Low Interest Rates and Business Investments : Update August 2017

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments : Update August 2017


From  Explaining Low Investment Spending




Please see my earlier posts.

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Mergers and Acquisitions – Long Term Trends and Waves

The Decline in Long Term Real Interest Rates

Short term Thinking in Investment Decisions of Businesses and Financial Markets

Low Interest Rates and Monetary Policy Effectiveness

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017

Low Interest Rates and Banks Profitability: Update – December 2016


Since my earlier posts on this subject there has been several new studies published highlighting weakness in business investments as one of the cause of slower economic growth and lower interest rates.

Other significant factors impacting interest rates are demographic changes, and slower economic growth.

I argue that there is mutual (circular) causality in weak business investment, slower economic growth, and lower interest rates which reinforce each other.


Decreased competition, increased concentration, corporate savings glut, share buybacks, paying dividends are also identified as factors.

Number of public companies have decreased significantly in USA since 1996 due to M&A activity.   See the data below.

Increased Mergers/Acquisitions, Increased Concentration, Decreased Competition, Decreased Number of Public Companies, Share buybacks, and Dividend Payouts are multiple perspectives of same problem.


From The Incredible Shrinking Universe of Stocks

The Causes and Consequences of Fewer U.S. Equities



Key sources of Research:

The Low Level of Global Real Interest Rates

Remarks by
Stanley Fischer
Vice Chairman
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

at the
Conference to Celebrate Arminio Fraga’s 60 Years
Casa das Garcas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

July 31, 2017

The Low Level of Global Real Interest Rates




German Gutierrez Thomas Philippon

Working Paper 22897


1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

December 2016





Explaining Low Investment Spending

The NBER Digest

February 2017

Explaining Low Investment Spending



The Secular Stagnation of Investment?

Callum Jones and Thomas Philippon

December 2016


The Secular Stagnation of Investment?



Is there an investment gap in advanced economies? If so, why?

By Robin Dottling, German Gutierrez and Thomas Philippon


Is there an investment gap in advanced economies? If so, why?



The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009



May 2, 2017

The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009



Declining Competition and Investment in the U.S.

German Gutierrez and Thomas Philippon


July 2017


Declining Competition and Investment in the U.S



Real Interest Rates Over the Long Run : Decline and convergence since the 1980s

Kei-Mu Yi   Jing Zhang



Real Interest Rates over the Long Run Decline and convergence since the 1980s, due significantly to factors causing lower investment demand



Understanding global trends in long-run real interest rates

Kei-Mu Yi and Jing Zhang

Economic Perspectives, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2017
Chicago Fed Reserve Bank


Understanding Global Trends in Long-run Real Interest Rates



Weakness in Investment Growth: Causes, Implications and Policy Responses

CAMA Working Paper 19/2017 March 2017

M. Ayhan Kose

Franziska Ohnsorge

Lei Sandy Ye

Ergys Islamaj


Weakness in Investment Growth: Causes, Implications and Policy Responses



Are US Industries Becoming More Concentrated?

Gustavo Grullon, Yelena Larkin and Roni Michaely

October 2016


Are US Industries Becoming More Concentrated?



Why Is Global Business Investment So Weak? Some Insights from Advanced Economies


Robert Fay, Justin-Damien Guénette, Martin Leduc and Louis Morel,

International Economic Analysis Department

Bank of Canada Review Spring 2017


Why Is Global Business Investment So Weak? Some Insights from Advanced Economies



What Is Behind the Weakness in Global Investment?

by Maxime Leboeuf and Bob Fay


Bank of Canada


What Is Behind the Weakness in Global Investment?

 A Structural Interpretation of the Recent Weakness in Business Investment

by Russell Barnett and Rhys Mendes

 The Corporate Saving Glut in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis


Gruber, Joseph W., and Steven B. Kamin

International Finance Discussion Papers
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Number 1150 October 2015


The Corporate Saving Glut in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis



The Incredible Shrinking Universe of Stocks

The Causes and Consequences of Fewer U.S. Equities

March 22, 2017




The Incredible Shrinking Universe of Stocks The Causes and Consequences of Fewer U.S. Equities



They Just Get Bigger: How Corporate Mergers Strangle the Economy

Jordan Brennan

2017 February 19

They Just Get Bigger: How Corporate Mergers Strangle the Economy



Rising Corporate Concentration, Declining Trade Union Power, and the Growing Income Gap: American Prosperity in Historical Perspective

Jordan Brennan

March 2016


Rising Corporate Concentration, Declining Trade Union Power, and the Growing Income Gap: American Prosperity in Historical Perspective

Low Interest Rates and Monetary Policy Effectiveness

Low Interest Rates and Monetary Policy Effectiveness


World economy is stuck in low interest rates environment.   Euro area, japan have even negative interest rates.  US Fed Reserve since December 2016 has started raising interest rates.

Attempts by Central Banks have not been effective in increasing economic growth.  Many Economists now are presenting counter intuitive reasons for low growth.


Please see my earlier related posts.

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Mergers and Acquisitions – Long Term Trends and Waves


Since 2016, there are several new studies published exploring effectiveness of monetary policy in low interest rates environment.


Is monetary policy less effective when interest rates are persistently low?

by Claudio Borio and Boris Hofmann

April 2017

Is Monetary Policy Less Effective When Interest Rates are Persistently Low?


In March 2017, Brookings Institution published the following study by the economists of the US Federal Reserve.

Monetary policy in a low interest rate world


Fed Reserve of Chicago published speech given by Charles Evans in 2016.

Monetary Policy in a Lower Interest Rate Environment


Lecture by Vítor Constâncio, Vice-President of the ECB, Macroeconomics Symposium at Utrecht School of Economics, 15 June 2016

The challenge of low real interest rates for monetary policy


Journal of Policy Modeling published a paper by Ken Rogoff.  Paper was presented at American Economic Association, 2017.

Monetary policy in a low interest rate world


Eight BIS CCA Research Conference on “Low interest rates, monetary policy and international spillovers”, hosted by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Washington DC, 25-26 May 2017

Low interest rates, monetary policy and international spillovers


Economist Magazine published an article on views of Bill Gross and others.

November 2015

Do ultra-low interest rates really damage growth?


Bloomberg Business Week published an article describing views of Charles Calomiris and others.

June 2017

Is the World Overdoing Low Interest Rates?


Claudio Borio and Boris Hofmann

The Paper was prepared for the Reserve Bank of Australia conference
“Monetary Policy and Financial Stability in a World of Low Interest Rates”,

16-17 March 2017, Sydney

Is monetary policy less effective when interest rates are persistently low?


Monetary policy and bank lending in a low interest rate environment: diminishing effectiveness?

Claudio Borio and Leonardo Gambacorta

February 2017

Monetary policy and bank lending in a low interest rate environment: diminishing effectiveness?


Negative Interest Rate Policy (NIRP):
Implications for Monetary Transmission and Bank Profitability in the Euro Area

Prepared by Andreas (Andy) Jobst and Huidan Lin


August 2016

Negative Interest Rate Policy (NIRP): Implications for Monetary Transmission and Bank Profitability in the Euro Area


James Bullard, President and CEO of Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

March 24, 2009

The Henry Thornton Lecture, Cass Business School, London

Effective Monetary Policy in a Low Interest Rate Environment


Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Monetary Policy, Financial Conditions, and Financial Stability

Tobias Adrian
Nellie Liang

Monetary Policy, Financial Conditions, and Financial Stability


Monetary policy, the financial cycle and ultra-low interest rates

Mikael Juselius of Bank of Finland

DNB Workshop on “Estimating and Interpreting Financial Cycles”

Amsterdam, 2 September 2016

Monetary policy, the financial cycle and ultra-low interest rates

BIS Paper

Monetary policy, the financial cycle and ultra-low interest rates


The dynamics of real interest rates, monetary policy and its limits

Philippe d’Arvisenet

May 2016

The dynamics of real interest rates, monetary policy and its limits


Output Gaps and Monetary Policy at Low Interest Rates

By Roberto M. Billi

Output Gaps and Monetary Policy at Low Interest Rates


The insensitivity of investment to interest rates: Evidence from a survey of CFOs

Steve A. Sharpe and Gustavo A. Suarez


The insensitivity of investment to interest rates: Evidence from a survey of CFOs


Does Prolonged Monetary Policy Easing Increase Financial Vulnerability?

