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Do nation models exist?

  1. May 28, 2012 #1
    This might seem like a naive question from someone who doesn't know a whole lot about economics/government: Do governments have 'unified' computer models of the countries they govern, including for example energy generation, agriculture, transport etc.. A bit like simcity or civilisation games, but incredibly more realistic and complex.

    I have tried a few search terms in google but I feel I don't quite know what I'm looking for.

    The thought occurred to me after thinking about sustainable energy, and how you might convert to a sustainable energy economy. If there existed a model, you could simply play around with different scenarios and see the results. Or else you could search through possible parameter space to find the best configurations.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    I'd be very surprised if this were the case.
    Some arms of governments use a range of models for the bits of what makes the country that fall under their purview.
  4. May 29, 2012 #3
    So no one has attempted to couple the different models together?

    It does seem infeasible for very large countries such as China, but what about for smaller ones (or just less populated), like Sweden or Switzerland or maybe just individual towns and cities?

    If the economics component is too complicated, what about a couple energy-infrastructure model. My thought was that if you then included the geography/geology of the country you could search all possible combinations of energy sources and the geographic location of these energy sources. Then I suppose that you'd have to assess whether the results were economically/politically possible afterwards, but that could also be partly paramaterised into the model.
  5. May 29, 2012 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    So give it a go and see...
  6. May 29, 2012 #5
    Ha, I might just since I have a bit of free time this summer (how sad is that!).
  7. Jun 9, 2012 #6


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    JesseC, Here is an example of a model that sounds similar to what you are asking about:

    “Abstract: Better understanding the nature, origin and popularity of varying levels of popular religion versus secularism, and their impact upon socioeconomic conditions and vice versa, requires a cross national comparison of the competing factors in populations where opinions are freely chosen. Utilizing 25 indicators, the uniquely extensive Successful Societies Scale reveals that population diversity and immigration correlate weakly with 1st world socioeconomic conditions, and high levels of income disparity, popular religiosity as measured by differing levels of belief and activity, and rejection of evolutionary science correlate strongly negatively with improving conditions."

  8. Jun 30, 2012 #7
    Thanks Bobbywhy, but that link has 404'd for me! Apologies for the late reply. From the abstract is seems a bit more like an analysis than a simulation.
  9. Jul 1, 2012 #8


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    I know nothing about modeling or simulating dynamics like energy production/useage, food production/consumption, et cetera. But I did a little searching and found these items that may be of interest, especially the last one on "system dynamics":

    The Limits to Growth is a 1972 book about the computer modeling of unchecked economic and population growth with finite resource supplies. In 2008 Graham Turner at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia published a paper called "A Comparison of `The Limits to Growth` with Thirty Years of Reality".[8][9] It examined the past thirty years of reality with the predictions made in 1972 and found that changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book's predictions of economic and societal collapse in the 21st century.

    The Global 2000 Report to the President was released in 1980 by the Council on Environmental Quality and the United States Department of State. It was commissioned by President Jimmy Carter on May 23, 1977, and was directed by Gerald O. Barney. It was based on data collected by different institutions. This data and information was used in computer models to make projections for the future based on trends for the next decades.

    System dynamics is an approach to understanding the behaviour of complex systems over time. It deals with internal feedback loops and time delays that affect the behaviour of the entire system.[1] What makes using system dynamics different from other approaches to studying complex systems is the use of feedback loops and stocks and flows. These elements help describe how even seemingly simple systems display baffling nonlinearity.
  10. Jul 1, 2012 #9


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    Hey JesseC.

    I wouldn't be surprised if some elements of some governments were moving towards this or have partially completed this kind of thing, but in terms of using the system to automate, even in any small way such global forms of national management, I'm 'doubtful'.

    However simulations of various things happen all the time. The Pentagon for example does simulations for war-scenarios that include economic simulations, which are important to consider in modern warfare (bringing down economies is one of the best ways to bring down a nation state).

