Serge Galam’s Sociophysics: A Physicist’s Modeling of Psycho-political Phenomena

The Trump phenomenon is argued to depart from current populist rise in Europe. According to a model of opinion dynamics from sociophysics the machinery of Trump’s amazing success obeys well-defined counter-intuitive rules. Therefore, his success was in principle predictable from the start. The model uses local majority rule arguments and obeys a threshold dynamics. The associated tipping points are found to depend on the leading collective beliefs, cognitive biases and prejudices of the social group which undertakes the public debate. And here comes the open sesame of the Trump campaign, which develops along two successive steps. During a first moment, Trump’s statement produces a majority of voters against him. But at the same time, according to the model the shocking character of the statement modifies the prejudice balance. In case the prejudice is present even being frozen among voters, the tipping point is lowered at Trump’s benefit. Nevertheless, although the tipping point has been lowered by the activation of frozen prejudices it is instrumental to preserve enough support from openly prejudiced people to be above the threshold.

Serge Galam – Sociophysics A Physicist’s Modeling of Psycho-political Phenomena

 

Infrastructure and Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. Some Scattered Thoughts.

What is Infrastructure?

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Infrastructure, though definitionally an elusive term, encompasses an economic standpoint consisting of large capital intensive natural monopolies. The term attains it heterogeneity by including physical structures of various types used by many industries as inputs to the production of goods and services. By this, it has come to mean either social, or economic infrastructure, wherein, in the former, are schools, hospitals etc, while in the latter are energy, water, transport, and digital communications, often considered essential ingredients in the success of the modern economy. Conceptually, infrastructure may affect aggregate output in two main ways: (i) directly, considering the sector contribution to GDP formation and as an additional input in the production process of other sectors; and (ii) indirectly, raising total factor productivity by reducing transaction and other costs thus allowing a more efficient use of conventional productive inputs. Infrastructure can be considered as a complementary factor for economic growth. How big is the contribution of infrastructure to aggregate economic performance? The answer is critical for many policy decisions – for example, to gauge the growth effects of fiscal interventions in the form of public investment changes, or to assess if public infrastructure investments can be self-financing.

Let us ponder on this a bit and begin with the question. Why is infrastructure even important? Extensive and efficient infrastructure is critical for ensuring the effective functioning of the economy, as it is an important factor determining the location of economic activity and the kinds of activities or sectors that can develop in a particular economy. Well-developed infrastructure reduces the effect of distance between regions, integrating the national market and connecting it at low cost to markets in other countries and regions. In addition, the quality and extensiveness of infrastructure networks significantly impact economic growth and affect income inequalities and poverty in a variety of ways. A well-developed transport and communications infrastructure network is a prerequisite for the access of less-developed communities to core economic activities and services. Effective modes of transport, including quality roads, railroads, ports, and air transport, enable entrepreneurs to get their goods and services to market in a secure and timely manner and facilitate the movement of workers to the most suitable jobs. Economies also depend on electricity supplies that are free of interruptions and shortages so that businesses and factories can work unimpeded. Finally, a solid and extensive communications network allows for a rapid and free flow of information, which increases overall economic efficiency by helping to ensure that businesses can communicate and decisions are made by economic actors taking into account all available relevant information. There is an existing correlation between infrastructure and economic activity through which the economic effects originate in the construction phase and rise during the usage phase. The construction phase is associated with the short-term effects and are a consequence of the decisions in the public sector that could affect macroeconomic variables: GDP, employment, public deficit, inflation, among others. The public investment expands the aggregate demand, yielding a boost to the employment, production and income. The macroeconomic effects at a medium and long term, associated with the utilization phase are related to the increase of productivity in the private sector and its effects over the territory. Both influence significantly in the competitiveness degree of the economy. In conclusion, investing in infrastructure constitutes one of the main mechanisms to increase income, employment, productivity and consequently, the competitiveness of an economy. Is this so? Well, thats what the economics textbook teaches us, and thus governments all over the world turn to infrastructure development as a lubricant to maintain current economic output at best and it can also be the basis for better industry which contributes to better economic output. Governments, thus necessitate realignment of countries’ infrastructure in tune with the changing nature of global political economy. Infrastructure security and stability concerns the quantity of spare capacity (or security of supply). Instead of acting on the efficiency frontier, infrastructure projects must operate with spare capacity to contribute to economic growth through ensuring reliable service provisions. Spare capacity is a necessary condition for a properly functioning system. To assure the level of spare capacity in the absence of storage and demand, the system needs to have excess supply. However, no rational profit-seeker will deliberately create conditions of excess supply, since it would produce a marginal cost lower than the average cost, and to circumnavigate this market failure, governments are invested with the responsibility of creating incentives ensuring securities of supply. This is seeding the substitutability of economics with financialization. 

