagine a small tribe, with one skilled tool maker. If he dies, the economy suffers dramatically. If he has no apprentice, the damage may be permanent. Then think of a modern city. No single person, or even group of 100 people, are that vital. The greater complexity of the city economy confers stability, and resistance to collapse.

IF You look at history, you will see changes in societies, but no majorly complex economy has ever died. Even the ancient Romans, who lost their empire, never saw their economy die. The tradesmen kept right on making what they made, and merchants kept right on buying and selling. The new customers might be barbarian invaders, but they are still customers, and they keep the economy going.

The theme of collapse is a favorite for those who want to write best selling books, and if you study more simple societies in the past, you can find examples of collapse. But the collapse is normally due to war, disease, or famine. Never due to excess economic complexity.

Deborah MacKenzie says " civilisation is an adaptive, complex system - and such systems are susceptible to catastrophic failure."
I say : "What a load of bulldust!"

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Fri Nov 25, 2016 7:16 am

Good counter.

Maybe she is a born-agginer, or an NRAer - looking forward to the apocalypse or another r-wingnut run on guns due to some presumed threat to the 2nd. No doubt her book will sell well.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Hex » Fri Nov 25, 2016 5:56 pm

I see climate change as more of a threat for a collapsing civilization far more than a complex economy, so I guess I tend to agree if it is just a sweeping statement of all Earths economy. If you hyper focus on maybe just one aspect that is far reaching like the stock market maybe there is a point. From a layman perspective the stock market is so complex that it is rife with corruption. Only the very small elite have all the advantages and abilities to manipulate the market that it just takes a few greedy, bad eggs to crash it. Once the "peasants" figure out just how rigged the stock market is who knows what could happen?

I'd also argue that having such a complex system and more than ever a global economy, has probably prevented more wars than it has started. Governments are far less likely to start wars because how it can effect their economy and more countries are seeing value in banding together and punishing rogue states through economic crackdown rather than military action. It is near impossible to be a thriving society and be insular in this day and age, just ask North Korea how that is working out.

But, hey, I could just be talking out of my ass as economics and the stock market are almost magical systems to me and I don't have a whole lot of knowledge in this area.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Fri Nov 25, 2016 8:54 pm

I think The writer was presenting an opinion piece only. Those are always suspect. We need genuine empirical studies to uncover the truth.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Fri Nov 25, 2016 10:37 pm

I was just thinking about your complexity hypothesis – and suspect that you are right for `mature` systems. But for immature systems, complexity probably does foretell failure/collapse. If resiliency and redundancy hasn`t been engineered in, then the higher the complexity, the higher the chance of collapse.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Fri Nov 25, 2016 10:53 pm

I agree with the writer. I think what you are confusing is that when either complex or simple economies collapse.....they are immediately reformed, refunded, and give it another go. There is a common admonishment that: "Wallstreet is not the economy." but the two are intertwined and even when recognized often still conflated.

What was the meltdown of 2008? Collapse/rebirth or heartily robust????? Its like saying: "Keeping criminal banksters out of jail is very stabilizing for the economy."
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Fri Nov 25, 2016 11:06 pm

Bobbo
2008 was not a collapse. It was a hiccough. Most people kept their jobs. Most businesses kept right on trading. Most of those people who were wealthy beforehand were wealthy afterwards. The people who suffered were a definite minority, and even for them the suffering was relatively minor. By which I mean that no one died of hunger due to the 2008 recession. A collapse must surely be defined as something where the majority suffer serious deprivation. Economies go through variations in which things go up and down, and always have. But the pattern of the last couple of thousand years (during which times economic complexity was the norm) has been a pattern of steady growth. If complexity causes collapse instead of stability, then point me to a complex economy which collapsed due to being too complex. You cannot, because it has never happened.

The most unstable economy is the simple one that characterised our ancestors who were primitive, tribal, hunter gatherers. We know from studies of their bones that they lived lives described as feast or famine. In other words, surges of abundance and scarcity. When people die of hunger, which is so common in such very simple economies, that could probably be described as economic collapse. It certainly is not economic stability!

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Fri Nov 25, 2016 11:15 pm

I disagree Lance and credit you with being able to understand the distinction I made.

Most PEOPLE who experience a collapse also collect their breath, have a glass of water, take a few breaths, and stand back up. That doesn't negate the collapse..... that I would define as a failure of the economic system causing great turmoil. Many people lost their jobs and life savings and homes.... not a minority.

