8. Using Newton’s Method to Solve Economic Models

8.1. Overview

Many economic problems involve finding fixed points or zeros (sometimes called “roots”) of functions.

For example, in a simple supply and demand model, an equilibrium price is one that makes excess demand zero.

In other words, an equilibrium is a zero of the excess demand function.

There are various computational techniques for solving for fixed points and zeros.

In this lecture we study an important gradient-based technique called Newton’s method.

Newton’s method does not always work but, in situations where it does, convergence is often fast when compared to other methods.

The lecture will apply Newton’s method in one-dimensional and multi-dimensional settings to solve fixed-point and zero-finding problems.

  • When finding the fixed point of a function \(f\), Newton’s method updates an existing guess of the fixed point by solving for the fixed point of a linear approximation to the function \(f\).

  • When finding the zero of a function \(f\), Newton’s method updates an existing guess by solving for the zero of a linear approximation to the function \(f\).

To build intuition, we first consider an easy, one-dimensional fixed point problem where we know the solution and solve it using both successive approximation and Newton’s method.

Then we apply Newton’s method to multi-dimensional settings to solve market for equilibria with multiple goods.

At the end of the lecture we leverage the power of JAX and automatic differentiation to solve a very high-dimensional equilibrium problem.

We use the following imports in this lecture

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from collections import namedtuple
from scipy.optimize import root
import jax
import jax.numpy as jnp

plt.rcParams["figure.figsize"] = (10, 5.7)

8.2. Fixed Point Computation Using Newton’s Method

In this section we solve the fixed point of the law of motion for capital in the setting of the Solow growth model.

We will inspect the fixed point visually, solve it by successive approximation, and then apply Newton’s method to achieve faster convergence.

8.2.1. The Solow Model

In the Solow growth model, assuming Cobb-Douglas production technology and zero population growth, the law of motion for capital is

(8.1)\[ k_{t+1} = g(k_t) \quad \text{where} \quad g(k) := sAk^\alpha + (1-\delta) k\]


  • \(k_t\) is capital stock per worker,

  • \(A, \alpha>0\) are production parameters, \(\alpha<1\)

  • \(s>0\) is a savings rate, and

  • \(\delta \in(0,1)\) is a rate of depreciation

In this example, we wish to calculate the unique strictly positive fixed point of \(g\), the law of motion for capital.

In other words, we seek a \(k^* > 0\) such that \(g(k^*)=k^*\).

  • such a \(k^*\) is called a steady state, since \(k_t = k^*\) implies \(k_{t+1} = k^*\).

Using pencil and paper to solve \(g(k)=k\), you will be able to confirm that

\[ k^* = \left(\frac{s A}{δ}\right)^{1/(1 - α)} \]

8.2.2. Implementation

Let’s store our parameters in namedtuple to help us keep our code clean and concise.

SolowParameters = namedtuple("SolowParameters", ('A', 's', 'α', 'δ'))

This function creates a suitable namedtuple with default parameter values.

def create_solow_params(A=2.0, s=0.3, α=0.3, δ=0.4):
    "Creates a Solow model parameterization with default values."
    return SolowParameters(A=A, s=s, α=α, δ=δ)

The next two functions implement the law of motion (8.1) and store the true fixed point \(k^*\).

def g(k, params):
    A, s, α, δ = params
    return A * s * k**α + (1 - δ) * k
def exact_fixed_point(params):
    A, s, α, δ = params
    return ((s * A) / δ)**(1/(1 - α))

Here is a function to provide a 45 degree plot of the dynamics.

def plot_45(params, ax, fontsize=14):
    k_min, k_max = 0.0, 3.0
    k_grid = np.linspace(k_min, k_max, 1200)

    # Plot the functions
    lb = r"$g(k) = sAk^{\alpha} + (1 - \delta)k$"
    ax.plot(k_grid, g(k_grid, params),  lw=2, alpha=0.6, label=lb)
    ax.plot(k_grid, k_grid, "k--", lw=1, alpha=0.7, label="45")