So far, so good, but then, so what? This is where social analysts need to be incisive in unearthing facts from fiction and this faction is what constitutes the critique of development, a critique that is engineered against a foci on GDP-led growth model. This is to be done by asking uncomfortable questions to policy-makers, such as: What is the most efficient way to finance infrastructure spending? What are optimal infrastructure pricing, maintenance and investment policies? What have proven to be the respective strengths and weaknesses of the public and private sectors in infrastructure provision and management, and what shapes those strengths and weaknesses? What are the distributional consequences of infrastructure policies? How do political forces impact the efficiency of public sector provision? What framework deals best with monopoly providers of infrastructure? For developing countries, which have hitherto been plagued by weaker legal systems making regulation and enforcement more complicated, the fiscally weak position leads to higher borrowing costs. A most natural outcome is a systemic increase in financial speculation driven by deregulation transforming into financial assets. Contrary to common sense and what civil society assumes, financial markets are going deeper and deeper into the real economy as a response to the financial crisis, so that speculative capital is structurally being intertwined with productive capital changing the whole dynamics of infrastructure investment. The question then is, how far viable or sustainable are these financial interventions? Financialization produces effects which can create long-term trends (such as those on functional income distribution) but can also change across different periods of economic growth, slowdown and recession. Interpreting the implications of financialization for sustainability, therefore, requires a methodological diverse and empirical dual-track approach which combines different methods of investigations. Even times of prosperity, despite their fragile and vulnerable nature, can endure for several years before collapsing due to high levels of indebtedness, which in turn amplify the real effects of a financial crisis and hinder the economic growth. 

Role of Development Banks and AIIB

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Where do development banks fit into the schema as regards infrastructure investment? This question is a useful gamble in order to tackle AIIB, the new kid on the bloc. As the world struggles to find funds to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), development banks could be instrumental in narrowing the gap. So, goes the logic promulgated by these banks. They can help to crowd-in the private sector and anchor private-public sector partnerships, particularly for infrastructure financing. However, misusing development banks can lead to fiscal risks and credit market distortions. To avoid these potential pitfalls, development banks need a well-defined mandate, operate without political influence, focus on addressing significant market failures, concentrate on areas where the private sector is not present, monitor and evaluate interventions and adjust as necessary to ensure impact, and, finally, be transparent and accountable. All of these are the ideals, which more often than not go the other way. China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite having no track record still enjoys the highest ratings on par with the World Bank. This has fueled debates ranging from adding much-needed capital augmenting infrastructure to leniency in observing high standards of governance, and possibly ignoring environmental and societal impacts.

The AIIB was officially launched in Beijing on January 16th, 2016, with 57 founding members, including 37 in Asia and 20 non-regional countries. Being the largest shareholder of the AIIB, China has an initial subscription of $29.78 billion in authorized capital stock in the AIIB out of a total of $100 billion, and made a grant contribution of another $50 million to the AIIB Project Preparation Special Fund on January 16th, 2017. India is the second-largest shareholder, contributing $8.4 billion. Russia is the third-largest shareholder, contributing $6.5 billion, and Germany is the largest non-regional shareholder (also the fourth largest shareholder), contributing $4.5 billion. While being open to the participation of non-regional members, the AIIB is committed to and prioritizes the ownership of Asian members. This is reflected in the capital structure requirement and the requirements for the composition of Board of Governors in the AIIB’s Article of Agreement (AOA), which requires no less than 75 percent of the total subscribed capital stock to be held by regional members unless otherwise agreed by the Board of Governors by a Super Majority vote. The AOA also requires that 9 out of the AIIB’s 12 members be elected by the Governors representing regional members, and 3 representing non-regional members. The prioritization of Asian-members’ ownership of the AIIB does not necessarily mean that the AIIB’s investment is restricted only to Asia. According to its AOA, the AIIB aims to “improve infrastructure connectivity in Asia,” and it will invest in Asia and beyond as long as the investment is “concerned with economic development of the region.” The bank currently has 64 member states while another 20 are prospective members for a total of 84 approved members. 