You may have your personal rosy glasses too close at hand.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Paul Anthony » Sat Nov 26, 2016 12:27 am

Lance,

An ecosystem existing in nature is a poor analogy for an economy, which is created by humans. You mention that in a city, " No single person, or even group of 100 people, are that vital". That's an understatement. Since all the food consumed in a large city is produced elsewhere, it would be safe to say none of the city dwellers are vital. An extended disruption in transportation needed to deliver food to the city would be fatal for most of the residents. It is because of the complexity of our economy that resulted in food production being removed from the largest population centers.

Two-hundred years ago (maybe even one-hundred years ago) that would not be true. We were a much more agrarian society. Even people in cities had gardens in which they grew some of their own food. Most of the wealth is centered in Wall Street, but you can't eat stocks and bonds.

We are so dependent on electricity that an interruption in the electric supply brings everything to a screeching halt. Supermarkets have only a few days supply on the shelves, and in an emergency the shelves are emptied in one day. Restaurants have even less on hand. We've seen this during hurricanes, where people are helpless until supplies are trucked in from surrounding areas. Now imagine if it occurred nationwide or world-wide. Trucks can't bring in needed supplies if gas pumps don't work. And, if everyone was in the same state of emergency, no one would try to help anyone in another city.

A electromagnetic pulse, whether from a massive solar flare or by man-made means, would end civilization. In cities, water would stop flowing from faucets. People would die so fast without water that they wouldn't care that there was no food. Those that survived would either starve or die from the unsanitary conditions that would follow. People in rural areas would fare better, but they would be cut off from the rest of the world. Civilization would become whatever the survivors deemed it to be. It wouldn't resemble what we have today.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sat Nov 26, 2016 12:51 am

Paul

I do not dispute your 'logic'. But I point out that none of your scenarios have ever actually happened. Transport systems break down all the time, but never cause a city economy to collapse. Electricity black outs and brown outs are common but never cause a city economy to collapse. My point is that the economy today is so complex that there is always some kind of back up. If a train track is blocked, then trucks will carry food, or a ship if it is a sea or river port. Complexity creates redundancy and alternatives.

Bobbo

We might end up arguing definitions. What is meant by 'collapse'.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Paul Anthony » Sat Nov 26, 2016 1:48 am

Lance Kennedy wrote:Paul

I do not dispute your 'logic'. But I point out that none of your scenarios have ever actually happened. Transport systems break down all the time, but never cause a city economy to collapse. Electricity black outs and brown outs are common but never cause a city economy to collapse. My point is that the economy today is so complex that there is always some kind of back up. If a train track is blocked, then trucks will carry food, or a ship if it is a sea or river port. Complexity creates redundancy and alternatives.



It happened in 1859 (known as the Carrington event) but the only damage was the destruction of telegraph lines. There was no electric grid. Today, it would fry electric wires, disrupt communications and GPS. The power grids are critical to just about everything in the modern world, and they are fragile. If the entire US went dark, it would take years to rebuild.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110302-solar-flares-sun-storms-earth-danger-carrington-event-science/
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sat Nov 26, 2016 2:11 am

Paul

That is always a possibility. Or a nuclear war might destroy everything. But my thesis was that no complex economy collapsed due to the complexity. Quite the reverse. Complexity increases stability. It also increases resistance to other kinds of disasters. Not total immunity of course.

It is just like a tropical rain forest. The complex ecology confers stability, but does not protect it against a massive disaster coming from outside, like a logging company chopping down all the trees.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Sat Nov 26, 2016 5:23 am

Lance Kennedy wrote:
Bobbo

We might end up arguing definitions. What is meant by 'collapse'.


Indeed...or every other word/concept in your proposition. What is complexity? What is an economic system as opposed to minimum required services??

....................if anyone wanted to.

I do have to laugh at Pauls witty observation: "Since all the food consumed in a large city is produced elsewhere, it would be safe to say none of the city dwellers are vital." Ha. ha. Same with everything else that a city requires: all provided by outside the city areas. Almost like city dwellers are some kind of parasite?
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sat Nov 26, 2016 10:43 am

Youre rong, Lance. You are confuzing complexity with redundansy. Redundansy iz usually a survival advantaj, exess complexity iz alwayz a disadvantaj.

2008 wuz a collaps in progress that coud hav eazily gotten way worse if the rong desijunz were made. And ask anybody in the PIG nationz about how bad it wuz and still iz. It happened bekuz the system iz too complex.

The American election system iz too complex and look where that got us.