    # Show and annotate the fixed point
    kstar = exact_fixed_point(params)
    fps = (kstar,)
    ax.plot(fps, fps, "go", ms=10, alpha=0.6)
    ax.annotate(r"$k^* = (sA / \delta)^{\frac{1}{1-\alpha}}$", 
             xy=(kstar, kstar),
             xytext=(20, -20),
             textcoords="offset points",

    ax.legend(loc="upper left", frameon=False, fontsize=fontsize)

    ax.set_yticks((0, 1, 2, 3))
    ax.set_yticklabels((0.0, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0), fontsize=fontsize)
    ax.set_ylim(0, 3)
    ax.set_xlabel("$k_t$", fontsize=fontsize)
    ax.set_ylabel("$k_{t+1}$", fontsize=fontsize)

Let’s look at the 45 degree diagram for two parameterizations.

params = create_solow_params()
fig, ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(8, 8))
plot_45(params, ax)
params = create_solow_params(α=0.05, δ=0.5)
fig, ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(8, 8))
plot_45(params, ax)

We see that \(k^*\) is indeed the unique positive fixed point. Successive Approximation

First let’s compute the fixed point using successive approximation.

In this case, successive approximation means repeatedly updating capital from some initial state \(k_0\) using the law of motion.

Here’s a time series from a particular choice of \(k_0\).

def compute_iterates(k_0, f, params, n=25):
    "Compute time series of length n generated by arbitrary function f."
    k = k_0
    k_iterates = []
    for t in range(n):
        k = f(k, params)
    return k_iterates
params = create_solow_params()
k_0 = 0.25
k_series = compute_iterates(k_0, g, params)
k_star = exact_fixed_point(params)

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.plot(k_series, 'o')
ax.plot([k_star] * len(k_series), 'k--')
ax.set_ylim(0, 3)

Let’s see the output for a long time series.

k_series = compute_iterates(k_0, g, params, n=10_000)
k_star_approx = k_series[-1]

This is close to the true value.

1.7846741842265788 Newton’s Method

In general, when applying Newton’s fixed point method to some function \(g\), we start with a guess \(x_0\) of the fixed point and then update by solving for the fixed point of a tangent line at \(x_0\).

To begin with, we recall that the first-order approximation of \(g\) at \(x_0\) (i.e., the first order Taylor approximation of \(g\) at \(x_0\)) is the function

(8.2)\[\hat g(x) \approx g(x_0)+g'(x_0)(x-x_0)\]

We solve for the fixed point of \(\hat g\) by calculating the \(x_1\) that solves

\[ x_1=\frac{g(x_0)-g'(x_0) x_0}{1-g'(x_0)} \]

Generalising the process above, Newton’s fixed point method iterates on

(8.3)\[x_{t+1} = \frac{g(x_t) - g'(x_t) x_t}{ 1 - g'(x_t) }, \quad x_0 \text{ given}\]

To implement Newton’s method we observe that the derivative of the law of motion for capital (8.1) is

(8.4)\[g'(k) = \alpha s A k^{\alpha-1} + (1-\delta)\]

Let’s define this:

def Dg(k, params):
    A, s, α, δ = params
    return α * A * s * k**(α-1) + (1 - δ)

Here’s a function \(q\) representing (8.3).

def q(k, params):
    return (g(k, params) - Dg(k, params) * k) / (1 - Dg(k, params))

Now let’s plot some trajectories.

def plot_trajectories(params, 
                      k0_a=0.8,  # first initial condition
                      k0_b=3.1,  # second initial condition
                      n=20,      # length of time series
                      fs=14):    # fontsize

    fig, axes = plt.subplots(2, 1, figsize=(10, 6))
    ax1, ax2 = axes

    ks1 = compute_iterates(k0_a, g, params, n)
    ax1.plot(ks1, "-o", label="successive approximation")

    ks2 = compute_iterates(k0_b, g, params, n)
    ax2.plot(ks2, "-o", label="successive approximation")

    ks3 = compute_iterates(k0_a, q, params, n)
    ax1.plot(ks3, "-o", label="newton steps")

    ks4 = compute_iterates(k0_b, q, params, n)
    ax2.plot(ks4, "-o", label="newton steps")

    for ax in axes:
        ax.plot(k_star * np.ones(n), "k--")
        ax.legend(fontsize=fs, frameon=False)
        ax.set_ylim(0.6, 3.2)
        ax.set_yticklabels(("$k^*$",), fontsize=fs)
        ax.set_xticks(np.linspace(0, 19, 20))
params = create_solow_params()

We can see that Newton’s method converges faster than successive approximation.

