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Complexity and the Art of Public Policy:
Solving Society's Problems from the Bottom Up
David Colander & Roland Kupers

Paperback | 2016 | $22.95 | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780691169132
320 pp. | 5 3/4 x 9 | 2 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400850136 |
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Complexity science—made possible by modern analytical and computational advances—is changing the way we think about social systems and social theory. Unfortunately, economists' policy models have not kept up and are stuck in either a market fundamentalist or government control narrative. While these standard narratives are useful in some cases, they are damaging in others, directing thinking away from creative, innovative policy solutions. Complexity and the Art of Public Policy outlines a new, more flexible policy narrative, which envisions society as a complex evolving system that is uncontrollable but can be influenced.

David Colander and Roland Kupers describe how economists and society became locked into the current policy framework, and lay out fresh alternatives for framing policy questions. Offering original solutions to stubborn problems, the complexity narrative builds on broader philosophical traditions, such as those in the work of John Stuart Mill, to suggest initiatives that the authors call "activist laissez-faire" policies. Colander and Kupers develop innovative bottom-up solutions that, through new institutional structures such as for-benefit corporations, channel individuals’ social instincts into solving societal problems, making profits a tool for change rather than a goal. They argue that a central role for government in this complexity framework is to foster an ecostructure within which diverse forms of social entrepreneurship can emerge and blossom.

David Colander is professor of economics at Middlebury College and the author of The Making of an Economist, Redux (Princeton). Roland Kupers is an associate fellow in the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is the coauthor of The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience.


"Colander and Kupers reframe the standard public policy debate in terms of complexity theory and describe their approach as evolutionary. . . . The authors provide a strong case that current positions, government control, and market fundamentalism are inadequate to addressing contemporary social problems. . . . Recommended for public policy specialists who seek a qualitative introduction to complexity theory and its application to social issues."--Jennifer M. Miller, Library Journal

"[G]roundbreaking."--Sam McNerney, 250 Words

"[A]n inspiring new book. . . . Colander and Kupers's book ought to be on every policy maker's reading list."--Mark Buchanan, Bloomberg View

"Complexity and the Art of Public Policy is a milestone in the application of scientific knowledge to problem solving in the real world. If it is widely read and applied, it is not an exaggeration to say that the world will become a better place."--David Sloan Wilson, This View of Life

"[I]deal for anyone with a serious interest in economics and public policy."--ValueWalk

"This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the potential of a complexity approach for public and economic policy. . . . It is intellectually stimulating and might inspire new research and applications of social simulation as a policy modelling tool."--Flaminio Squazzoni, JASSS


"A much-needed, fresh view of policy. It is based neither on free market ideology nor on heavy government control, but on seeing the economy as an always evolving complex system that can be guided toward desirable outcomes. An important book that will change how policies are made."--W. Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute

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