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Based on a technique known as systems dynamics, developed by Professor Jay Forrester at MIT, a large-scale computer model was constructed to simulate likely future outcomes of the world economy. The most prominent feature of systems dynamics is the use of feedback loops to explain behavior.
The feedback loop is a closed path that connects an action to its effect on the surrounding conditions which, in turn, can influence further action.
As the examples presented subsequently in this chapter demonstrate, depending on how the relationships are described, a wide variety of complex behavior can be described by this technique. Conclusions of Pessimist Model Three main conclusions were reached by this study.
The first suggests that within a time span of less than years with no major change in the physical, economic, or social relationships that have traditionally governed world development, society will run out of the nonrenewable resources on which the industrial base depends.
When the resources have been depleted, a precipitous collapse of the economic system will result, manifested in massive unemployment, decreased food production, and a decline in population as the death rate soars.
There is no smooth transition, no gradual slowing down of activity; rather, the economic system consumes successively larger amounts of the depletable resources until they are gone.
The characteristic behavior of the system is overshoot and collapse see Figure 1. The second conclusion of the study is that piecemeal approaches to solving the individual problems will not be successful.
To demonstrate this point, the authors arbitrarily double their estimates of the resource base and allow the model to trace out an alternative vision based on this new higher level of resources.
In this alternative vision the collapse still occurs, but this time it is caused by excessive pollution generated by the increased pace of industrialization permitted by the greater availability of resources.
The authors then suggest that if the depletable resource and pollution problems were somehow jointly solved, population would grow unabated and the availability of food would become the binding constraint.
In this model the removal of one limit merely causes the system to bump subsequently into another one, usually with more dire consequences. As its third and final conclusion, the study suggests that overshoot and collapse can be avoided only by an immediate limit on population and pollution, as well as a cessation of economic growth.
The portrait painted shows only two possible outcomes: Thus, according to this study, one way or the other, growth will cease.
The only issue is whether the conditions under which it will cease will be congenial or hostile. The Nature of the Model Why were these conclusions reached?
Clearly they depend on the structure of the model. By identifying the characteristics that yield these conclusions, we can examine the realism of those characteristics.
The dominant characteristic of the model is exponential growth coupled with fixed limits. Furthermore, the higher the rate of growth in resource consumption, the faster a fixed stock of it will be exhausted.
Suppose, for example, current reserves of a resource are times current use and the supply of reserves cannot be expanded. If consumption were not growing, this stock would last years.
Several resources are held in fixed supply by the model.
These include the amount of available land and the stock of depletable resources. In addition, the supply of food is fixed relative to the supply of land. The combination of exponential growth in demand, coupled with fixed sources of supply, necessarily implies that, at some point, resource supplies must be exhausted.
The extent to which those resources are essential thus creates the conditions for collapse. This basic structure of the model is in some ways reinforced and in some ways tempered by the presence of numerous positive and negative feedback loops.
Positive feedback loops are those in which secondary effects tend to reinforce the basic trend.Computers and information technology (IT) touch nearly every aspect of modern life.
Information technology can help with such diverse tasks as driving motor vehicles and diagnosing diseases. IT enables seamless integration and communication between businesses anywhere in the world.
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