The AIIB’s EU/OECD members potentially could have some positive influence over the institutional building and standard setting of the young institution. The European Commission has recognized that an EU presence in China-driven institutions would contribute to the adoption of best practices and fair, global standards. Adherence to such standards will be promoted by the AIIB entering into partnership with existing Multilateral Development Banks. It has also been argued that joining the AIIB would give the European countries access to the decision-making process within the AIIB, and may even allow the European countries to play a role in shaping the AIIB’s organizational structure. As an example of EU/OECD members’ activism in monitoring the AIIB’s funds allocation, both Denmark and the UK, who are AIIB’s OECD members, proposed that contributions to the AIIB would qualify as official development aid (ODA). After a thorough review of AIIB’s AOA, mandate, work plan and other available materials, the OECD’s Secretariat of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommended including AIIB on the List under the category of “Regional development banks,” which means the OECD would recognize the AIIB as one of the ODA-eligible international organizations. Once approved, the Secretariat of DAC will be able to “monitor the future recipient breakdown of the AIIB’s borrowers through AIIB’s future Creditor Reporting System and thereby confirm that the actual share of funds going to countries on the DAC List of ODA Recipients is over 90%.” That is to say, if approved, there would be additional external monitor to make sure that the funds channeled through the AIIB to recipient countries are used properly. 

The AIIB’s initial total capital is $100 billion, equivalent to about 61 percent of the ADB’s initial total capital, 43 percent of the World Bank’s, 30 percent of the European Investment Bank’s (EIB), and more than twice of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD). Of this $100 billion initial capital, 20 percent is to be largely paid-in by 2019 and fully paid-in by 2024, and the remaining 80 percent is in callable capital. It needs to be noted that according to the AOA, payments for paid-in capital are due in five installments, with the exception of members designated as less developed countries, who may pay in ten installments. As of any moment, the snapshot of AIIB’s financial sheet includes total assets, members’ equities and liabilities, the last of which has negligible debt at the current stage since the AIIB has not issued any debenture or borrowed money from outside. However, to reduce the funding costs and to gain access to wider source of capital, the AIIB cannot rely solely on equity and has to issue debenture and take some leverage, particularly given that the AIIB intends to be a for-profit institution. In February 2017, the AIIB signed an International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) Master Agreement with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which would facilitate local currency bond issuance in client countries. Moreover, AIIB intends to actively originate and lead transactions that mobilize private capital and make it a trusted partner for all parties involved in the transactions that the Bank leads. In the long term, the AIIB aims to be the repository of know-how and best practices in infrastructure finance. 

It is widely perceived that the AIIB is a tool of Chinese foreign policy, and that it is a vehicle for the implementation of the Belt and Road (One Belt, One Road) Initiative. During a meeting with global executives in June 2016, the AIIB President Jin Liqun clarified China’s position, saying the AIIB “was not created exclusively for this initiative,” and that the AIIB would “finance infrastructure projects in all emerging market economies even though they don’t belong to the Belt and Road Initiative.” It is worth pointing out that despite the efforts on trying to put some distance between the AIIB and the Belt and Road Initiative, there is still a broad perception that these two are closely related. Moreover, China has differentiated AIIB projects from its other foreign assistance projects by co-financing its initial projects with the preexisting MDBs. Co-financing, combined with European membership, will make it more likely this institution largely conforms to the international standards” and potentially will steer the AIIB away from becoming solely a tool of Chinese foreign policy. This supports China’s stated intention to complement existing MDBs rather than compete with them. It also means that the AIIB can depend on its partners, if they would allow so, for expertise on a wide range of policy and procedural issues as it develops its lending portfolio.