Prepared by Stephen Cecchetti, Tommaso Mancini-Griffoli, and Machiko Narita

February 2017

Does Prolonged Monetary Policy Easing Increase Financial Vulnerability?


The Microeconomic Perils of Monetary Policy Experiments

Charles W. Calomiris

Cato Institute

The Microeconomic Perils of Monetary Policy Experiments


Why Have the Fed’s Policies Failed to Stimulate the Economy?

Mickey D. Levy

Cato Institute

Why Have the Fed’s Policies Failed to Stimulate the Economy?

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017


Please see my previous posts.

Impact of Low Interest Rates on Bank’s Profitability

Low Interest Rates and Banks Profitability: Update – December 2016


Since December 2016, there are several new studies published which study low interest rates and Banks profitability.



Liberty State economics – a Blog of New York Federal Reserve has published a new column in June 2017.

Low Interest Rates and Bank Profits



Reduced Viability? Banks, Insurance Companies, and Low Interest Rates

CFA Institute


CFA Institute Blog: Low Interest Rates and Banks



Changes in Profitability for Primary Dealers since the Financial Crisis

Benjamin Allen

Skidmore College


Changes in Profitability for Primary Dealers since the Financial Crisis



Deloitte Consulting has published a new report in 2017 on Bank Models viability in environment of low interest rates.

Business model analysis European banking sector model in question


July 7, 2016
International banker





Low interest rates place a strain on the banks

bank of Finland





The profitability of EU banks: Hard work or a lost cause?


October 2016





The influence of monetary policy on bank profitability

Claudio Borio





Can Low Interest Rates be Harmful: An Assessment of the Bank Risk-Taking Channel in Asia


Asian Development Bank





Determinants of bank’s interest margin in the aftermath of the crisis: the effect of interest rates and the yield curve slope

Paula Cruz-García, Juan Fernández de Guevara and Joaquín Maudos





Dutch Central Bank has published a new study in November of 2016 on Banks’ Profitability and risk taking in a prolonged environment of Low Interest Rates.

Bank profitability and risk taking in a prolonged environment of low interest rates: a study of interest rate risk in the banking book of Dutch banks



Net interest margin in a low interest rate environment: Evidence for Slovenia

Net interest margin in a low interest rate environment: Evidence for Slovenia


Global Financial Stability Report, April 2017: Getting the Policy Mix Right



IMF Global Financial Stability Report April 2017



Negative Interest Rates: Forecasting Banks’ Profitability in a New Environment

Stefan Kerbl, Michael Sigmund

Bank of Finland

Negative Interest Rates: Forecasting Banks’ Profitability in a New Environment



Low Interest Rates and the Financial System

Remarks by Jerome H. Powell
Member Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
at the 77th Annual Meeting of the American Finance Association
Chicago, Illinois
January 7, 2017




Bad zero: Financial Stability in a Low Interest Rate Environment

Elena Carletti  Giuseppe Ferrero

18 June 2017


Some of my earlier published papers

Some of my earlier published papers

Below is a list of my papers which have been published in referred journals or as technical paper.  All of the work was done by me during my post graduate studies at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA.  I was there since 1987 to 1991.

My research projects included:

  • Paper Recycling
  • Paper Color modeling and prediction
  • Simulation Modeling and Analysis of a Just In Time production system

Based on my research, I was awarded All University Graduate Creative and Research Scholar award by the University and was given a Award Citation by the University President in a Award Ceremony.


Effect of Recycling on the Physical Properties of Specific Fibers and Their Networks,”

by John F. Bobalek and Mayank Chaturvedi. In Proceedings, 1988 TAPPI Pulping Conference, p. 183-187.



Bobalek, John F., and Mayank Chaturvedi. 1989.

“The Effects of Recycling on the Physical Properties of Handsheets with Respect to Specific Wood Species.”

Tappi Journal June: 123- 125.






WMU Masters Thesis 890





IPST Technical Paper 469





IPST Annual Research Review





Simulation modelling and analysis of a JIT production system

Mayank Chaturvedi, Damodar Y Golhar
Production Planning & Control
Volume 3 Issue 1 Pages 81-92
Taylor & Francis Group

Short term Thinking in Investment Decisions of Businesses and Financial Markets

Short term Thinking in Investment Decisions of Businesses and Financial Markets


When companies buyback shares and pay dividends rather than investing in new capacity, it leads to low economic growth and low aggregate demand.

Central Banks respond by cutting interest rates.  Yet Businesses do not invest in new capacity.

Many studies attribute this to short term thinking dominant in corporate investment decisions.  Pressures from shareholders push corporate managers to be short term oriented.

Many economists and thinkers have criticized this recently as advanced economies are suffering from anemic growth.

Larry Summers has invoked Secular Stagnation.  He says one of the reason for Secular Stagnation is short term thinking.

Andy Haldane of Bank of England has criticized short term thinking as it prevents investments and causes low economic growth.

Key Terms:

  • Quarterly Capitalism
  • Secular Stagnation
  • Short Term Thinking
  • Low Economic Growth
  • Business Investments
  • Real Interest Rates
  • Monetary Policy
  • Income and Wealth Inequality
  • Aggregate Demand
  • Productive Capacity
  • Productivity growth
  • Long Term Investments
  • Share Buybacks
  • Dividends
  • Corporate Cash Pools


Capitalism for the Long Term

The near meltdown of the financial system and the ensuing Great Recession have been, and will remain, the defining issue for the current generation of executives. Now that the worst seems to be behind us, it’s tempting to feel deep relief—and a strong desire to return to the comfort of business as usual. But that is simply not an option. In the past three years we’ve already seen a dramatic acceleration in the shifting balance of power between the developed West and the emerging East, a rise in populist politics and social stresses in a number of countries, and significant strains on global governance systems. As the fallout from the crisis continues, we’re likely to see increased geopolitical rivalries, new international security challenges, and rising tensions from trade, migration, and resource competition. For business leaders, however, the most consequential outcome of the crisis is the challenge to capitalism itself.

That challenge did not just arise in the wake of the Great Recession. Recall that trust in business hit historically low levels more than a decade ago. But the crisis and the surge in public antagonism it unleashed have exacerbated the friction between business and society. On top of anxiety about persistent problems such as rising income inequality, we now confront understandable anger over high unemployment, spiraling budget deficits, and a host of other issues. Governments feel pressure to reach ever deeper inside businesses to exert control and prevent another system-shattering event.

My goal here is not to offer yet another assessment of the actions policymakers have taken or will take as they try to help restart global growth. The audience I want to engage is my fellow business leaders. After all, much of what went awry before and after the crisis stemmed from failures of governance, decision making, and leadership within companies. These are failures we can and should address ourselves.

In an ongoing effort that started 18 months ago, I’ve met with more than 400 business and government leaders across the globe. Those conversations have reinforced my strong sense that, despite a certain amount of frustration on each side, the two groups share the belief that capitalism has been and can continue to be the greatest engine of prosperity ever devised—and that we will need it to be at the top of its job-creating, wealth-generating game in the years to come. At the same time, there is growing concern that if the fundamental issues revealed in the crisis remain unaddressed and the system fails again, the social contract between the capitalist system and the citizenry may truly rupture, with unpredictable but severely damaging results.

