We are entering the third decade of the twenty-first century with profound uncertainties and crucial challenges for the world economy. Phenomena like climate change, digital transformation, migration, demographic changes, and the ongoing COVID pandemic need to be understood and promptly addressed. We argue that the agent-based approach in economics is well suited to tackle these topics, because of its capacity to integrate the “micro” and “macro” dimensions by modelling the network of interactions among heterogeneous economic agents and their aggregate outcomes. This paper explains why the agent-based methodology is needed to overcome the limitations of the neoclassical approach in economics, which has not been able to properly address those challenges. To do so, the paper retraces the main stages of the scientific evolution in a general historical and epistemological perspective, showing how the paradigm of reductionism, which led to extraordinary advances after the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, is less effective when addressing the main challenges ahead. On the other hand, the sciences of chaos theory and complex systems can provide the economic discipline with more suitable instruments to face those challenges. Finally, the paper briefly presents the contributions of the special issue, which use applications of agent-based models to study the main problems of our times.
We are witnessing uncertain and rapidly changing economic landscapes where some ongoing processes are expected to progress in the years to come, constituting crucial challenges both for the economy and economics as a discipline. First, the climate change issue will need a relevant mobilization of resources to foster the ecological transition, with far-reaching consequences on our business and financial landscapes, still mostly addicted to fossil fuels. Second, the digital transformation could result in tremendous productivity gains but also in widespread unemployment crises. Third, the recent COVID emergency has emphasized the importance to carefully consider the impact of human activity on our ecosystems, which goes well beyond carbon emissions and could increase the likelihood of virus spillovers. Furthermore, the necessity to maintain economic activity alive during lockdowns has surely accelerated the digitalization of most services and routine-based jobs. Finally, there are still relevant questions on a sustainable and inclusive growth able to face demographic changes and migration patterns with the aim to enhance the awareness on opportunities, risks and impacts of policy measures and regulations.