Complexity by itself haz zero pozitiv effect on how robust a system iz. The ability to survive adversity haz to be dezined in, and often for each spesific thret. Wether a survival devise andor stratejy addz complexity or not iz mainly dependent on the thret being prepared for.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Sat Nov 26, 2016 5:54 pm

The 2008 financial meltdown was caused by insufficient oversight of too greedy people. The consumer banks loaned to unqualified buyers and their investment arm packaged those `bound to fail` loans for resale to unsuspecting investors.

Complexity? In the sense that the banks were allowed to run amok internally while proper oversight might have included divide and separate as a hold on that complexity.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sat Nov 26, 2016 6:27 pm

Thats a simplified, but valid explanation. Therez a book about it that can give you a hint uv the complexity that cauzed the colaps. The Looting uv America
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Sat Nov 26, 2016 7:29 pm

JO 753 wrote:Thats a simplified, but valid explanation. Therez a book about it that can give you a hint uv the complexity that cauzed the colaps. The Looting uv America


Thanks for the book suggestion. Yes, I simplified my explanation - not wanting my take on it to collapse due to unnecessary complexity. I was working in the investment side of the industry at the time so saw some of it first hand.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Sat Nov 26, 2016 7:36 pm

Lance: was human society "stable" for its first 150K years of existence....or has it become stable only since ..... when? You may be suffering from post hoc ergo proctor hoc reasoning
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sat Nov 26, 2016 8:08 pm

Bobbo

Human society was exceedingly unstable over the first 150K (and more) of its existence. This is shown by the very, very slow rate of population growth. Since every woman became pregnant at least every two years* , that slowness came as a result of massive death rate. In other words, the size of tribes went up and down like the proverbial yo yo. We have seen this is the studies of anthropologists on more recent primitive peoples. Tribal size varies enormously over time. This has to be seen as substantial instability.

Jo

Complexity and redundancy go together. It is not just redundancy by, for example, having 1,000 taxis in the city. It is redundancy by having numerous ways of achieving the same result. Alternatives to taxis include private cars, buses, trains and even phone calls and emails. It is the complexity of numerous overlapping services that give the redundancy.

The more complex an economy is, the less likely to suffer a disastrous change due to something being lost.

*In the period before the invention of contraceptives, the average number of pregnancies each married woman had was 15.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Paul Anthony » Sat Nov 26, 2016 8:23 pm

Lance Kennedy wrote:
Human society was exceedingly unstable over the first 150K (and more) of its existence. This is shown by the very, very slow rate of population growth. Since every woman became pregnant at least every two years* , that slowness came as a result of massive death rate. In other words, the size of tribes went up and down like the proverbial yo yo. We have seen this is the studies of anthropologists on more recent primitive peoples. Tribal size varies enormously over time. This has to be seen as substantial instability.


Is overpopulation an improvement? It has certainly provided us with redundancies. For every minimum wage job there are 100's of "qualified" applicants. :)
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Sat Nov 26, 2016 9:16 pm

Lance, you only answered half the questions. Its looking like you are equating "stability" not with complexity but rather with population numbers? Seems to me populations became "stable" when public health measures were understood and taken. Not "that" complex not to {!#%@} in your drinking water........ or is that what you mean?.... or in your case, not to let the sheep {!#%@} in your drinking water?
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sat Nov 26, 2016 9:45 pm

Paul

My thesis was about economies. Population size is a different discussion.

Bobbo

In a 'primitive' tribal society, economic instability translates into hunger, disease, and death. So population instability reflects the instability of their simple economies. As economies become more complex, they become more stable. Since human existence depends on viable economies, the greater stability of the economy reduces the times that population numbers plummet.

You could ask what the economy of a primitive tribal hunter gatherer society is. It is the gathering of 'wealth' such as food and tools ( and sometimes women and slaves), and its distribution among the members of the tribe. When less 'wealth' is available, people go hungry and die (the slaves first.).

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Sun Nov 27, 2016 2:29 am

Hey Lance: Heads up. all you have done is repeat what you have said before. to actually engage the subject you should respond to what I said. EG: how is complexity a better description/guide/cause of stability defined by stable populations better than public health?????

Causation is always tricky with human beings. How DO you rule out correlation, coincidence, concomitancy? I would go into those issues.....except why bother if it only brings another repeat?

ENGAGE the other sides arguments. You might change your mind.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sun Nov 27, 2016 3:46 am

How is complexity a better guide? I think the two go together. Economic complexity and good public health tend to "coincide". Stable populations is only one aspect of economic stability. There are numerous other factors that reveal stability or lack of stability. But stability is better with more economic complexity.