Most important, the dialogue has clarified for me the nature of the deep reform that I believe business must lead—nothing less than a shift from what I call quarterly capitalism to what might be referred to as long-term capitalism. (For a rough definition of “long term,” think of the time required to invest in and build a profitable new business, which McKinsey research suggests is at least five to seven years.) This shift is not just about persistently thinking and acting with a next-generation view—although that’s a key part of it. It’s about rewiring the fundamental ways we govern, manage, and lead corporations. It’s also about changing how we view business’s value and its role in society.

There are three essential elements of the shift. First, business and finance must jettison their short-term orientation and revamp incentives and structures in order to focus their organizations on the long term. Second, executives must infuse their organizations with the perspective that serving the interests of all major stakeholders—employees, suppliers, customers, creditors, communities, the environment—is not at odds with the goal of maximizing corporate value; on the contrary, it’s essential to achieving that goal. Third, public companies must cure the ills stemming from dispersed and disengaged ownership by bolstering boards’ ability to govern like owners.

When making major decisions, Asians typically think in terms of at least 10 to 15 years. In the U.S. and Europe, nearsightedness is the norm.

None of these ideas, or the specific proposals that follow, are new. What is new is the urgency of the challenge. Business leaders today face a choice: We can reform capitalism, or we can let capitalism be reformed for us, through political measures and the pressures of an angry public. The good news is that the reforms will not only increase trust in the system; they will also strengthen the system itself. They will unleash the innovation needed to tackle the world’s grand challenges, pave the way for a new era of shared prosperity, and restore public faith in business.

1. Fight the Tyranny of Short-Termism

As a Canadian who for 25 years has counseled business, public sector, and nonprofit leaders across the globe (I’ve lived in Toronto, Sydney, Seoul, Shanghai, and now London), I’ve had a privileged glimpse into different societies’ values and how leaders in various cultures think. In my view, the most striking difference between East and West is the time frame leaders consider when making major decisions. Asians typically think in terms of at least 10 to 15 years. For example, in my discussions with the South Korean president Lee Myung-bak shortly after his election in 2008, he asked us to help come up with a 60-year view of his country’s future (though we settled for producing a study called National Vision 2020.) In the U.S. and Europe, nearsightedness is the norm. I believe that having a long-term perspective is the competitive advantage of many Asian economies and businesses today.

Myopia plagues Western institutions in every sector. In business, the mania over quarterly earnings consumes extraordinary amounts of senior time and attention. Average CEO tenure has dropped from 10 to six years since 1995, even as the complexity and scale of firms have grown. In politics, democracies lurch from election to election, with candidates proffering dubious short-term panaceas while letting long-term woes in areas such as economic competitiveness, health, and education fester. Even philanthropy often exhibits a fetish for the short term and the new, with grantees expected to become self-sustaining in just a few years.

Lost in the frenzy is the notion that long-term thinking is essential for long-term success. Consider Toyota, whose journey to world-class manufacturing excellence was years in the making. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s it endured low to nonexistent sales in the U.S.—and it even stopped exporting altogether for one bleak four-year period—before finally emerging in the following decades as a global leader. Think of Hyundai, which experienced quality problems in the late 1990s but made a comeback by reengineering its cars for long-term value—a strategy exemplified by its unprecedented introduction, in 1999, of a 10-year car warranty. That radical move, viewed by some observers as a formula for disaster, helped Hyundai quadruple U.S. sales in three years and paved the way for its surprising entry into the luxury market.

To be sure, long-term perspectives can be found in the West as well. For example, in 1985, in the face of fierce Japanese competition, Intel famously decided to abandon its core business, memory chips, and focus on the then-emerging business of microprocessors. This “wrenching” decision was “nearly inconceivable” at the time, says Andy Grove, who was then the company’s president. Yet by making it, Intel emerged in a few years on top of a new multi-billion-dollar industry. Apple represents another case in point. The iPod, released in 2001, sold just 400,000 units in its first year, during which Apple’s share price fell by roughly 25%. But the board took the long view. By late 2009 the company had sold 220 million iPods—and revolutionized the music business.

It’s fair to say, however, that such stories are countercultural. In the 1970s the average holding period for U.S. equities was about seven years; now it’s more like seven months. According to a recent paper by Andrew Haldane, of the Bank of England, such churning has made markets far more volatile and produced yawning gaps between corporations’ market price and their actual value. Then there are the “hyperspeed” traders (some of whom hold stocks for only a few seconds), who now account for 70% of all U.S. equities trading, by one estimate. In response to these trends, executives must do a better job of filtering input, and should give more weight to the views of investors with a longer-term, buy-and-hold orientation.

If they don’t, short-term capital will beget short-term management through a natural chain of incentives and influence. If CEOs miss their quarterly earnings targets, some big investors agitate for their removal. As a result, CEOs and their top teams work overtime to meet those targets. The unintended upshot is that they manage for only a small portion of their firm’s value. When McKinsey’s finance experts deconstruct the value expectations embedded in share prices, we typically find that 70% to 90% of a company’s value is related to cash flows expected three or more years out. If the vast majority of most firms’ value depends on results more than three years from now, but management is preoccupied with what’s reportable three months from now, then capitalism has a problem.

Roughly 70% of all U.S. equities trading is now done by “hyperspeed” traders—some of whom hold stocks for only a few seconds.

Some rightly resist playing this game. Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Ford, to name just a few, have stopped issuing earnings guidance altogether. Google never did. IBM has created five-year road maps to encourage investors to focus more on whether it will reach its long-term earnings targets than on whether it exceeds or misses this quarter’s target by a few pennies. “I can easily make my numbers by cutting SG&A or R&D, but then we wouldn’t get the innovations we need,” IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano, told us recently. Mark Wiseman, executive vice president at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, advocates investing “for the next quarter century,” not the next quarter. And Warren Buffett has quipped that his ideal holding period is “forever.” Still, these remain admirable exceptions.

To break free of the tyranny of short-termism, we must start with those who provide capital. Taken together, pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, and sovereign wealth funds hold $65 trillion, or roughly 35% of the world’s financial assets. If these players focus too much attention on the short term, capitalism as a whole will, too.

In theory they shouldn’t, because the beneficiaries of these funds have an obvious interest in long-term value creation. But although today’s standard practices arose from the desire to have a defensible, measurable approach to portfolio management, they have ended up encouraging shortsightedness. Fund trustees, often advised by investment consultants, assess their money managers’ performance relative to benchmark indices and offer only short-term contracts. Those managers’ compensation is linked to the amount of assets they manage, which typically rises when short-term performance is strong. Not surprisingly, then, money managers focus on such performance—and pass this emphasis along to the companies in which they invest. And so it goes, on down the line.

Only 45% of those surveyed in the U.S. and the UK expressed trust in business. This stands in stark contrast to developing countries: For example, the figure is 61% in China, 70% in India, and 81% in Brazil.

As the stewardship advocate Simon Wong points out, under the current system pension funds deem an asset manager who returns 10% to have underperformed if the relevant benchmark index rises by 12%. Would it be unthinkable for institutional investors instead to live with absolute gains on the (perfectly healthy) order of 10%—especially if they like the approach that delivered those gains—and review performance every three or five years, instead of dropping the 10-percenter? Might these big funds set targets for the number of holdings and rates of turnover, at least within the “fundamental investing” portion of their portfolios, and more aggressively monitor those targets? More radically, might they end the practice of holding thousands of stocks and achieve the benefits of diversification with fewer than a hundred—thereby increasing their capacity to effectively engage with the businesses they own and improve long-term performance? Finally, could institutional investors beef up their internal skills and staff to better execute such an agenda? These are the kinds of questions we need to address if we want to align capital’s interests more closely with capitalism’s.