    There are many problems though currently with this kind of thing that are not necessary technological (computer power, infrastructure, etc) that relate more or less to understanding algorithmically and intuitively at all levels how a system will actually function regardless of the intention of the people behind it.

    All you need to do is look at even one area to see the lack of understanding which is the economy and the study of economics.

    Even with the 'whiz-bang' models produced by professional economists, all of them can't really produce anything of value. The real economical principles are still largely qualitative not quantitative, and this attribute to just economics but for many sciences in general where clarification of the qualitative aspects to a quantitative one is non-trivial.

    The other thing is that again, regardless of intention of who is creating it, people won't just use a system like this without a lot of credibility and faith in the system that usually comes from many years of observation and testing.

    To give you a specific example, look at cryptography: the whole ATM, net-banking, remote-transaction framework didn't suddenly come into place the moment or even a year after things like RSA were developed: they had to be scrutinized, tested, evaluated by lots and lots of people before it actually came into the world in the form of providing remote financial transactions.

    The kind of thing you are talking about would take a very long time if not for anything else, for the above attribute.

    Remember that it is a good guideline that more integrated something is and the more potentially abusive something is to entire systems or groups of people (in finance they call this systemic risk), the more precaution, care, evaluation, and testing goes into the actual design, construction, and evaluation of the system at all levels.

    This is why for example being trialled for murder is not the same for being caught with an ounce of marijuana, or going to a tribunal for not paying a weeks rent along with why lots of people had to investigate things like RSA and other prime-factoring algorithms before they were used across the board.

    It's the same reason you get lots of red-tape for a lot of things in law, engineering, medicine, and every other area and although it may be excessive and many parts overcomplicated and un-necessary, the precedent that was used was done for a very logical reason.
  11. Jul 1, 2012 #10


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    We used to hear in the UK moderately often about a thing called the "Treasury Model" which I understood to be a model of the entire UK economy with massive inputs. I think it was used for predictive purposes. But there were other models around, e.g. in University and other research departments.

    I would expect such models to be of some limited predictive use for analysing the effects of small 'marginal' changes, fine tuning, in other words have 'local stability', and even then be dependent on quality of data input and no doubt some value judgements but sceptical about whether they could have predicted the large shocks or be more than marginally useful in policies to deal with these, where such non-marginal factors as vision, courage, ideology, elections, diplomacy and other political considerations have to come into it.

    Well these shocks were not predicted. Except insofar as of course after anything has happened, whatever it is, you can always find an economist who did predict it. Unsurprisingly we have heard less of this Model in recent years than before. Here is some stuff (but this is definitely not my field).

    Last edited: Jul 1, 2012
  12. Jul 2, 2012 #11
    Google "Hari Seldon" :tongue2:
  13. Jul 3, 2012 #12

    I stumbled across 'The Limits To Growth' a few weeks back and have been meaning to read it. Seems like they used a relatively simple model with only something like 6 major parameters. Must get around to reading it soon, perhaps additional complexity isn't necessary for long term prediction but I was originally interested in quite accurate short term models.


    I get your point. I wasn't supposing that simulating a nation would somehow result in automation of decision making, but that it could rather aid decision making.


    I'm from the UK so surprised I haven't heard of that one. Doesn't seem to get mentioned on the news any more? Interestingly, I read in one of your links that the Treasury refused to publish long term results (such as long term predictions of interest rates or house prices) in case they then influenced peoples decision making. Maybe they worried that it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy or, perhaps even the opposite. That is certainly something that hadn't occurred to me! I'm not sure how big an issue this is since people are often dismissive and sceptical of, for example, numerical weather model predictions.


    I believe Psychohistory requires a larger population than currently exists on earth to be statistically accurate. :(
  14. Jul 3, 2012 #13


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    One of the flagship EU Future Emerging Technologies Projects (FET) aims to produce something very similar to what you are proposing
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
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