Although AIIB has attracted a great number of developing and developed countries to join as members and it has co-financed several projects with other MDBs, there is no guarantee for any easy success in the future. There are several formidable challenges for the young multilateral institution down the road. Not all the infrastructure investment needs in Asia is immediately bankable and ready for investors’ money. Capital, regardless it’s sovereign or private, will not flow in to any project without any proper preparation. Although Asia faces a huge infrastructure financing gap, there is a shortage of ‘shovel-ready’ bankable projects owing to the capacity limitations. The young AIIB lacks the talent and expertise to create investor-ready bankable projects, despite that it has created a Project Preparation Special Fund thanks to $50 million by China. The AIIB aims to raise money in global capital markets to invest in the improvement of trans-regional connectivity. However, infrastructure projects are not naturally attractive investment due to huge uncertainties throughout the entire life cycle as well as unjustified risk-profit balance. Getting a top-notch credit rating is just a start. The AIIB has to find innovative ways to improve the risk-adjusted profitability of its projects. This issue itself has been a big challenge for many MDBs who engage in infrastructure financing for a long time. It is uncertain if the AIIB could outperform the other much more matured MDBs to find a solution to tackle the profitability problem in infrastructure financing. The highest rating it has received from ratings agencies could pose a challenge in itself. The high rating not only endorses the bank’s high capital adequacy and robust liquidity position, but also validates the strong political will of AIIB’s members and the bank’s governance frameworks. A good rating will help the AIIB issue bonds at favorable rate and utilize capital markets to reduce its funding costs. This certainly will contribute to AIIB’s efforts to define itself as a for-profit infrastructure investment bank. However, there is no guarantee that the rating will hold forever. Many factors may impact the rating in the future, including but not limited to AIIB’s self-capital ratio, liquidity, management, yieldability, risk management ability, and its autonomy and independency from China’s influence. 

The Closed String Cochain Complex C is the String Theory Substitute for the de Rham Complex of Space-Time. Note Quote.

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In closed string theory the central object is the vector space C = CS1 of states of a single parameterized string. This has an integer grading by the “ghost number”, and an operator Q : C → C called the “BRST operator” which raises the ghost number by 1 and satisfies Q2 = 0. In other words, C is a cochain complex. If we think of the string as moving in a space-time M then C is roughly the space of differential forms defined along the orbits of the action of the reparametrization group Diff+(S1) on the free loop space LM (more precisely, square-integrable forms of semi-infinite degree). Similarly, the space C of a topologically-twisted N = 2 supersymmetric theory, is a cochain complex which models the space of semi-infinite differential forms on the loop space of a Kähler manifold – in this case, all square-integrable differential forms, not just those along the orbits of Diff+(S1). In both kinds of example, a cobordism Σ from p circles to q circles gives an operator UΣ,μ : C⊗p → C⊗q which depends on a conformal structure μ on Σ. This operator is a cochain map, but its crucial feature is that changing the conformal structure μ on Σ changes the operator UΣ,μ only by a cochain homotopy. The cohomology H(C) = ker(Q)/im(Q) – the “space of physical states” in conventional string theory – is therefore the state space of a topological field theory.

A good way to describe how the operator UΣ,μ varies with μ is as follows:

If MΣ is the moduli space of conformal structures on the cobordism Σ, modulo diffeomorphisms of Σ which are the identity on the boundary circles, then we have a cochain map

UΣ : C⊗p → Ω(MΣ, C⊗q)

where the right-hand side is the de Rham complex of forms on MΣ with values in C⊗q. The operator UΣ,μ is obtained from UΣ by restricting from MΣ to {μ}. The composition property when two cobordisms Σ1 and Σ2 are concatenated is that the diagram

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commutes, where the lower horizontal arrow is induced by the map MΣ1 × MΣ2 → MΣ2 ◦ Σ1 which expresses concatenation of the conformal structures.

For each pair a, b of boundary conditions we shall still have a vector space – indeed a cochain complex – Oab, but it is no longer the space of morphisms from b to a in a category. Rather, what we have is an A-category. Briefly, this means that instead of a composition law Oab × Obc → Oac we have a family of ways of composing, parametrized by the contractible space of conformal structures on the surface of the figure:

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In particular, any two choices of a composition law from the family are cochain homotopic. Composition is associative in the sense that we have a contractible family of triple compositions Oab × Obc × Ocd → Oad, which contains all the maps obtained by choosing a binary composition law from the given family and bracketing the triple in either of the two possible ways.