2. Serve Stakeholders, Enrich Shareholders

The second imperative for renewing capitalism is disseminating the idea that serving stakeholders is essential to maximizing corporate value. Too often these aims are presented as being in tension: You’re either a champion of shareholder value or you’re a fan of the stakeholders. This is a false choice.

The inspiration for shareholder-value maximization, an idea that took hold in the 1970s and 1980s, was reasonable: Without some overarching financial goal with which to guide and gauge a firm’s performance, critics feared, managers could divert corporate resources to serve their own interests rather than the owners’. In fact, in the absence of concrete targets, management might become an exercise in politics and stakeholder engagement an excuse for inefficiency. Although this thinking was quickly caricatured in popular culture as the doctrine of “greed is good,” and was further tarnished by some companies’ destructive practices in its name, in truth there was never any inherent tension between creating value and serving the interests of employees, suppliers, customers, creditors, communities, and the environment. Indeed, thoughtful advocates of value maximization have always insisted that it is long-term value that has to be maximized.

Capitalism’s founding philosopher voiced an even bolder aspiration. “All the members of human society stand in need of each others assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries,” Adam Smith wrote in his 1759 work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. “The wise and virtuous man,” he added, “is at all times willing that his own private interest should be sacrificed to the public interest,” should circumstances so demand.

Smith’s insight into the profound interdependence between business and society, and how that interdependence relates to long-term value creation, still reverberates. In 2008 and again in 2010, McKinsey surveyed nearly 2,000 executives and investors; more than 75% said that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives create corporate value in the long term. Companies that bring a real stakeholder perspective into corporate strategy can generate tangible value even sooner. (See the sidebar “Who’s Getting It Right?”)

Creating direct business value, however, is not the only or even the strongest argument for taking a societal perspective. Capitalism depends on public trust for its legitimacy and its very survival. According to the Edelman public relations agency’s just-released 2011 Trust Barometer, trust in business in the U.S. and the UK (although up from mid-crisis record lows) is only in the vicinity of 45%. This stands in stark contrast to developing countries: For example, the figure is 61% in China, 70% in India, and 81% in Brazil. The picture is equally bleak for individual corporations in the Anglo-American world, “which saw their trust rankings drop again last year to near-crisis lows,” says Richard Edelman.

How can business leaders restore the public’s trust? Many Western executives find that nothing in their careers has prepared them for this new challenge. Lee Scott, Walmart’s former CEO, has been refreshingly candid about arriving in the top job with a serious blind spot. He was plenty busy minding the store, he says, and had little feel for the need to engage as a statesman with groups that expected something more from the world’s largest company. Fortunately, Scott was a fast learner, and Walmart has become a leader in environmental and health care issues.

Tomorrow’s CEOs will have to be, in Joseph Nye’s apt phrase, “tri-sector athletes”: able and experienced in business, government, and the social sector. But the pervading mind-set gets in the way of building those leadership and management muscles. “Analysts and investors are focused on the short term,” one executive told me recently. “They believe social initiatives don’t create value in the near term.” In other words, although a large majority of executives believe that social initiatives create value in the long term, they don’t act on this belief, out of fear that financial markets might frown. Getting capital more aligned with capitalism should help businesses enrich shareholders by better serving stakeholders.

3. Act Like You Own the Place

As the financial sector’s troubles vividly exposed, when ownership is broadly fragmented, no one acts like he’s in charge. Boards, as they currently operate, don’t begin to serve as a sufficient proxy. All the Devils Are Here, by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, describes how little awareness Merrill Lynch’s board had of the firm’s soaring exposure to subprime mortgage instruments until it was too late. “I actually don’t think risk management failed,” Larry Fink, the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, said during a 2009 debate about the future of capitalism, sponsored by the Financial Times. “I think corporate governance failed, because…the boards didn’t ask the right questions.”

What McKinsey has learned from studying successful family-owned companies suggests a way forward: The most effective ownership structure tends to combine some exposure in the public markets (for the discipline and capital access that exposure helps provide) with a significant, committed, long-term owner. Most large public companies, however, have extremely dispersed ownership, and boards rarely perform the single-owner-proxy role. As a result, CEOs too often listen to the investors (and members of the media) who make the most noise. Unfortunately, those parties tend to be the most nearsighted ones. And so the tyranny of the short term is reinforced.

The answer is to renew corporate governance by rooting it in committed owners and by giving those owners effective mechanisms with which to influence management. We call this ownership-based governance, and it requires three things:

Just 43% of the nonexecutive directors of public companies believe they significantly influence strategy. For this to change, board members must devote much more time to their roles.

More-effective boards.

In the absence of a dominant shareholder (and many times when there is one), the board must represent a firm’s owners and serve as the agent of long-term value creation. Even among family firms, the executives of the top-performing companies wield their influence through the board. But only 43% of the nonexecutive directors of public companies believe they significantly influence strategy. For this to change, board members must devote much more time to their roles. A government-commissioned review of the governance of British banks last year recommended an enormous increase in the time required of nonexecutive directors of banks—from the current average, between 12 and 20 days annually, to between 30 and 36 days annually. What’s especially needed is an increase in the informal time board members spend with investors and executives. The nonexecutive board directors of companies owned by private equity firms spend 54 days a year, on average, attending to the company’s business, and 70% of that time consists of informal meetings and conversations. Four to five days a month obviously give a board member much greater understanding and impact than the three days a quarter (of which two may be spent in transit) devoted by the typical board member of a public company.

Boards also need much more relevant experience. Industry knowledge—which four of five nonexecutive directors of big companies lack—helps boards identify immediate opportunities and reduce risk. Contextual knowledge about the development path of an industry—for example, whether the industry is facing consolidation, disruption from new technologies, or increased regulation—is highly valuable, too. Such insight is often obtained from experience with other industries that have undergone a similar evolution.

In addition, boards need more-effective committee structures—obtainable through, for example, the establishment of a strategy committee or of dedicated committees for large business units. Directors also need the resources to allow them to form independent views on strategy, risk, and performance (perhaps by having a small analytical staff that reports only to them). This agenda implies a certain professionalization of nonexecutive directorships and a more meaningful strategic partnership between boards and top management. It may not please some executive teams accustomed to boards they can easily “manage.” But given the failures of governance to date, it is a necessary change.

More-sensible CEO pay.

An important task of governance is setting executive compensation. Although 70% of board directors say that pay should be tied more closely to performance, CEO pay is too often structured to reward a leader simply for having made it to the top, not for what he or she does once there. Meanwhile, polls show that the disconnect between pay and performance is contributing to the decline in public esteem for business.

Companies should create real risk for executives.Some experts privately suggest mandating that new executives invest a year’s salary in the company.

CEOs and other executives should be paid to act like owners. Once upon a time we thought that stock options would achieve this result, but stock-option- based compensation schemes have largely incentivized the wrong behavior. When short-dated, options lead to a focus on meeting quarterly earnings estimates; even when long-dated (those that vest after three years or more), they can reward managers for simply surfing industry- or economy-wide trends (although reviewing performance against an appropriate peer index can help minimize free rides). Moreover, few compensation schemes carry consequences for failure—something that became clear during the financial crisis, when many of the leaders of failed institutions retired as wealthy people.

There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to this complex issue, but companies should push for change in three key areas:

• They should link compensation to the fundamental drivers of long-term value, such as innovation and efficiency, not just to share price.

