Network Theory Can Explain US Credit Crunch

by on October 3, 2008 · 10 comments

The financial crisis currently consuming the U.S. has led tech industry leaders, such as Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, to speak out in favor of quick Congressional action. Tech stocks, as well as general stocks, have plummeted, and there is confusion over why this crisis is happening and spreading so fast. One explanation that makes a lot of sense draws on network and information theory.

“[The U.S.] market economy is nothing more than a vast, parallel-processing information network,” explains noted economist John Rutledge in his new book Lessons From a Road Warrior. Network theory, the examination of interconnected systems, can help us understand the current market crisis, because it can aid in identifying and understanding cascading information network failures.

When a “super node” in a network goes down, for example, it has the potential to take down the whole system, since these key nodes are connected to many others. Perhaps the most familiar crash of this sort is a power blackout. If a storm or accident takes down a single power line, it can lead to a power loss for a whole city. That type of crash, Rutledge explains, is exactly what is happening now.


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