Implications for Economic Policy
Edited by John Finch and Magali Orillard
Chapter 1: Complexity and the Economy: An Interview with W. Brian Arthur
1. Complexity and the economy: an interview with W. Brian Arthur Interviewed by Robert Delorme and Geoffrey M. Hodgson of EAEPE on 8 November 2002 in Aix-en-Provence Interviewer Could you brieﬂy outline how you developed your ideas on path dependence, positive feedbacks and complexity, and what problems you encountered in convincing others of their importance? WBA As an undergraduate I had been trained as an electrical engineer so I knew quite a bit about positive feedback. Also, when I started to study economics in the early 1970s at Berkeley my key interest was in economic development and so I was exposed to the ideas of cumulative causation by Gunnar Myrdal, the forward and backward linkages of Hirshman – the sorts of things we would now describe as positive feedbacks. I took plenty of courses in neoclassical economics but they didn’t speak to me as much as the dynamics of development did. My PhD was in operations research and that was heavily dynamical (I worked on control theory under Stuart Dreyfus). So my whole background was to look at dynamics. I was attracted to dynamics with cumulative causation positive feedbacks. Around 1979 I read The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson , which was a rather thick book of the coming into being of molecular biology – a wonderful book. As a result I started to read about molecular biology and eventually about enzyme reactions. I was visiting the University of Hawaii at the time and had eight weeks to...
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