• They should extend the time frame for executive evaluations—for example, using rolling three-year performance evaluations, or requiring five-year plans and tracking performance relative to plan. This would, of course, require an effective board that is engaged in strategy formation.

• They should create real downside risk for executives, perhaps by requiring them to put some skin in the game. Some experts we’ve surveyed have privately suggested mandating that new executives invest a year’s salary in the company.

Redefined shareholder “democracy.”

The huge increase in equity churn in recent decades has spawned an anomaly of governance: At any annual meeting, a large number of those voting may soon no longer be shareholders. The advent of high-frequency trading will only worsen this trend. High churn rates, short holding periods, and vote-buying practices may mean the demise of the “one share, one vote” principle of governance, at least in some circumstances. Indeed, many large, top-performing companies, such as Google, have never adhered to it. Maybe it’s time for new rules that would give greater weight to long-term owners, like the rule in some French companies that gives two votes to shares held longer than a year. Or maybe it would make sense to assign voting rights based on the average turnover of an investor’s portfolio. If we want capitalism to focus on the long term, updating our notions of shareholder democracy in such ways will soon seem less like heresy and more like common sense.

While I remain convinced that capitalism is the economic system best suited to advancing the human condition, I’m equally persuaded that it must be renewed, both to deal with the stresses and volatility ahead and to restore business’s standing as a force for good, worthy of the public’s trust. The deficiencies of the quarterly capitalism of the past few decades were not deficiencies in capitalism itself—just in that particular variant. By rebuilding capitalism for the long term, we can make it stronger, more resilient, more equitable, and better able to deliver the sustainable growth the world needs. The three imperatives outlined above can be a start along this path and, I hope, a way to launch the conversation; others will have their own ideas to add.

The kind of deep-seated, systemic changes I’m calling for can be achieved only if boards, business executives, and investors around the world take responsibility for bettering the system they lead. Such changes will not be easy; they are bound to encounter resistance, and business leaders today have more than enough to do just to keep their companies running well. We must make the effort regardless. If capitalism emerges from the crisis vibrant and renewed, future generations will thank us. But if we merely paper over the cracks and return to our precrisis views, we will not want to read what the historians of the future will write. The time to reflect—and to act—is now.


Please see my other related posts.

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Mergers and Acquisitions – Long Term Trends and Waves



Key sources of Research:

Secular stagnation and low investment: Breaking the vicious cycle—a discussion paper



Case Still Out on Whether Corporate Short-Termism Is a Problem

Larry Summers


Where companies with a long-term view outperform their peers



How short-term thinking hampers long-term economic growth



Anthony Hilton: Short-term thinking hits nations as a whole, not just big business


Short-termism in business: causes, mechanisms and consequences

EY Poland Report


Overcoming the Barriers to Long-term Thinking in Financial Markets

Ruth Curran and Alice Chapple
Forum for the Future


Understanding Short-Termism: Questions and Consequences


Ending Short-Termism : An Investment Agenda for Growth


The Short Long

Speech by
Andrew G Haldane, Executive Director, Financial Stability, and Richard Davies

Brussels May 2011


Capitalism for the Long Term

Dominic Barton

From the March 2011 Issue


Quarterly capitalism: The pervasive effects of short-termism and austerity


Is Short-Term Behavior Jeopardizing the Future Prosperity of Business?


Andrew G Haldane: The short long

Speech by Mr Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Financial Stability, and Mr Richard
Davies, Economist, Financial Institutions Division, Bank of England,
at the 29th Société
Universitaire Européene de Recherches Financières Colloquium,
Brussels, 11 May 2011



Jesse M. Fried


The fringe economic theory that might get traction in the 2016 campaign


FCLT Global:  Focusing Capital on the Long Term



Finally, Evidence That Managing for the Long Term Pays Off

Dominic Barton

James Manyika

Sarah Keohane Williamson

February 07, 2017 UPDATED February 09, 2017


Focusing Capital on the Long Term

Dominic Barton

Mark Wiseman

From the January–February 2014 Issue

Is Corporate Short-Termism Really a Problem? The Jury’s Still Out

Lawrence H. Summers

February 16, 2017

Yes, Short-Termism Really Is a Problem

Roger L. Martin

October 09, 2015

Long-Termism or Lemons

The Role of Public Policy in Promoting Long-Term Investments

By Marc Jarsulic, Brendan V. Duke, and Michael Madowitz October 2015

Center for American Progress



Overcoming Short-termism: A Call for A More Responsible Approach to Investment and Business Management




Focusing capital on the Long Term

Jean-Hugues Monier – Senior Parter – McKinsey & Company

Princeton University – November 2016


Systems Biology: Biological Networks, Network Motifs, Switches and Oscillators

Systems Biology: Biological Networks, Network Motifs, Switches and Oscillators



From Biological switches and clocks

The living cell receives signals from its environment and its own internal state, processes the information, and initiates appropriate responses in terms of changes in gene expression, cell movement, and cell growth or death. Like a digital computer, information processing within cells is carried out by a complex network of switches and oscillators, but instead of being fabricated from silicon transistors and quartz crystals, the cell’s computer is an evolved network of interacting genes and proteins. In the same way that computer design was made possible by a sophisticated theory of electronic circuitry, a basic understanding of cellular regulatory mechanisms will require a relevant theory of biomolecular circuitry. Although the ‘engineering mindset’ is sorely needed to make sense of the cell’s circuitry, the squishy, sloppy, massively parallel, analogue nature of biochemistry is so different from the solid-state, precise, sequential, digital nature of computers that the mathematical tools and intellectual biases of the solid-state physicist/electrical engineer are not entirely appropriate to unravelling the molecular logic of cell physiology. New modelling paradigms and software tools are evolving to meet the challenges of the new ‘systems biology’ of the living cell.



System Biology includes study of the following among other areas.

  • Biological Networks
  • Network Motifs
  • Switches
  • Oscillators



Biological Networks

  • Protein–protein interaction networks
  • Gene regulatory networks (DNA–protein interaction networks)
  • Gene co-expression networks (transcript–transcript association networks)
  • Metabolic networks
  • Signaling networks
  • Neuronal networks
  • Between-species interaction networks
  • Within-species interaction networks


Network Motifs:

  • Coherent Feedforward Loop (FFL)
  • Incoherent Feedforward Loop
  • Feedback Loop
  • Scaffold Motifs
  • Bi Fan
  • Multi Input Motifs (MIM)
  • Regulator Chains
  • Bi-Parallel
  • Single Input Module (SIM)
  • Dense Overlapping Regulon (DOR)


Biological Switches

  • Ultrasensitivity
  • Switches (Bistability)


Biological Oscillators

  • Clocks
  • Negative Feedback Only Oscillators
    • Repressilator
    • Pentilator
    • Goodwin Oscillator
    • Frazilator
    • Metabolator
  • Negative + Positive Feedback Oscillators
    • Meyer and Strayer model of Calcium Oscillations
    • van der Pol Oscillator
    • Fitzhugh-Nagumo Oscillator
    • Cyanobacteria Circadian Oscillator
  • Negative + Negative Feedback Oscillator
  • Negative and Positive + Negative Feedback cell cycle Oscillator
  • Fussenegger Oscillators
  • Smolen Oscillator
  • Amplified Negative Feedback Oscillators
  • Variable link Oscillators


Synthetic Biology study design of networks, switches, and oscillators.