8.3. Root-Finding in One Dimension

In the previous section we computed fixed points.

In fact Newton’s method is more commonly associated with the problem of finding zeros of functions.

Let’s discuss this “root-finding” problem and then show how it is connected to the problem of finding fixed points.

8.3.1. Newton’s Method for Zeros

Let’s suppose we want to find an \(x\) such that \(f(x)=0\) for some smooth function \(f\) mapping real numbers to real numbers.

Suppose we have a guess \(x_0\) and we want to update it to a new point \(x_1\).

As a first step, we take the first-order approximation of \(f\) around \(x_0\):

\[ \hat f(x) \approx f\left(x_0\right)+f^{\prime}\left(x_0\right)\left(x-x_0\right) \]

Now we solve for the zero of \(\hat f\).

In particular, we set \(\hat{f}(x_1) = 0\) and solve for \(x_1\) to get

\[ x_1 = x_0 - \frac{ f(x_0) }{ f'(x_0) }, \quad x_0 \text{ given} \]

Generalizing the formula above, for one-dimensional zero-finding problems, Newton’s method iterates on

(8.5)\[x_{t+1} = x_t - \frac{ f(x_t) }{ f'(x_t) }, \quad x_0 \text{ given}\]

The following code implements the iteration (8.5)

def newton(f, Df, x_0, tol=1e-7, max_iter=100_000):
    x = x_0

    # Implement the zero-finding formula
    def q(x):
        return x - f(x) / Df(x)

    error = tol + 1
    n = 0
    while error > tol:
        n += 1
        if(n > max_iter):
            raise Exception('Max iteration reached without convergence')
        y = q(x)
        error = np.abs(x - y)
        x = y
        print(f'iteration {n}, error = {error:.5f}')
    return x

Numerous libraries implement Newton’s method in one dimension, including SciPy, so the code is just for illustrative purposes.

(That said, when we want to apply Newton’s method using techniques such as automatic differentiation or GPU acceleration, it will be helpful to know how to implement Newton’s method ourselves.)

8.3.2. Application to Finding Fixed Points

Now consider again the Solow fixed-point calculation, where we solve for \(k\) satisfying \(g(k) = k\).

We can convert to this to a zero-finding problem by setting \(f(x) := g(x)-x\).

Any zero of \(f\) is clearly a fixed point of \(g\).

Let’s apply this idea to the Solow problem

params = create_solow_params()
k_star_approx_newton = newton(f=lambda x: g(x, params) - x,
                              Df=lambda x: Dg(x, params) - 1,
iteration 1, error = 1.27209
iteration 2, error = 0.28180
iteration 3, error = 0.00561
iteration 4, error = 0.00000
iteration 5, error = 0.00000

The result confirms the descent we saw in the graphs above: a very accurate result is reached with only 5 iterations.

8.4. Multivariate Newton’s Method

In this section, we introduce a two-good problem, present a visualization of the problem, and solve for the equilibrium of the two-good market using both a zero finder in SciPy and Newton’s method.

We then expand the idea to a larger market with 5,000 goods and compare the performance of the two methods again.

We will see a significant performance gain when using Netwon’s method.

8.4.1. A Two Goods Market Equilibrium

Let’s start by computing the market equilibrium of a two-good problem.

