Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Epidemics and Economies -- Network Theory, Constructal Theory, and Spontaneous Order Theory

Epidemiology studies the way diseases spread. Insofar as this spread can be understood through scale-free network theory and, thus, through constructal theory, there is really not much difference among understanding the spread of disease and the spread of ideas, whether technological, scientific, or artistic, and the spread of goods through an economy.

The flows of diseases, ideas, good, traffic, money, immigrants, etc. are all described using constructal theory, which underlies network theory. All give rise to the same network structures, with power law distributions. If you understand the structure of flows, you can understand much in the social sciences, psychology, the biological sciences, and even the physical sciences. Diseases, ideas, goods, etc. all do in fact flow like rivers. The fact that they are rivers layers on top of rivers does not mean the basic structures differ -- the only difference is in the complexity created from the overlaps and nested hierarchies. Yes, it matters which kinds of networks one is looking at, be it hierarchical or scale-free (all the ones mentioned above are scale-free), but many of the principles are the same.

Hierarchical networks are embedded in the scale-free networks, and have to be understood as such. If you mistake a scale-free network for a hierarchical network, you can make errors in judgement that can in fact kill people. If you understand the economy as being a hierarchical network rather than a scale-free network, you will make the mistake of thinking central planning (as one finds in firms) for an economy possible. Can one plan an epidemic? Of course not. But the same thing that will stop an epidemic will collapse an economy -- destruction of the most-connected nodes (in the case of an epidemic, targeting the most connected nodes/people with medicine to stop the spread). The person who understands spontaneous orders understands epidemics as well.
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