From The dynamics and robustness of Network Motifs in transcription networks

Network Motifs

Even though biological systems are extremely complex, some of its complexity could be simplified. The study of a complex system in its entirety could prove impossible with current theories and technology. However, mathematical modelling has sought to distil the essence of complexity into concepts readily understandable by today’s science. One of such approaches has been reported by means of the study of pathways of interaction of biological networks. By concentrating on similar features that biological networks share, it has been recently discovered that at a cellular level, regulation and transcription Networks display certain patterns of connectivity at a much higher rate than expected in an equivalent randomized network. These recurring patterns of interaction, or network “Motifs”, can help us define bread classes of networks and their types of functional elements. In the same way, they can reveal the evolutionary aim by which they have been developed. Network Motifs can be interpreted as structures that have emerged as direct a reflection of the constraints under which the network has evolved. These network Motifs have been found in the biological networks of many systems, suggesting that they are the building blocks of transcription networks [4]. It has been suggested that in biological networks, these recurrent Network Motifs are responsible for carrying out key information processing tasks in the organism [5].


From Coupling oscillations and switches in genetic networks.

Switches (bistability) and oscillations (limit cycle) are omnipresent in biological networks. Synthetic genetic networks producing bistability and oscillations have been designed and constructed experimentally. However, in real biological systems, regulatory circuits are usually interconnected and the dynamics of those complex networks is often richer than the dynamics of simple modules. Here we couple the genetic Toggle switch and the Repressilator, two prototypic systems exhibiting bistability and oscillations, respectively. We study two types of coupling. In the first type, the bistable switch is under the control of the oscillator. Numerical simulation of this system allows us to determine the conditions under which a periodic switch between the two stable steady states of the Toggle switch occurs. In addition we show how birhythmicity characterized by the coexistence of two stable small-amplitude limit cycles, can easily be obtained in the system. In the second type of coupling, the oscillator is placed under the control of the Toggleswitch. Numerical simulation of this system shows that this construction could for example be exploited to generate a permanent transition from a stable steady state to self-sustained oscillations (and vice versa) after a transient external perturbation. Those results thus describe qualitative dynamical behaviors that can be generated through the coupling of two simple network modules. These results differ from the dynamical properties resulting from interlocked feedback loops systems in which a given variable is involved at the same time in both positive and negative feedbacks. Finally the models described here may be of interest in synthetic biology, as they give hints on how the coupling should be designed to get the required properties.


From Robust, Tunable Biological Oscillations from Interlinked Positive and Negative Feedback Loops

To test the generality of the idea that positive feedback enables an oscillator to have a tunable frequency and constant amplitude, we examined several other oscillator models, including five negative feedback–only models: (i) the Goodwin oscillator, a well-studied model relevant to circadian oscillations (18, 19); (ii) the Repressilator, a transcriptional triple-negative feedback loop constructed in Escherichia coli (20); (iii) the “Pentilator,” a Repressilator with five (rather than three) repressors; (iv) the Metabolator (21), a synthetic metabolic oscillator; and (v) the Frzilator, amodel of the control of gliding motions in myxobacteria (22). In four of the cases (Goodwin, Repressilator, Pentilator, and Metabolator), the amplitude/frequency curves were inverted U-shaped curves similar to that seen for the negative feedback–only cell cycle model (Figs. 1B and 3A). In the case of the Frzilator, the legs of the curve were truncated; the oscillator had a nonzero minimal amplitude (Fig. 3A). For all five of the negative feedback–only models, the oscillators functioned over only a narrow range of frequencies (Fig. 3A).

We also examined four positive-plus-negative feedback oscillators: (i) the van der Pol oscillator, inspired by studies of vacuum tubes (12); (ii) the Fitzhugh-Nagumo model of propagating action potentials (23, 24); (iii) the Meyer-Stryer model of calcium oscillations (25); and (iv) a model of circadian oscillations in the cyanobacterial KaiA/B/C system (26–28). In each case, we obtained a flat, wide amplitude/frequency curve (Fig. 3B). Thus, a tunable frequency plus constant amplitude can be obtained from many different positive-plusnegative feedback models; this feature is not peculiar to one particular topology or parameterization.

These findings rationalize why the positiveplus- negative feedback design might have been selected through evolution in cases where a tunable frequency and constant amplitude are important, such as heartbeats and cell cycles. However, it is not clear that an adjustable frequency would be advantageous for circadian oscillations, because frequency is fixed at one cycle per day. Nevertheless, the cyanobacterial circadian oscillator appears to rely on positive feedback (26), and positive feedback loops have been postulated for other circadian oscillators as well (Table 1). This raises the question of whether the positiveplus- negative feedback design might offer additional advantages.

One possibility is that the positive-plusnegative feedback design permits oscillations over a wider range of enzyme concentrations and kinetic constant values, making the oscillator easier to evolve and more robust to variations in its imperfect components. We tested this idea through a Monte Carlo approach.We formulated three simple oscillatormodels: (i) a three-variable triple negative feedback loop with no additional feedback (Fig. 4A), (ii) one with added positive feedback (Fig. 4B), or (iii) one with added negative feedback (Fig. 4C). We generated random parameter sets for the models and then for each set determined whether the model produced limit cycle oscillations.We continued generating parameter sets until we had amassed 500 that gave oscillations.


From Robust, Tunable Biological Oscillations from Interlinked Positive and Negative Feedback Loops




Key Terms:

  • Ultra-sensitivity
  • Bi-stability
  • Positive Feedback Loop
  • Negative Feedback Loop
  • Biological Oscillators
  • Biological Switches
  • Biological Networks
  • Network Motifs
  • Regulation Networks
  • Signalling Networks
  • Communication Networks
  • Biological Clocks
  • Circadian Rhythms
  • Harmonic Oscillators
  • Van der Pol Oscillator (Limit Cycle)
  • FitzHugh–Nagumo oscillators (Neural)
  • Limit Cycle Oscillator
  • Cell Cycle
  • Systems Biology
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Kuramoto Oscillators
  • Phase Coupled Oscillators
  • Cardic Pacemaker
  • Biochemical Networks
  • Synchronization
  • Goodwin Oscillator
  • Repressilators
  • Fussenegger Oscillators
  • Smolen Oscillators
  • Variable Link Oscillators
  • Metabolators
  • Amplified Negative Feedback Oscillators




Key Sources of Research:



Ultrasensitivity Part I: Michaelian responses and zero-order ultrasensitivity

James E. Ferrell Jr. and Sang Hoon Ha






Ultrasensitivity Part II: Multisite phosphorylation, stoichiometric inhibitors, and positive feedback

James E. Ferrell Jr. and Sang Hoon Ha






Ultrasensitivity part III: cascades, bistable switches, and oscillators

James E. Ferrell Jr and Sang Hoon Ha






Robust Network Topologies for Generating Switch-Like Cellular Responses

Najaf A. Shah1, Casim A. Sarkar






Feedback Loops Shape Cellular Signals in Space and Time

Onn Brandman1 and Tobias Meyer






Interlinked Fast and Slow Positive Feedback Loops Drive Reliable Cell Decisions

Onn Brandman, James E. Ferrell Jr, Rong Li2,3,4, and Tobias Meyer





Positive feedback in cellular control systems

Alexander Y. Mitrophanov and Eduardo A. Groisman





Effect of positive feedback loops on the robustness of oscillations in the network of cyclin-dependent kinases driving the mammalian cell cycle

Claude Gerard, Didier Gonze and Albert Goldbeter





Design Principles of Biochemical Oscillators

Béla Novak and John J. Tyson




Design principles underlying circadian clocks

D. A. Rand1,†, B. V. Shulgin1, D. Salazar1,2 and A. J. Millar




Positive Feedback Promotes Oscillations in Negative Feedback Loops

Bharath Ananthasubramaniam*, Hanspeter Herzel




Efficient Switches in Biology and Computer Science

Luca Cardelli1,2, Rosa D. Hernansaiz-Ballesteros3, Neil Dalchau1, Attila Csika ́sz-Nagy





