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Inequality and the Directionality of History

Geerat J. Vermeij
The American Naturalist
Vol. 153, No. 3 (March 1999), pp. 243-253
DOI: 10.1086/303175
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/303175
Page Count: 11
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Inequality and the Directionality of
History
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Abstract

abstract: I argue that history is genealogy and succession in an economic context of interactions among participants. Inequality is a ubiquitous property of economic interaction among responsive, metabolizing entities. The prevailing party tends to be larger, to have a higher productivity or metabolism, to engage in a larger number of interactions, and to perform more functions at a higher level. The crucial economic consequence of inequality is that prevailing entities and the conditions they create disproportionately influence the economy as a whole. This leads to a pervasive increase in energy flux, both globally and per capita, among economic dominants, observable in the history of life as well as in the development of the human economy. Unpredictable disturbances such as mass extinctions temporarily reverse this trend. Comparative studies of the biotas of islands and of large land masses point to limitations on the evolution of energy‐intensive dominants. Because entities with a large economic domain typically restrict rather than eliminate subordinates, the trend toward increasing energy flux will rarely be expressed within individual clades. History's directionality is imposed by effects of energy‐intensive dominants on the distribution and characteristics of all other participants in the economies they help to fashion.

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