Back in the world of abstractions, the November Scientific American contains an article by Stuart A. Kauffman titled The Evolution of Future Wealth, in which the author exhorts economists to switch from their prevailing approach to their discipline, which largely follows a model derived from physics, to a model which pays closer attention to biology. As I recall, the notion that an economy more closely resembled an evolving natural ecosystem than it did any sort of clockwork mechanism was implicit in Jane Jacobs' book "The Economy of Cities" which was first published nearly forty years ago. Kauffman says:
"Such an approach to economics... is based on the emergent behavior of systems rather than on the reductive study of them. It defies conventional mathematical treatments because it is not prestatable and is nonalgorithmic. Not surprisingly, most economists have so far resisted these ideas."Also not surprisingly, Kauffman himself is not an economist. He is listed as a professor of biocomplexity and informatics at the University of Calgary. (Though "informatics" sounds vaguely like something the Church of Scientology might come up with, it's an actual discipline.) I don't know if the economists are going to pay any more attention to Kauffman than they did to Jane Jacobs, but maybe it doesn't matter. As long as the meddling of the economists doesn't precipitate a terminal economic disaster, people engaged in actual economic activity can continue to create new forms which the economists are then obliged to account for. If their accounts resemble a Ptolemaic treatise on epicycles of wandering stars, they still can't alter the reality they mis-describe any more than the learned blatherings of pre-Copernican astronomers shifted the real movements of the planets. People engaged in actual economic activity tend to ignore economists anyway, and it's they who will be making use of these new ideas. Once they've changed everything, the economists will eventually catch up-- probably just in time to miss the next big change.