Robust, Tunable Biological Oscillations from Interlinked Positive and Negative Feedback Loops

Tony Yu-Chen Tsai,1* Yoon Sup Choi,1,2* Wenzhe Ma,3,4 Joseph R. Pomerening,5 Chao Tang,3,4 James E. Ferrell Jr





Biological switches and clocks

John J. Tyson1,*, Reka Albert2, Albert Goldbeter3, Peter Ruoff4 and Jill Sibl








Network thinking in ecology and evolution

Stephen R. Proulx1, Daniel E.L. Promislow2 and Patrick C. Phillips






Networks in ecology

Jordi Bascompte






Network structure and the biology of populations

Robert M. May






Biological networks: Motifs and modules






Analysis of Biological Networks: Network Motifs






Regulatory networks & Functional motifs

Didier Gonze






Structure and function of the feed-forward loop network motif

S. Mangan and U. Alon






Network Motifs: Simple Building Blocks of Complex Networks

R. Milo, S. Shen-Orr, S. Itzkovitz, N. Kashtan, D. Chklovskii, U. Alon






The dynamics and robustness of Network Motifs in transcription networks

Arturo Araujo





Formation of Regulatory Patterns During Signal Propagation in a Mammalian Cellular Network

Avi Ma’ayan, Sherry L. Jenkins, Susana Neves, Anthony Hasseldine, Elizabeth Grace, Benjamin Dubin-Thaler, Narat J. Eungdamrong, Gehzi Weng, Prahlad T. Ram, J. Jeremy Rice, Aaron Kershenbaum, Gustavo A. Stolovitzky, Robert D. Blitzer, and Ravi Iyengar






Toward Predictive Models of Mammalian Cells

Avi Ma’ayan, Robert D. Blitzer, and Ravi Iyengar





Modeling Cell Signaling Networks

Narat J. Eungdamrong and Ravi Iyengar





Bistability in Biochemical Signaling Models

Eric A. Sobie




An Introduction to Dynamical Systems

Eric A. Sobie






Computational approaches for modeling regulatory cellular networks

Narat J. Eungdamrong and Ravi Iyengar




Systems Biology—Biomedical Modeling

Eric A. Sobie,* Young-Seon Lee, Sherry L. Jenkins, and Ravi Iyengar





Network analyses in systems pharmacology


Seth I. Berger and Ravi Iyengar




Biological Networks: The Tinkerer as an Engineer

U Alon





Cell Biology: Networks, Regulation and Pathways







Coupling oscillations and switches in genetic networks

Didier Gonze






Biological Oscillators and Switches






Design principles of biological oscillators


Didier Gonze

 Nonlinear Chemical Dynamics: Oscillations, Patterns, and Chaos


Irving R. Epstein

Kenneth Showalter



Modelling biological oscillations


Shan He


A comparative analysis of synthetic genetic oscillators


Oliver Purcell1,*, Nigel J. Savery3, Claire S. Grierson4 and Mario di Bernardo2,5


Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution

Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution


I have always been intrigued by multi-level thinking whether it is in organizations, biology, ecology, and evolutionary theory.

  • Plant – Division – Corporate – Industry – Macro-economy
  • Molecules – Organelles – Cells – Tissue – Organs – Whole body
  • Organism – Populations – Communities – Ecosystem –  Bio-Sphere


How does human body forms from Molecules?  Is it all evolutionary?  or is there a role for Vitalism?

How to integrate decision making in organizations at multi levels?  From Corporate level to Plant Level.

How does an Individual fits in Groups, Communities, Society, and Ecosystem?

What is the role of fractals thinking in Evolutionary Biology?



The Hierarchy theory is a dialect of general systems theory. It has emerged as part of a movement toward a general science of complexity. Rooted in the work of economist, Herbert Simon, chemist, Ilya Prigogine, and psychologist, Jean Piaget, hierarchy theory focuses upon levels of organization and issues of scale. There is significant emphasis upon the observer in the system.

Hierarchies occur in social systems, biological structures, and in the biological taxonomies. Since scholars and laypersons use hierarchy and hierarchical concepts commonly, it would seem reasonable to have a theory of hierarchies. Hierarchy theory uses a relatively small set of principles to keep track of the complex structure and a behavior of systems with multiple levels. A set of definitions and principles follows immediately:

Hierarchy: in mathematical terms, it is a partially ordered set. In less austere terms, a hierarchy is a collection of parts with ordered asymmetric relationships inside a whole. That is to say, upper levels are above lower levels, and the relationship upwards is asymmetric with the relationships downwards.

Hierarchical levels: levels are populated by entities whose properties characterize the level in question. A given entity may belong to any number of levels, depending on the criteria used to link levels above and below. For example, an individual human being may be a member of the level i) human, ii) primate, iii) organism or iv) host of a parasite, depending on the relationship of the level in question to those above and below.

Level of organization: this type of level fits into its hierarchy by virtue of set of definitions that lock the level in question to those above and below. For example, a biological population level is an aggregate of entities from the organism level of organization, but it is only so by definition. There is no particular scale involved in the population level of organization, in that some organisms are larger than some populations, as in the case of skin parasites.

Level of observation: this type of level fits into its hierarchy by virtue of relative scaling considerations. For example, the host of a skin parasite represents the context for the population of parasites; it is a landscape, even though the host may be seen as belonging to a level of organization, organism, that is lower than the collection of parasites, a population.

The criterion for observation: when a system is observed, there are two separate considerations. One is the spatiotemporal scale at which the observations are made. The other is the criterion for observation, which defines the system in the foreground away from all the rest in the background. The criterion for observation uses the types of parts and their relationships to each other to characterize the system in the foreground. If criteria for observation are linked together in an asymmetric fashion, then the criteria lead to levels of organization. Otherwise, criteria for observation merely generate isolated classes.

The ordering of levels: there are several criteria whereby other levels reside above lower levels. These criteria often run in parallel, but sometimes only one or a few of them apply. Upper levels are above lower levels by virtue of: 1) being the context of, 2) offering constraint to, 3) behaving more slowly at a lower frequency than, 4) being populated by entities with greater integrity and higher bond strength than, and 5), containing and being made of – lower levels.

Nested and non-nested hierarchies: nested hierarchies involve levels which consist of, and contain, lower levels. Non-nested hierarchies are more general in that the requirement of containment of lower levels is relaxed. For example, an army consists of a collection of soldiers and is made up of them. Thus an army is a nested hierarchy. On the other hand, the general at the top of a military command does not consist of his soldiers and so the military command is a non-nested hierarchy with regard to the soldiers in the army. Pecking orders and a food chains are also non-nested hierarchies.

Duality in hierarchies: the dualism in hierarchies appears to come from a set of complementarities that line up with: observer-observed, process-structure, rate-dependent versus rate-independent, and part-whole. Arthur Koestler in his “Ghost in The Machine” referred to the notion of holon, which means an entity in a hierarchy that is at once a whole and at the same time a part. Thus a holon at once operates as a quasi-autonomous whole that integrates its parts, while working to integrate itself into an upper level purpose or role. The lower level answers the question “How?” and the upper level answers the question, “So what?”

Constraint versus possibilities: when one looks at a system there are two separate reasons behind what one sees. First, it is not possible to see something if the parts of the system cannot do what is required of them to achieve the arrangement in the whole. These are the limits of physical possibility. The limits of possibility come from lower levels in the hierarchy. The second entirely separate reason for what one sees is to do with what is allowed by the upper level constraints. An example here would be that mammals have five digits. There is no physical reason for mammals having five digits on their hands and feet, because it comes not from physical limits, but from the constraints of having a mammal heritage. Any number of the digits is possible within the physical limits, but in mammals only five digits are allowed by the biological constraints. Constraints come from above, while the limits as to what is possible come from below. The concept of hierarchy becomes confused unless one makes the distinction between limits from below and limits from above. The distinction between mechanisms below and purposes above turn on the issue of constraint versus possibility. Forget the distinction, and biology becomes pointlessly confused, impossibly complicated chemistry, while chemistry becomes unwieldy physics.

