MSA blog #1: Moscow - biggest city in Europe, home of billionaires and host of the Summer Academy on economic growth

This year’s Moscow Summer Academy (MSA) on Economic Growth and Governance of Natural Resources started on Monday with an opening speech by vice-dean Alexander Razgulin, impressing us with a comprehensive introduction of the Moscow State University (MSU) and the hosting faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics. The MSU comprises 41 departments with more than 6.000 professors and lecturers, 5.000 researchers and around 50.000 students studying at the university.

And the MSU brags with good reason: no less than 11 Nobel prize winners come from MSU, one of which is Michail S. Gorbatschow. What an honour that this prestige university is hosting the MSA 2015!


The gigantic MSU building offers simplistic (real) retro style dorms 


After further introductory presentations on GreenMAR by Andries Richter (“Green growth is more complex than sending a man to the moon”) and on IISAA by Margaret Goud Collins, things started to get serious. Sergey Assev (Steklov Mathematical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and IIASA) introduced the 60 participants to mathematical optimal control theory, one of the tools necessary for enabling an efficient use of resources, and thus Green Growth. After learning how to solve optimal control problems with free endpoints, about the Pontryagin Maximum Principle (note that Lev Pontryagin worked at the hosting faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics) and elementary needle variation, it still remains a little bit unclear how I can apply these tools in my own research (which of course could also be due to my rusty skills on differential equations!). My take-home message was: “Sustainable development is not equal to optimal development”.


Diving into the equations of Optimal Control Theory 


Stefan Behringer (Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany) introduced us to another important concept of Green Growth: the sharing of resources which is the topic of game theory. He explained vividly how quick one ends up in a Prisoners dilemma when bringing one’s kid to school. In his second lecture we were introduced to non-rival (and non-excludable) goods by imagining being a ship: Obviously we (consumers) would benefit from the presence of a lighthouse (good) without weakening the lighthouse’s beneficial functionality for other ships. We got the opportunity to apply this freshly gained knowledge in tutorials.

Mingling on a boat trip on the Moskva river while passing pompous buildings 


The first successful MSA day was finally celebrated with a glass of champagne on a boat passing the UNESCO world heritage sites Kremlin, Red Square, and many other impressive, gigantic buildings. The boat trip was a great opportunity for mingling with the other participants. Although many of the participants focus their research on economic growth or natural resource management, I was surprised to also meet “rookies” who take the MSA as an opportunity to get some inspiration of how to link their work to socio-economy. After another rather math heavy day, I have the feeling that the diverse group of participants understood that the MSA is not about understanding every single equation shown in the lectures, but rather about getting to know the tools for sustainable resource use, getting inspiration for their own work, and seeing the importance of combining different disciplines (as Margaret Goud Collins from IIASA said: “everything is connected to everything else”) to tackle the challenge of natural resource governance. The mood is good, and everybody is looking forward to the coming days!

Tags: Moscow, MSA, 2015 By Anna-Marie Winter
Published July 23, 2015 11:43 AM - Last modified Sep. 29, 2015 11:02 AM