We consider a market for two related products, good 0 and good 1, with price vector \(p = (p_0, p_1)\)

Supply of good \(i\) at price \(p\),

\[ q^s_i (p) = b_i \sqrt{p_i} \]

Demand of good \(i\) at price \(p\) is,

\[ q^d_i (p) = \exp(-a_{i0} p_0) + \exp(-a_{i1} p_1) + c_i \]

Here \(c_i\), \(b_i\) and \(a_{ij}\) are parameters.

For example, the two goods might be computer components that are typically used together, in which case they are complements. Hence demand depends on the price of both components.

The excess demand function is,

\[ e_i(p) = q^d_i(p) - q^s_i(p), \quad i = 0, 1 \]

An equilibrium price vector \(p^*\) satisfies \(e_i(p^*) = 0\).

We set

\[\begin{split} A = \begin{pmatrix} a_{00} & a_{01} \\ a_{10} & a_{11} \end{pmatrix}, \qquad b = \begin{pmatrix} b_0 \\ b_1 \end{pmatrix} \qquad \text{and} \qquad c = \begin{pmatrix} c_0 \\ c_1 \end{pmatrix} \end{split}\]

for this particular question. A Graphical Exploration

Since our problem is only two-dimensional, we can use graphical analysis to visualize and help understand the problem.

Our first step is to define the excess demand function

\[\begin{split} e(p) = \begin{pmatrix} e_0(p) \\ e_1(p) \end{pmatrix} \end{split}\]

The function below calculates the excess demand for given parameters

def e(p, A, b, c):
    return np.exp(- A @ p) + c - b * np.sqrt(p)

Our default parameter values will be

\[\begin{split} A = \begin{pmatrix} 0.5 & 0.4 \\ 0.8 & 0.2 \end{pmatrix}, \qquad b = \begin{pmatrix} 0 \\ 0 \end{pmatrix} \qquad \text{and} \qquad c = \begin{pmatrix} 0 \\ 0 \end{pmatrix} \end{split}\]
A = np.array([
    [0.5, 0.4],
    [0.8, 0.2]
b = np.ones(2)
c = np.ones(2)

At a price level of \(p = (1, 0.5)\), the excess demand is

ex_demand = e((1.0, 0.5), A, b, c)

print(f'The excess demand for good 0 is {ex_demand[0]:.3f} \n'
      f'The excess demand for good 1 is {ex_demand[1]:.3f}')
The excess demand for good 0 is 0.497 
The excess demand for good 1 is 0.699

Next we plot the two functions \(e_0\) and \(e_1\) on a grid of \((p_0, p_1)\) values, using contour surfaces and lines.

We will use the following function to build the contour plots

def plot_excess_demand(ax, good=0, grid_size=100, grid_max=4, surface=True):

    # Create a 100x100 grid
    p_grid = np.linspace(0, grid_max, grid_size)
    z = np.empty((100, 100))

    for i, p_1 in enumerate(p_grid):
        for j, p_2 in enumerate(p_grid):
            z[i, j] = e((p_1, p_2), A, b, c)[good]

    if surface:
        cs1 = ax.contourf(p_grid, p_grid, z.T, alpha=0.5)
        plt.colorbar(cs1, ax=ax, format="%.6f")

    ctr1 = ax.contour(p_grid, p_grid, z.T, levels=[0.0])
    ax.set_title(f'Excess Demand for Good {good}')
    plt.clabel(ctr1, inline=1, fontsize=13)

Here’s our plot of \(e_0\):

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
plot_excess_demand(ax, good=0)

Here’s our plot of \(e_1\):

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
plot_excess_demand(ax, good=1)

We see the black contour line of zero, which tells us when \(e_i(p)=0\).

For a price vector \(p\) such that \(e_i(p)=0\) we know that good \(i\) is in equilibrium (demand equals supply).

If these two contour lines cross at some price vector \(p^*\), then \(p^*\) is an equilibrium price vector.

fig, ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(10, 5.7))
for good in (0, 1):
    plot_excess_demand(ax, good=good, surface=False)

It seems there is an equilibrium close to \(p = (1.6, 1.5)\). Using a Multidimensional Root Finder

To solve for \(p^*\) more precisely, we use a zero-finding algorithm from scipy.optimize.