This is not the usual way of defining an A-structure. According to Stasheff’s original definition, an A-structure on a space X consists of a sequence of choices: first, a composition law m2 : X × X → X; then, a choice of a map

m3 : [0, 1] × X × X × X → X which is a homotopy between

(x, y, z) ↦ m2(m2(x, y), z) and (x, y, z) ↦ m2(x, m2(y, z)); then, a choice of a map

m4 : S4 × X4 → X,

where S4 is a convex plane polygon whose vertices are indexed by the five ways of bracketing a 4-fold product, and m4|((∂S4) × X4) is determined by m3; and so on. There is an analogous definition – applying to cochain complexes rather than spaces.

Apart from the composition law, the essential algebraic properties are the non-degenerate inner product, and the commutativity of the closed algebra C. Concerning the latter, when we pass to cochain theories the multiplication in C will of course be commutative up to cochain homotopy, but, the moduli space MΣ of closed string multiplications i.e., the moduli space of conformal structures on a pair of pants Σ, modulo diffeomorphisms of Σ which are the identity on the boundary circles, is not contractible: it has the homotopy type of the space of ways of embedding two copies of the standard disc D2 disjointly in the interior of D2 – this space of embeddings is of course a subspace of MΣ. In particular, it contains a natural circle of multiplications in which one of the embedded discs moves like a planet around the other, and there are two different natural homotopies between the multiplication and the reversed multiplication. This might be a clue to an important difference between stringy and classical space-times. The closed string cochain complex C is the string theory substitute for the de Rham complex of space-time, an algebra whose multiplication is associative and (graded)commutative on the nose. Over the rationals or the real or complex numbers, such cochain algebras model the category of topological spaces up to homotopy, in the sense that to each such algebra C, we can associate a space XC and a homomorphism of cochain algebras from C to the de Rham complex of XC which is a cochain homotopy equivalence. If we do not want to ignore torsion in the homology of spaces we can no longer encode the homotopy type in a strictly commutative cochain algebra. Instead, we must replace commutative algebras with so-called E-algebras, i.e., roughly, cochain complexes C over the integers equipped with a multiplication which is associative and commutative up to given arbitrarily high-order homotopies. An arbitrary space X has an E-algebra CX of cochains, and conversely one can associate a space XC to each E-algebra C. Thus we have a pair of adjoint functors, just as in rational homotopy theory. The cochain algebras of closed string theory have less higher commutativity than do E-algebras, and this may be an indication that we are dealing with non-commutative spaces that fits in well with the interpretation of the B-field of a string background as corresponding to a bundle of matrix algebras on space-time. At the same time, the non-degenerate inner product on C – corresponding to Poincaré duality – seems to show we are concerned with manifolds, rather than more singular spaces.

Let us consider the category K of cochain complexes of finitely generated free abelian groups and cochain homotopy classes of cochain maps. This is called the derived category of the category of finitely generated abelian groups. Passing to cohomology gives us a functor from K to the category of Z-graded finitely generated abelian groups. In fact the subcategory K0 of K consisting of complexes whose cohomology vanishes except in degree 0 is actually equivalent to the category of finitely generated abelian groups. But the category K inherits from the category of finitely generated free abelian groups a duality functor with properties as ideal as one could wish: each object is isomorphic to its double dual, and dualizing preserves exact sequences. (The dual C of a complex C is defined by (C)i = Hom(C−i, Z).) There is no such nice duality in the category of finitely generated abelian groups. Indeed, the subcategory K0 is not closed under duality, for the dual of the complex CA corresponding to a group A has in general two non-vanishing cohomology groups: Hom(A,Z) in degree 0, and in degree +1 the finite group Ext1(A,Z) Pontryagin-dual to the torsion subgroup of A. This follows from the exact sequence:

0 → Hom(A, Z) → Hom(FA, Z) → Hom(RA, Z) → Ext1(A, Z) → 0

derived from an exact sequence

0 → RA → FA → A → 0

The category K also has a tensor product with better properties than the tensor product of abelian groups, and, better still, there is a canonical cochain functor from (locally well-behaved) compact spaces to K which takes Cartesian products to tensor products.