Re: Sanderson on individuals and systems

Wed, 23 Apr 1997 10:39:04 +1000
Bruce McFarling (

At 12:29 PM 4/22/97 -0500, you wrote:

>Can macroevolutionary events be explained simply in terms of micro-level
>actions? No, not completely. Macroevolutionary events are to some extent
>emergent phenomena. But to understand them, one has to ask questions about
>what is going on at the micro level, i.e., what individuals are trying to do
>within the range of circumstances they confront.

Then macroevolutionary events are *not* simply aggregates of
microevolutionary events, since if they were, you could explain the
macroevolutionary events by describing the microevolutionary events
and ... aggregating. Just as in a view of market demand as an
aggregate of individual demand, you take the individual demand
relationships (supposed to be a function, rather than demonstrated
to be a function, natch) and aggregate them.

If the relationship is a recursive relationship between
structure and behavior, in which structure determines constraints
on, and much of the benefit / loss landscape for, behavior, and
it is behavior that constitutes the structure, it is evidently
true that to understands the evolution of the structures, one has
to ask questions about what is going on at the micro level. But
it is *equally* true that to understand what is going on at the
micro level you have to understand the structures within which
the behavior takes place. Stressing the former point gives an
explanation tending toward the simple aggregate of individual
behavior -- a micro-only description; stressing the latter gives
an explanation tending toward a macro-only description. Of course,
in the course of obtaining credential in economics, there is
normally much more exposure to the former -- and indeed to the
thesis that macro level behavior is *in fact* an aggregation of
individual behavior, and nothing more -- so from that background
the reading may differ from the reading of someone trained in

>World-system theory assumes a rationally selfish actor but assumes that such
>selfish behavior is socially created rather than an innate tendency. This is
>where I part company with WST. If capitalism created selfish individuals, then
>what created capitalism? Gunder Frank argues that it has been slowly evolving
>for some 5,000 years, and I agree with him. Why then are the rudiments of
>capitalism so old? To find out, read my book.

Is this also true for World System Theory (no hyphen)?


Bruce McFarling, Newcastle