We supply \(p = (1, 1)\) as our initial guess.

init_p = np.ones(2)

This uses the modified Powell method to find the zero

solution = root(lambda p: e(p, A, b, c), init_p, method='hybr')
CPU times: user 208 µs, sys: 71 µs, total: 279 µs
Wall time: 247 µs

Here’s the resulting value:

p = solution.x
array([1.57080182, 1.46928838])

This looks close to our guess from observing the figure. We can plug it back into \(e\) to test that \(e(p) \approx 0\):

np.max(np.abs(e(p, A, b, c)))

This is indeed a very small error. Adding Gradient Information

In many cases, for zero-finding algorithms applied to smooth functions, supplying the Jacobian of the function leads to better convergence properties.

Here we manually calculate the elements of the Jacobian

\[\begin{split} J(p) = \begin{pmatrix} \frac{\partial e_0}{\partial p_0}(p) & \frac{\partial e_0}{\partial p_1}(p) \\ \frac{\partial e_1}{\partial p_0}(p) & \frac{\partial e_1}{\partial p_1}(p) \end{pmatrix} \end{split}\]
def jacobian(p, A, b, c):
    p_0, p_1 = p
    a_00, a_01 = A[0, :]
    a_10, a_11 = A[1, :]
    j_00 = -a_00 * np.exp(-a_00 * p_0) - (b[0]/2) * p_0**(-1/2)
    j_01 = -a_01 * np.exp(-a_01 * p_1)
    j_10 = -a_10 * np.exp(-a_10 * p_0)
    j_11 = -a_11 * np.exp(-a_11 * p_1) - (b[1]/2) * p_1**(-1/2)
    J = [[j_00, j_01],
         [j_10, j_11]]
    return np.array(J)
solution = root(lambda p: e(p, A, b, c),
                jac=lambda p: jacobian(p, A, b, c), 
CPU times: user 230 µs, sys: 79 µs, total: 309 µs
Wall time: 276 µs

Now the solution is even more accurate (although, in this low-dimensional problem, the difference is quite small):

p = solution.x
np.max(np.abs(e(p, A, b, c)))
1.3322676295501878e-15 Using Newton’s Method

Now let’s use Newton’s method to compute the equilibrium price using the multivariate version of Newton’s method

(8.6)\[p_{n+1} = p_n - J_e(p_n)^{-1} e(p_n)\]

This is a multivariate version of (8.5)

(Here \(J_e(p_n)\) is the Jacobian of \(e\) evaluated at \(p_n\).)

The iteration starts from some initial guess of the price vector \(p_0\).

Here, instead of coding Jacobian by hand, We use the jax.jacobian() function to auto-differentiate and calculate the Jacobian.

With only slight modification, we can generalize our previous attempt to multi-dimensional problems

def newton(f, x_0, tol=1e-5, max_iter=10):
    x = x_0
    q = jax.jit(lambda x: x - jnp.linalg.solve(jax.jacobian(f)(x), f(x)))
    error = tol + 1
    n = 0
    while error > tol:
        if(n > max_iter):
            raise Exception('Max iteration reached without convergence')
        y = q(x)
            raise Exception('Solution not found with NaN generated')
        error = jnp.linalg.norm(x - y)
        x = y
        print(f'iteration {n}, error = {error:.5f}')
    print('\n' + f'Result = {x} \n')
    return x
def e(p, A, b, c):
    return jnp.exp(- jnp.dot(A, p)) + c - b * jnp.sqrt(p)

We find the algorithm terminates in 4 steps

p = newton(lambda p: e(p, A, b, c), init_p).block_until_ready()
iteration 1, error = 0.62515
iteration 2, error = 0.11152
iteration 3, error = 0.00258
iteration 4, error = 0.00000

Result = [1.5708019 1.4692883] 

CPU times: user 1.67 s, sys: 1.54 s, total: 3.21 s
Wall time: 4.28 s
np.max(np.abs(e(p, A, b, c)))

The result is very accurate.

