Thursday, July 8, 2010

A new dimension in Economics - Econophysics

Econophysics is an interdisciplinary research field, applying theories and methods originally developed by physicists in order to solve problems in economics, usually those including uncertainty or stochastic processes and nonlinear dynamics. Its application to the study of financial markets has also been termed statistical finance referring to its roots in statistical physics. Physicists’ interest in the social sciences is not new; Daniel Bernoulli, as an example, was the originator of utility-based preferences. One of the founders ofneoclassical economic theory, former Yale University Professor of Economics Irving Fisher, was originally trained under the renowned Yale physicist, Josiah Willard Gibbs.

Econophysics was started in the mid 1990s by several physicists working in the subfield of statistical mechanics. They decided to tackle the complex problems posed by economics, especially by financial markets. Unsatisfied with the traditional explanations of economists, they applied tools and methods from physics - first to try to match financial data sets, and then to explain more general economic phenomena.

One driving force behind econophysics arising at this time was the availability of huge amounts of financial data, starting in the 1980s. It became apparent that traditional methods of analysis were insufficient - standard economic methods dealt with homogeneous agents and equilibrium, while many of the more interesting phenomena in financial markets fundamentally depended on heterogeneous agents and far-from-equilibrium situations.

The term “econophysics” was coined by H. Eugene Stanley in the mid 1990s, to describe the large number of papers written by physicists in the problems of (stock and other) markets, and first appeared in a conference on statistical physics in Calcutta in 1995 and its following publications. The inaugural meeting on Econophysics was organised 1998 in Budapest byJanos Kertesz and Imre Kondor.

Currently, the almost regular meeting series on the topic include: Econophysics Colloquium, ESHIA/ WEHIA, ECONOPHYS-KOLKATA, APFA

If "econophysics" is taken to denote the principle of applying statistical mechanics to economic analysis, as opposed to a particular literature or network, priority of innovation is probably due to Farjoun and Machover (1983). Their book Laws of Chaos: A Probabilistic Approach to Political Economy proposes dissolving (their words) the transformation problem in Marx's political economy by re-conceptualising the relevant quantities as random variables.

If, on the other side, "econophysics" is taken to denote the application of physics to economics, one can already consider the works of Léon Walras and Vilfredo Pareto as part of it. Indeed, as shown by Ingrao and Israel, general equilibrium theory in economics is just based on the physical concept of mechanical equilibrium.

It should be noted that econophysics has nothing to do with the "physical quantities approach" to economics, advocated by Ian Steedman and others associated with Neo-Ricardianism.

Basic tools of econophysics are probabilistic and statistical methods often taken from statistical physics.

Physics models that have been applied in economics include percolation models, chaotic models developed to study cardiac arrest, and models with self-organizing criticality as well as other models developed for earthquake prediction. Moreover, there have been attempts to use the mathematical theory of complexity and information theory, as developed by many scientists among whom are Murray Gell-Mann and Claude E. Shannon, respectively.

Since economic phenomena are the result of the interaction among many heterogeneous agents, there is an analogy with statistical mechanics, where many particles interact; but it must be taken into account that the properties of human beings and particles significantly differ.

There are, however, various other tools from physics that have so far been used with mixed success, such as fluid dynamics, classical mechanics and quantum mechanics (including so-called classical economy and quantum economy), and the path integral formulation of statistical mechanics.

There are also analogies between finance theory and diffusion theory. For instance, the Black-Scholes equation for option pricing is a diffusion-advection equation.

Papers on econophysics have been published primarily in journals devoted to physics and statistical mechanics, rather than in leading economics journals. Mainstream economists have generally been unimpressed by this work. Some Heterodox economists, including Mauro Gallegati, Steve Keen and Paul Ormerod, have shown more interest, but also criticized trends in econophysics.

In contrast, econophysics is having some impact on the more applied field of quantitative finance, whose scope and aims significantly differ from those of economic theory. Various econophysicists have introduced models for price fluctuations in financial markets or original points of view on established models.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

UN raises voice to ditch Dollar as an international currency.

I just received a mail yesterday, while I was in my office, that the UN has called for ditching the dollar as an internationally accepted currency. Suddenly my mind started racing ... what would be the effect of such a step in International Economics and International Business.

I asked my canteen incharge, Tapash, for a cup of coffee. I sank into the huge leather sofa in my office, all alone, sipping coffee and thinking of the repercussions. From my understanding of International Finance and Exchange Rate dynamics, a fall in the overall acceptability of US dollar will result in the decrease in demand of dollar. Countries holding dollars in their foreign exchange basket will try to sell them off, resulting in an excess supply of dollars in the international market. Unless the Obama government takes a huge initiative to buy back the dollars at the existing rate, the price of the dollar, i.e the Exchange Rate of dollar is sure to fall. Dollar will depreciate.

Now, what happens if dollar depreciates? In this era of Globalisation, some countries trading with the US will have a trade surplus. Definately good for the Indian Economy. But the US economy, who haven't yet recovered fully from the Financial Crisis, will further sink. The US government will definately try to recover, with the Federal Reserves decreasing the Rate of Interest, and the US government reducing their imports. The latter is critically important, as the US will suffer greater losses with imports in the era of Exchange Rate depreciation.

Now, lets see the very important repercussion. China is the major trading partner of the US. A decline in the imports of the US means a decline in the exports of China. China, who boasts of their GDP growth rate hovering around 10%, will suffer a setback, since the growth of the Chinese economy is mainly fuelled by exports. So, the Chinese growth will be hit. Contrastingly, Indian growth is mainly domestic demand driven. So, the Indian economy won't be severely hit. We definately do have a fair chance of overtaking the Chinese economy in the growth rate of Real GDP.

Looking forward to the coming few months. I will definately revert back to this issue in my next posts. Until then, lets keep our fingers crossed.

The question that remains is ... Is it time to end the Monopoly???