Recall that my thesis began as a response to an article that claimed excessive complexity led to instability and a greater likelihood of economic collapse. My thesis is that the opposite is true. The greater the economic complexity, the more stable the economy.

An outside force, of course, can collapse an economy, regardless of how complex it is. Wars, a new disease epidemic, or some such might cause collapse. But this is not collapse because of excessive complexity.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Paul Anthony » Sun Nov 27, 2016 4:03 am

Consider this: In 1859, the incident had minor repercussions. If it happened today, it would have devastating repercussions for the entire world. As a result of complexity we are all at risk, whereas in a less complex society the effects would be local and limited.

Similarly , the meltdown in 2008 affected the entire world rather than just the economy of one nation.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 5:29 am

Take a machine for example.

If you can achiev the purpose with 5 moving parts, complexifing it up to 1,000 will only give you 200 timez az many thingz that can go rong.

There iz a minimum level uv complexity befor sumthing can work at all. Then therez an ideal level. Az simple az you can make sumthing and still do the work efficiently iz the way to go.

Look at the history uv automobilez. The earliest, with no oil pump, fuel pump, etc. coud run, but were inefficient and unreliable. Decadez uv refinement by many big companyz rezulted in a much more complex machine that wuz fairly reliable and efficient.

But the job also got more demanding az customer expectationz and gummit regulationz forst greater and greater complexity. The reliability alwayz suffered until the new stuff got refined and quality standardz were raized.

Now the essential drive train iz being drasticly simplified due to revolutionary battery teknolojy. An electric motor can be in the hub uv a weel for a total uv 1 moving part! (unless you want to count the ball bearing az multiple parts) Compare that to a Model A, let alone a hi performans 2017 combustion powered car from any company.

Economic systemz are machinez. Wall Street hiring jenius mathamaticianz and sientists to create ultra complex financial systemz haz only helped the rich
get richer and often backfired on them also. No stability there, dood.

Sorry Lance, your thesis iz thuroly debunkt.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Matthew Ellard » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:21 am

JO 753 wrote:Take a machine for example. If you can achiev the purpose with 5 moving parts, complexifing it up to 1,000 will only give you 200 timez az many thingz that can go rong.
...and that's why complex systems have redundancy systems and alternative systems. A great example of this is human genes. We have back up genes because mutation may defeat the first "cab off the rank".

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:33 am

Jo

Matthew is correct. The ultimate in complex machines is the human body, which lasts 70 years (plus or minus a few) with no external maintenance. Not that the machine analogy has any meaning. I am talking of an economy. Not a machine.

An economy in these modern times consists of literally millions of moving parts (also called humans). Very, very complex. Will it collapse due to that complexity? That has not yet happened, ever.

Can a complex economy collapse at all? Sure. Paul suggests a solar flare might do it. Maybe. But that is not because it is too complex.

In science, the truth is obtained by empirical study. Meaning looking at the real world. Non scientific bulldust is derived by people having a 'bright idea', instead of from real world data. Homeopathy came from that source, as did Jo's last post. If you look at the real world to examine my thesis, you will see that no complex economy has ever collapsed. Even the 1929 depression did not collapse the economy, though it was damaged. Primitive and simple economies have done so.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:57 am

Paul Anthony wrote:Consider this: In 1859, the incident had minor repercussions. If it happened today, it would have devastating repercussions for the entire world. As a result of complexity we are all at risk, whereas in a less complex society the effects would be local and limited.

Similarly , the meltdown in 2008 affected the entire world rather than just the economy of one nation.


That the entire world took a hit in 2008, is in part because the offending institutions were present in those other countries and `shared` the sickness they carried with investors there. Had the entire world not shared the pain, it would have been far worse for the US since the entire loss would have been concentrated. I`d give the complexity that is intertwined international financial systems a pat for limiting the damage to the US thru that complexity. The total loss being the total negative value of the mortgages.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 8:00 am

All 3 uv you are confuzing redundansy with complexity. Aircraft commonly hav 2 or more enjinez. The redundansy iz a stratejy to avert total dizaster in case wun uv the enjinez failz. Not worth the many penaltyz in a car sins enjin failure iz not nearly az likely to be a total dizaster.

Duz that mean multi enjin aircraft are alwayz more complex than carz? Obviously not.

