Complexity creates stability.

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Lance Kennedy
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Complexity creates stability.

Post by Lance Kennedy » Fri Nov 25, 2016 1:29 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!"