With the larger overhead, the speed is not better than the optimized scipy function.

However, things will change when we move to higher dimensional problems.

8.4.2. A High-Dimensional Problem

Our next step is to investigate a large market with 5,000 goods.

To handle this large problem we will use Google JAX.

The excess demand function is essentially the same, but now the matrix \(A\) is \(5000 \times 5000\) and the parameter vectors \(b\) and \(c\) are \(5000 \times 1\).

dim = 5_000

# Create a random matrix A and normalize the rows to sum to one
A = np.random.rand(dim, dim)
A = jnp.asarray(A)
s = jnp.sum(A, axis=0)
A = A / s

# Set up b and c
b = jnp.ones(dim)
c = jnp.ones(dim)

Here is essentially the same demand function we applied before, but now using jax.numpy for the calculations.

def e(p, A, b, c):
    return jnp.exp(- jnp.dot(A, p)) + c - b * jnp.sqrt(p)

Here’s our initial condition

init_p = jnp.ones(dim)

By leveraging the power of Newton’s method, JAX accelerated linear algebra, automatic differentiation, and a GPU, we obtain a relatively small error for this very large problem in just a few seconds:

p = newton(lambda p: e(p, A, b, c), init_p).block_until_ready()
iteration 1, error = 29.97755
iteration 2, error = 5.09284
iteration 3, error = 0.10971
iteration 4, error = 0.00005
iteration 5, error = 0.00001
iteration 6, error = 0.00001

Result = [1.501596  1.4990965 1.4964366 ... 1.4844416 1.490006  1.4991018] 

CPU times: user 7.56 s, sys: 2.19 s, total: 9.76 s
Wall time: 6.43 s
np.max(np.abs(e(p, A, b, c)))

With the same tolerance, SciPy’s root function takes much longer to run, even with the Jacobian supplied.

solution = root(lambda p: e(p, A, b, c),
                jac=lambda p: jax.jacobian(e)(p, A, b, c), 
CPU times: user 2min 26s, sys: 0 ns, total: 2min 26s
Wall time: 2min 26s
p = solution.x
np.max(np.abs(e(p, A, b, c)))

The result is also less accurate.

8.5. Exercises

Exercise 8.1

Consider a three-dimensional extension of the Solow fixed point problem with

\[\begin{split} A = \begin{pmatrix} 2 & 3 & 3 \\ 2 & 4 & 2 \\ 1 & 5 & 1 \\ \end{pmatrix}, \quad s = 0.2, \quad α = 0.5, \quad δ = 0.8 \end{split}\]

As before the law of motion is

\[ k_{t+1} = g(k_t) \quad \text{where} \quad g(k) := sAk^\alpha + (1-\delta) k\]

However \(k_t\) is now a \(3 \times 1\) vector.

Solve for the fixed point using Newton’s method with the following initial values:

\[\begin{split} \begin{aligned} k1_{0} &= (1, 1, 1) \\ k2_{0} &= (3, 5, 5) \\ k3_{0} &= (50, 50, 50) \end{aligned} \end{split}\]

Exercise 8.2

In this exercise, let’s try different initial values and check how Newton’s method responds to different starting points.

Let’s define a three-good problem with the following default values:

\[\begin{split} A = \begin{pmatrix} 0.2 & 0.1 & 0.7 \\ 0.3 & 0.2 & 0.5 \\ 0.1 & 0.8 & 0.1 \\ \end{pmatrix}, \qquad b = \begin{pmatrix} 1 \\ 1 \\ 1 \end{pmatrix} \qquad \text{and} \qquad c = \begin{pmatrix} 1 \\ 1 \\ 1 \end{pmatrix} \end{split}\]

For this exercise, use the following extreme price vectors as initial values:

\[\begin{split}\begin{aligned} p1_{0} &= (5, 5, 5) \\ p2_{0} &= (1, 1, 1) \\ p3_{0} &= (4.5, 0.1, 4) \end{aligned} \end{split}\]

Set the tolerance to \(0.0\) for more accurate output.