“A Volatile Autumn”: Buckled Up For Structured Criticality

Thursday, August 17, 2017
By Paul Martin

by Gary Evans of Global Macro Monitor
Aug 17, 2017

We’re baaaccck!.

We warned in our last post before leaving on holiday, “Look for some large sigma event, which is always the case when we are off the desk.” How about a vol spike caused by worries over a nuclear exchange? Nuclear war!

The potential implosion of a presidency?

We think yesterday’s presidential presser has a relatively high probability of being a (or the) structured criticality event that we could look back to as the tipping point that leads to a very volatile autumn.

Structured criticality is a property of complex systems in which small events may trigger larger events due to subtle interdependencies between elements. This often gives rise to a form of stratified chaos where the general behavior of the system can be modeled on one scale while smaller- and larger-scale behaviors remain unpredictable.

For example:

Consider a pile of sand. If you drop one grain of sand on top of this pile every second, the pile will continue to grow in the shape of a cone. The general shape, size, and growth of this cone is fairly easy to model as a function of the rate at which new sand grains are added, the size and shape of the grains, and the number of grains in the pile.

The pile retains its shape because occasionally a new grain of sand will trigger an avalanche which causes some number of grains to slide down the side of the cone into new positions.

These avalanches are chaotic. It is nearly impossible to predict if the next grain of sand will cause an avalanche, where that avalanche will occur on the pile, how many grains of sand will be involved in the event, and so on. – Wikipedia

We love applying the conceptual framework of physics and dynamic systems models to economics and the markets, but think the obssession with the math has perverted the analysis and will someday lead to a doozy of a market meltdown when the algos collide and short circuit on a day to be named later.

In the hypothetical worlds of rational markets, where much of economic theory is set, perhaps. But real-world history tells a different story, of mathematical models masquerading as science and a public eager to buy them, mistaking elegant equations for empirical accuracy.

As an extreme example, take the extraordinary success of Evangeline Adams, a turn-of-the-20th-century astrologer whose clients included the president of Prudential Insurance, two presidents of the New York Stock Exchange, the steel magnate Charles M Schwab, and the banker J P Morgan. To understand why titans of finance would consult Adams about the market, it is essential to recall that astrology used to be a technical discipline, requiring reams of astronomical data and mastery of specialised mathematical formulas. ‘An astrologer’ is, in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary’s second definition of ‘mathematician’. For centuries, mapping stars was the job of mathematicians, a job motivated and funded by the widespread belief that star-maps were good guides to earthly affairs. The best astrology required the best astronomy, and the best astronomy was done by mathematicians – exactly the kind of person whose authority might appeal to bankers and financiers. – Aeon
Hat Tip: Jose Cerritelli

The Rest…HERE

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