The effect of scaling and connection on the sustainability of a socio-economic resource system

Model Description

Most modeling exercises on resource-population dynamics of a socio-economic system assume that many growth-related phenomena are linearly related to population size. The model presented here departs from this linear thinking by exploring potential non-linear relationships, or power-law scaling behaviors, with population size. For example, twice as many people do not mean that twice as much resources are required to maintain existing population. Similarly, twice as many people do not necessarily mean that twice as many innovation and technological advances occur in a society. Further, the model presented here adds more realism by incorporating the effects of increased global inter-connectedness, i.e., accelerated immigration/emigration and imports/exports across boundaries. For simplicity, the well-known Gordon-Schaeffer model is extended to apply these different assumptions. The key insight to be gained from the model is that the incorporation of power law scaling behavior and connectivity to outside yields model behaviors that are qualitatively different from those with the usual linear assumptions.

Regarding the institutional aspects of the model, a possible hypothesis could be that it is the presence of well-functioning institutional arrangements themselves that give rise to such 'favorable' effects of non-linearity and connectedness. Through social institutions, transaction costs of human cooperation are mitigated—there is less uncertainty in human interactions and in levels of trust that others are also cooperating. Assuming that larger, complex social systems are more likely to carry advanced social institutions, we can expect that such social systems are characterized by increasing returns to scale on innovation and resource requirements with respect to population size.


Muneepeerakul, R., & Qubbaj, M. R. (2012). The effect of scaling and connection on the sustainability of a socio-economic resource system. Ecological Economics. Elsevier B.V. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.02.017

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