Starting a new chapter

I’m happy to announce that I’ve joined the Institute of Economics and EMbeDS at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa as a JSMF postdoctoral fellow. I had been awarded a JSMF fellowship in September 2018: these are amazing grants that fund 2/3-year projects leaving almost complete freedom to grantees, both in terms of research projects and host institutions. My position will last until December 2022.

I will spend part of my time following the research lines that I started developing during my PhD. But I will mainly focus on a new research line: understanding the potential of Agent-Based Models for time series forecasting. ABMs are much more detailed than more traditional equation-based models, yet their additional flexibility has rarely been used to provide more accurate quantitative predictions. Showing that ABMs can produce more accurate forecasts would particularly be useful with economists, who tend to be skeptical about the value added of ABMs. It would explicitly demonstrate that ABMs can give more reliable answers to key policy questions than traditional models, because they more realistically represent the workings of the economy. There is already some research in this direction: I predict that it will grow even more in the next few years.

Researchers at the Institute of Economics at Sant’Anna have pioneered the use of Agent-Based Models in economics. Recently, Sant’Anna was awarded funding from the Italian Ministry of Research to establish a “Department of Excellence” called EMbeDS (Economics and Management in the era of Data Science). This has led to a cluster of hires of statisticians, computer scientists and econometricians, and to the acquisition of several large datasets. This focus on big data, which is further reinforced by the interactions with computer scientists at the University of Pisa, is really useful for my project, as I believe that ABMs can be successful in forecasting only if they can be calibrated starting from micro data. Thus, the combined expertise on economics, agent-based modeling and data science makes Sant’Anna an ideal choice for my fellowship. The environment in Sant’Anna is also extremely informal, friendly and collaborative!

Last spring, I also visited a few other research centers that I was considering as host institutions. I learned so much by interacting with researchers in those centers, and I have already started collaborating with a few of them on some exciting new projects! I really hope to make as many of these collaborations as possible happen.

Finally, I will remain linked to the complexity group at INET Oxford as an associate member, planning on visiting once a term. Some exciting projects are starting, and I especially hope to contribute to the ones on business cycles. INET Oxford has been an exceptional place to do my PhD, and I’m really grateful to everyone there. You won’t get rid of me!

(I’ve unfortunately neglected this blog over the last few months. Looking for this position while writing my PhD thesis has absorbed all my energies. Now that I’ve started my postdoc I hope to come back blogging with a certain regularity.)

Complexity Economics

Welcome to my research blog! I have always found reading other people’s research blogs tremendously useful, as blogs give unique perspectives on aspects of research that do not show up in papers. This blog is my perspective as a junior scientist on the research topics I am passionate about – economics and complex systems – as well as on general topics in science and on careers in research.

My blog is about complexity economics, broadly defined as the application of complex systems methods in economics. In complex systems the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and complex systems scientists investigate how collective behavior emerges from interactive individual components. Practically speaking, complex systems science is a collection of computational and mathematical methods that are applied across the natural and social sciences.  This leads to the broad characterization of complexity economics as a theoretical and empirical focus in economics on networks, non-linear dynamics, adaptation, learning and heterogeneity.

I favor a narrower definition that applies to economic theory. According to this definition, complexity economics is economic modeling without equilibrium. I will write a separate blog post about what equilibrium means in economics, why economists make equilibrium assumptions and what building non-equilibrium models means. Here I only want to stress that equilibrium is a top-down constraint imposed on the economic system. A complex systems view of economics would rather suggest to take a bottom-up approach, for example using agent-based models. This is what makes the (narrowly-defined) complexity economics approach non-mainstream in economics, and perhaps “heterodox”.

I aim my blog at both complex systems scientists – mathematicians, physicists, biologists, computer scientists, etc. – and economists. To this end, I will try to avoid jargon and explain basic things that may be obvious in a field but not clear in others. This for example applies to my research. Every time I publish a paper I plan to write a blog post that describes the paper’s contribution in general terms. But my goal is also to discuss other people’s research, and general topics across economics and science. I would also like to give my opinion as a PhD student and (in the future) postdoc about careers in research, e.g. whether interdisciplinarity pays off or whether the economics job market chokes risky and innovative research.

I will not talk about politics. While I am deeply worried about recent trends across the world, I want to keep this blog only about science, and will only discuss political issues in a positive way (jargon alert: see link). I will also probably not talk about technical aspects of research such as coding and visualization. While this is my day-to-day job and I like having good code and good figures, I am neither a professional developer nor a visual designer, so other people would do a better job at talking about this.

I hope to write a blog post on average every month/two months. There are excellent blogs in economics and in complex systems, I hope this blog will contribute linking the two fields – making economists more aware of what it practically means to take a complex systems approach to economics, and making interdisciplinary scientists more aware of what economists are really doing and why they do it the way they do. This blog will not be the usual critique of economics from a natural sciences perspective, but will rather illustrate mainstream economists’ point of view while promoting an alternative approach.