I linked to this paper in an earlier post. However, in reading the paper closely, I realized that a portion of the paper outlines the type of "new frontier" research that I have been conducting the past few years. I've pasted the most germane paragraphs below:
[NOTE: DUE TO THE IRREGULAR SPACING IN THE BELOW PARAGRAPHS, IT IS ADVISABLE THAT READERS LINK DIRECTLY TO THE PDF AND GO TO PAGE 26.]
XII. A NEW FRONTIER
It is now possible to take hypotheses about separate parts of a social system,
combine them in a computer model, and learn the consequences. The hypotheses
may at first be no more correct than the ones we are using in our intuitive
thinking. But the process of computer modeling and model testing requires these
hypotheses to be stated explicitly. The model comes out of the hazy realm of
mental models into unambiguous model statements to which all have access.
Assumptions can then be checked against all available information and can be
rapidly improved. The great uncertainty with mental models arises from inability
to anticipate the consequences of interactions between parts of a system. This
uncertainty about future dynamic implications of assumptions in a model is totally
eliminated in computer models. Given a stated set of assumptions, the computer
traces the resulting consequences without doubt or error. Computer simulation is
a powerful procedure for clarifying issues. It is not easy. Results will not be
We are on the threshold of a great new era in human pioneering. In the
past there have been periods characterized by geographical exploration. Other
periods have dealt with the formation of national governments. At other times the
focus was on the creation of great literature. Most recently we have been through
the pioneering frontier of science and technology. But science and technology are
now a routine part of life. Science is no longer a frontier. The process of
scientific discovery is orderly and organized.
The next frontier for human endeavor is to pioneer a better understanding
of environmental, economic, and social systems. The means are available. The
task will be no easier than past development of science and technology. For the
next 50 years we can expect rapid advance in understanding the complex dynamics
of social systems. To do so will require research, development of teaching
methods and materials, and creation of appropriate educational programs. The
research results of today will find their way into secondary schools just as
concepts of basic physics moved from research laboratories to general education
over the last century.
What we do today affects our future many decades hence. If we follow
intuition and the fallacies embedded in mental models, the trends of the past will
continue into deepening difficulty. If we set appropriate research and education
programs, which are now possible, we can expect a far sounder basis for future
XIII. THE NATION’S ALTERNATIVES
The record to date implies that people accept future growth of United States
population as preordained, beyond the purview and influence of legislative action,
and as a ground rule which imposes on the nation a task of finding cities in which a rising future population can live. However, I have described the circular processes in social systems where there is no unidirectional cause and effect. Instead, a ring of actions and consequences close back on themselves. One could say, incompletely, that population will grow and that cities, space, and food must be provided. But one can likewise say, also incompletely, that the provision of cities, space and food will cause population to grow. Population generates pressure for urban growth, but urban pressures help to limit population.
Population grows until stresses rise far enough, which is to say that the
quality of life falls far enough, to stop further increase. Everything we do to
reduce those pressures causes the population to rise farther and faster and hastens
the day when expediencies will no longer suffice. The United States is in the
position of a wild animal running from pursuers. We still have some space,
natural resources, and agricultural land left within which to maneuver. We can
avoid the question of rising population as long as we can flee into this bountiful
reservoir that nature provided. But it is obvious that the reservoirs are limited. A
wild animal flees until it is cornered, until it has no more space. Then it turns to
fight, but it no longer has room to maneuver. The animal is less able to forestall
disaster than if it had fought in the open while there was still room to yield and to
dodge. The United States is running away from its long-term threats by trying to
relieve social pressures as they arise. But if we persist in treating only symptoms
and not causes, the result will increase the ultimate threat and reduce our choices
What does this mean? Instead of automatically accepting the need for new
towns and the desirability of locating industry in rural areas, we should consider
confining our cities. If it were possible to prohibit the encroachment by housing
and industry onto even a single additional acre of farm and forest, the resulting
social pressure would hasten the day when we would stabilize population. Some
European countries are closer to curtailing urban growth than are we.
As I understand it, farmland surrounding Copenhagen cannot be used for
either residence or industry until the severest of pressures forces the government
to rezone small additional parcels. When land is rezoned, the corresponding rise
in land price is fully taxed to remove the incentive for land speculation. The
waiting time for an empty apartment in Copenhagen may be years. Such
pressures certainly cause the Danes to face the population problem more squarely
than do we.
Our greatest challenge now is handling the transition from growth to equilibrium. For a thousand years, tradition has encouraged and rewarded growth. Folklore and success stories praise growth and expansion. But growth is not the path for an unlimited future. Many present stresses in society arise from pressures that accompany the transition from growth into equilibrium. However, the pressures thus far in cities are minor compared to those which are approaching. Population pressures and economic forces in a city that was reaching equilibrium have in the past been able to escape to new land areas. Escape is becoming less possible. Until now we have had, in effect, an inexhaustible supply of farm land and food-growing potential, but now we are reaching a critical point where, all at the same time, population is overrunning productive land, agricultural land is almost fully employed for the first time, the rise in population is putting more demand on food supplies, and urbanization is pushing agriculture out of the fertile areas into marginal lands. For the first time demand is rising into a condition where supply will begin to fall while need increases. The crossover from plenty to shortage can occur abruptly.
The fiscal and monetary policies of a country form a complex dynamic system of the kind I have been discussing. It is clear that the United States has no established policies to guide interactions between government, growth, unemployment, and inflation. The need to develop long-term policies becomes ever more urgent as the country moves for the first time from a history of growth into the turbulent pressures accompanying the transition from growth to one of the many possible kinds of equilibrium. We need to choose and work toward a desirable kind of equilibrium before we arrive at a point where the system imposes its own choice of regrettable consequences.
In a hierarchy of systems, a conflict exists between goals of a subsystem and
welfare of the broader system. The conflict is seen in an urban system. The goal
of a city is to expand and to try to raise its quality of life. But growth policies
increase population, industrialization, pollution, and demands on food supply.
The broader social systems of a country and the world require that goals of urban
areas be curtailed and that pressures from such curtailment become high enough to
keep urban areas and population within bounds that are satisfactory to the larger
system of which cities are a part. If this nation continues to pursue traditional
urban goals, the result will deepen distress of the country as a whole and
eventually deepen the crisis in cities themselves. We may be at a point where
higher pressures in the present are necessary if insurmountable pressures are to be
avoided in the future.
I have given a glimpse of the nature of multi-loop feedback systems, a class
to which social system belong. I have shown how these complex systems mislead
people because intuition has been formed by experienced from simple systems
from which we expect behavior very different from that actually possessed by
complex systems. The United States is still pursuing programs that will be even
more frustrating and futile than many of the past.
But there is hope. It is now possible to gain a better understanding of
dynamic behavior in social systems. Progress will be slow. There are many
cross-currents in the social sciences which will cause confusion and delay. The
system dynamics approach that I have been describing is very different from the
emphasis on data gathering and statistical analysis that occupies much of social
research. But there have been breakthroughs in several areas. If we proceed
expeditiously but thoughtfully, there is a basis for optimism.
I believe that we are at a point where we need to shift all capable individuals and institutions from whatever they are currently doing to working on this task of solving our systemic flaws.