A physical model of the U.S. economy

June 5, 2009

Here’s a great New York Times article describing a working Phillips machine. A Phillips machine is a physical model of the flow of money through a national economy, circa 1949.  It’s pretty wacky looking, but to its credit it gives a visceral understanding of those stock and flow concepts that are so hard for humans to grasp about systems. And apparently it worked to predict the economy, although it never was put into production widely.

Page through the comments to find some good points about modeling and the history of analogue computing. Given my feelings on the the limits of economic models, I especially appreciated this one on the limits of modeling. In a less negative vein, this commenter argues that systems arise from simple processes.  Since Wolfram|Alpha is on everyone’s minds right now (and is garnering criticism for not being Google), I appreciated his point.

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