Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is market design like synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is concerned with the creation of new kinds of cells and organisms, and an interesting blog post by the economic sociologist/sociologist of science Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra at LSE riffs on some possible connections between synthetic biology and market design: Will the Real Engineers Please Stand Up

He concludes:
"Talking with the language of design provides, as Martha Poon rightly pointed out, a more productive approach to the study of markets. But it also makes possible imagining a bolder version of market design than that currently advocated within economics. While the markets created by Roth and Milgrom are truly feats, much more can be done. Indeed, market design need not be a type of ‘consultancy economics’. Rather, it can follow an alternative metaphor that is pragmatic, perhaps even civic, an image of the future closer to that of the (biological) engineers who today work away in their labs redesigning the fundamental building blocks of nature."

Pardo-Guerra is working in the emerging sociological/science-studies tradition of "performativity". Here's his paper Making markets: infrastructures, engineers and the moral technologies of finance which tracks the development of electronic financial exchanges through the electronic order book:

"How do markets change? Conventional sociological accounts answer this question by stressing the weight of social structures on the transactional core of  the marketplace. This paper provides an alternative approach. Market change is identified as an infrastructural transformation in which novel market devices and classifications are defined as the legitimate platforms for exchange. Rather than focusing on the traditional subjects of sociological enquiry, this study looks at the developers of market infrastructures in order to appraise the evolution and reinvention of markets. Empirically, the paper focuses on four historical episodes relating to the invention and dissemination of the electronic order book, a device that is central to global financial capitalism. These show how infrastructural work was implicated in creating the politics and structures of modern finance by criticising established institutions, mounting competitive challenges against incumbent institutions, establishing expansive projects of marketization and integrating otherwise disconnected marketplaces."

He also has coauthored an interesting looking paper on high frequency trading (that I haven't yet read, only the abstract is on his site):  Drilling Through the Allegheny Mountains: Liquidity, Materiality and High Frequency Trading

(it will be interesting to compare the work of economic sociologists with that of market designers on this topic, see e.g. this recent post Budish, Cramton and Shim on The High-Frequency Trading Arms Race)
He and his colleagues seem to be bringing some thought about market design into the discussion of the sociology of markets.

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