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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 09 ottobre 2012 alle ore 16:22.

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The division of economics into macroeconomics (the study of economic performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making at the national, regional, or global level) and microeconomics (the study of resource allocation by households and firms) is fundamentally incomplete and misleading. But there are at least two other divisions in economics that have been neglected: meso-economics and meta-economics.

Meso-economics studies the institutional aspects of the economy that are not captured by micro or macroeconomics. By presupposing perfect competition, complete information, and zero transaction costs, neoclassical economics assumes away the need for institutions like courts, parties, and religions to deal with the economic problems that people, firms, and countries face.

By contrast, the economists Kurt Dopfer, John Foster, and Jason Potts have developed a in which an economic system is a population of rules, a structure of rules, and a process of rules. The most important feature of a meso-economic framework is to study the actual web of contracts, formal or informal, in family, corporate, market, civil, and social institutions. Doing so provides a natural linkage between micro and macro, because the micro-level rules and institutions typically imply macro-level consequences.

Meta-economics goes still further, by studying deeper functional aspects of the economy, understood as a complex, interactive, and holistic living system. It asks questions like why an economy is more competitive and sustainable than others, how and why institutions’ governance structures evolve, and how China developed four global-scale supply chains in manufacturing, infrastructure, finance, and government services within such a short period of time.

In order to study the deep hidden principles behind human behavior, meta-economics requires us to adopt an open-minded, systemic, and evolutionary approach, and to recognize the real economy as a complex living system within other systems. This is difficult, because official statistics mismeasure – or simply miss – many of the real economy’s hidden rules and practices.

For example, measurements of GDP currently neglect the costs of natural-resource replacement, pollution, and the destruction of biodiversity. Furthermore, it is common to assume in public policy that what is not easily measured statistically is insignificant or does not exist. Static, linear, and closed analyses applied to open, non-linear, dynamic, and interconnected systems are bound to be faulty and incomplete.

The British economist Fritz Schumacher understood that human institutions, as complex structures with dynamic governance, require systemic analysis. He defined meta-economics as the humanizing of economics by accounting for the imperative of a sustainable environment; thus, he included elements of moral philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and sociology that transcend the boundaries of profit maximization and individual rationality.

Similarly, Eric Beinhocker, at the newly established , argues for a new way of seeing and understanding the economic world. Such an approach requires incorporating psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, physics, biology, mathematics, computer science, and other disciplines that study complex adaptive systems.

We believe that the framework of micro-macro-meso-meta-economics – what we call systemnomics – is a more complete way to analyze human economies, understood as complex living systems evolving within dynamically changing complex natural systems. This is a particularly useful framework for analyzing the evolution of ancient but re-emerging economies such as China and India, which are large enough to have a profound impact on other economies and on our natural environment.

Andrew Sheng is President of the Fung Global Institute. Xiao Geng is Director of Research at the Fung Global Institute.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

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