Complexity and self-simplification: Howard Pattee has identified that as a system becomes more elaborately hierarchical its behavior becomes simple. The reason is that, with the emergence of intermediate levels, the lowest level entities become constrained to be far from equilibrium. As a result, the lowest level entities lose degrees of freedom and are held against the upper level constraint to give constant behavior. Deep hierarchical structure indicates elaborate organization, and deep hierarchies are often considered as complex systems by virtue of hierarchical depth.

Complexity versus complicatedness: a hierarchical structure with a large number of lowest level entities, but with simple organization, offers a low flat hierarchy that is complicated rather than complex. The behavior of structurally complicated systems is behaviorally elaborate and so complicated, whereas the behavior of deep hierarchically complex systems is simple.

Hierarchy theory is as much as anything a theory of observation. It has been significantly operationalized in ecology, but has been applied relatively infrequently outside that science. There is a negative reaction to hierarchy theory in the social sciences, by virtue of implications of rigid autocratic systems or authority. When applied in a more general fashion, even liberal and non-authoritarian systems can be described effectively in hierarchical terms. There is a politically correct set of labels that avoid the word hierarchy, but they unnecessarily introduce jargon into a field that has enough special vocabulary as it is.


This bibliography is in chronological order, so that the reader can identify the early classics as opposed to the later refinements. If you must choose just one book to read, turn to the last reference in this bibliography, Ahl and Allen, 1996. Simon, H.. A. 1962. The architecture of complexity. Proceedings of the American philosophical society 106: 467-82. This is the foundation paper of hierarchy theory originating from an economist. It was a re-published in “Sciences of the Artificial” by Simon. It introduces the idea of near-decomposability. If systems were completely decomposable, then there would be no emergent whole, because the parts would exist only separately. The “near” in near-decomposable allows the upper level to emerge from the fact that the parts anre not completely separate.

Koestler, Arthur. 1967. The ghost in the machine. Macmillan, New York. This is a long hard look at human social structure in hierarchical terms. The notion of holon first occurs in this work. This is a classic work, but is easily accessible to the lay public.

Whyte, L.. L.., A. G. Wilson and D. Wilson (eds.). 1969. Hierarchical structures. American Elsevier, New York. This is a classic collection of early scholarly works by some of the founders of hierarchical thinking.

Pattee, H.. H. (ed.) 1973. Hierarchy theory: the challenge or complex systems. Braziller, New York. This edited volume has some classic articles by Pattee, Simon and others.

Allen, T. F. H. and T. B. Starr. 1982. Hierarchy: perspectives for ecological complexity. University Chicago Press. This book has a significant ecological component but is much more generally about hierarchical structure. It is abstract and a somewhat technical treatment but has been the foundation work for the application of hierarchy theory in ecology and complex systems theory at large.

Salthe, S. 1985. Evolving Hierarchical Systems: their structure and representation. Columbia University Press, New York. This book has a strong structural bias, in contrast to the process oriented approach of Allen and the other ecologists in this bibliography. Salthe introduces the notion of the Triadic, where there is a focus on 1) the system as both a whole above the levels below and 2) a part belonging to another level above, 3) not forgetting the level of the structure itself in between. While much biological hierarchy theory takes an anti-realist point view, or is at least reality-agnostic, wherein the ultimate reality of hierarchical arrangement is left moot, Salthe’s version of hierarchy theory is concerned with the ultimate reality of structure. The anti-realist view of structure is that it is imposed by the observer, and may or may not correspond to any ultimate reality. If structure does correspond to ultimate, external reality, we could never know that to be so. Salthe’s logic is consistent but always takes a structural and ontological position.

O’Neill, R. V., D. DeAngelis, J. Waide and T. F. H. Allen. 1986. A hierarchical concept of ecosystems. Princeton University Press. This is a distinctly ecological application of hierarchy theory, making the critical distinction between process functional ecosystem approaches as opposed to population and community relationships. It is an application of hierarchy theory to ecosystem analysis.

Allen T. F. H. and T. Hoekstra. 1992. Toward a unified ecology. Columbia University Press. This book turns on hierarchy theory, but is principally a book about ecology. It goes beyond the O’Neill et al book, in that it makes the distinction between many types of ecology (landscape, ecosystem, community, organism, population, and biomes) on the one hand, and scale of ecology on the other hand. It ends with practical applications of hierarchy theory and ecological management.

Ahl, V. and T. F. H. Allen. 1996. Hierarchy theory, a vision, vocabulary and epistemology. Columbia University Press. This slim a volume is an interdisciplinary account of a hierarchy theory, and represents the shallow end of the pool. It is the primer version of Allen and Starr 1982. It is full of graphical images to ease the reader into a hierarchical perspective. It makes the distinction between levels of organization and levels of observation. It takes a moderate anti-realist point of view, wherein there may be an external reality, but it is not relevant to the discourse. We only have access to experience, which must of necessity involve observer values and subjectivity. There are examples from a wide discussion of many disciplines. Included are examples from psychology, ecology, the law, political systems and philosophy. It makes reference to the global and technological problems facing humanity, and offers hierarchy theory as one tool in the struggle. The summary of hierarchy theory in the opening paragraphs above comes from this book.

This summary was compiled by

Timothy F. Allen, Professor of Botany,
University of Wisconsin Madison,
Madison Wisconsin 53706 — 1381.
Email – tfallen@facstaff.wisc.edu



Key People:

  • James Grier Miller
  • Howard Pattee
  • Stanley Salthe
  • T F Allen
  • Herbert Simon
  • CS Holling



Key Sources of Research:



T Allen





Hierarchy Theory

Paweł Leśniewski





Summary of the Principles of Hierarchy Theory

S.N. Salthe







Jon Umerez






Hierarchy Theory as the Formal Basis of Evolutionary Theory





The Concept of Levels of Organization in the Biological Sciences


PhD Thesis Submitted August 2014 Revised June 2015

Daniel Stephen Brooks





A spatially explicit hierarchical approach to modeling complex ecological systems: theory and applications

Jianguo Wu , John L. David





What is the Hierarchy Theory of Evolution?






Jackson R. Webster





Ecological hierarchies and self-organisation – Pattern analysis, modelling and process integration across scales

Hauke Reutera,, Fred Jopp, José M. Blanco-Morenod, Christian Damgaarde, Yiannis Matsinosf, Donald L. DeAngelis





Levels of organization in biology: on the nature and nomenclature of ecology’s fourth level

William Z. Lidicker, Jr





Chapter 24

Hierarchy Theory: An Overview

Jianguo Wu





Heterarchies: Reconciling Networks and Hierarchies

Graeme S. Cumming




Evolutionary Theory





Holons, creaons, genons, environs, in hierarchy theory: Where we have gone

Timothy Allen, Mario Giampietro




The Evolutionary Foundations of Hierarchy: Status, Dominance, Prestige, and Leadership

Mark van Vugt & Joshua M. Tybur




The Microfoundations of Macroeconomics: An Evolutionary Perspective

Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh

John M. Gowdy





Understanding the complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems

C S Holling




Hierarchical Structures

Stanley N. Salthe





Two Frameworks for Complexity Generation in Biological Systems

Stanley N. Salthe






Spatial scaling in ecology






The Spirit of Evolution

by Roger Walsh

An overview of Ken Wilber’s book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (Shambhala, 1995).