And Lance, you are also confuzing disorganization with complexity. Wall Street crashed the ecomomy with the aid uv the exess complexity they created (possibly on purpose to fool peepl) and their creation Frankenstiened on them several timez. You coud blame the SEC and other regulatorz for not doing their job, but therez a limit to how much the burocratic brain can handle in termz uv complexity and volume.

TJ, thats a bad misread uv the event. If you get the flu, spredding it to the rest uv the nayborhood duznt help you 1 bit.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Sun Nov 27, 2016 8:09 am

JO... And the Flu is a bad analogy. The other countries did not adopt the US practice of lending without proper vetting. If they had – that would have been similar to the flu.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 9:42 am

Didnt matter did it? Their complex connectionz to our economy brot them down just az surely.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Sun Nov 27, 2016 9:47 am

JO 753 wrote:Didnt matter did it? Their complex connectionz to our economy brot them down just az surely.


Not at all. The only `foreign` thing that went down overseas was foreigner investor capital. Again - the international connectivity/complexity was beneficial in that it spread the pain of US based unwarranted lending losses.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 5:56 pm

Gubmint for us
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:23 pm

The 2008 recession was not an economy collapsing. People with jobs kept working. Businesses kept trading. Only a minority of workers and businesses suffered total failure.

And no, Jo, we understand what redundancy means. But complexity also confers redundancy by providing alternatives. If I want to send a message to someone, I have alternatives of snail mail, email, land line phone, cell phone, sending a messenger, or going to see that person for a chat. That is redundancy conferred by complexity. If I were a worker who lost his job, I would have numerous other positions I could apply for. If I wanted to start a business, the possible businesses I could get into are enormous. Complexity gives opportunity. In the same way, if something happens to cause loss, there are many ways to overcome that loss. Complexity gives stability to the overall economy.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Paul Anthony » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:56 pm

The 2008 debacle started with real estate, but because of complexity it brought down seemingly unrelated industries.

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby JO 753 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:58 pm

Lance Kennedy wrote:The 2008 recession was not an economy collapsing.


Just kuz it wuz bailed out before going over a cliff duznt mean it woudnt hav.

Hav you forgotten all the bad ideaz being shouted out by the Republicanz during the 2008 campane? "Let the car manufacturerz go bankrupt", 0% tax for investors" "abolish the minimum waje" for example.

If McCain/Palin won, we'd be living in the Road Warrior wasteland now.
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby TJrandom » Sun Nov 27, 2016 7:15 pm

Yes indeed, the government and regulators finally stepped in to do their job - all part of that complexity thingie. :D

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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby Paul Anthony » Sun Nov 27, 2016 7:25 pm

TJrandom wrote:Yes indeed, the government and regulators finally stepped in to do their job - all part of that complexity thingie. :D


That's a stretch of the definition of complexity, even for you. ;)
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Re: Complexity creates stability.

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Sun Nov 27, 2016 9:15 pm

Lance Kennedy wrote:Can a complex economy collapse at all? Sure. Paul suggests a solar flare might do it. Maybe. But that is not because it is too complex.


HA!!! Solar Flares have NO IMPACT on less complex societies...even those of 150 years ago. I think you just switched "definitions" to avoid the solar flare. Meet the challenge: define complexity...and then use it or modify it to meet the challenges. Don't just dismiss examples of where your theory sans definitions negate it. Nothing wrong with a definition that meets 90% of what you think is true and then simply note the exceptions.

Lance Kennedy wrote:In science, the truth is obtained by empirical study. Meaning looking at the real world. //// No. Science proceeds by experimentation. Study gives us religion.


Lance Kennedy wrote:Non scientific bulldust is derived by people having a 'bright idea', instead of from real world data. //// Ha, ha. The bright idea here is the link you reference....the hokum then is from your unsupported anti-bright idea.


Lance Kennedy wrote:If you look at the real world to examine my thesis, you will see that no complex economy has ever collapsed. Even the 1929 depression did not collapse the economy, though it was damaged. Primitive and simple economies have done so.
---and THAT is not SCIENCE at all. You have a time line of events...no causation or guiding mechanism identified at all, just a label. Seems to me that complex or simple that in order to be stable a society has to have redundancy or plasticity or simply "size" to survive what impacts there are. Again: you suffer from generalities and failure to define what you are talking about. This leaves you free to twist around as each counter issue is raised. WHEN did society become complex enough to survive? otherwise....lots of societies have expired. How about Rome or Egypt? In your undefined tautology, you will simply say they were not complex? On that basis.........I agree.

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