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Andre Gunder Frank

A Structural Theory of the Five Thousand Year World System

Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills

Our thesis has been articulated in several articles and is set out in our book, The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand? (Frank and Gills 1993). Its main theoretical premises are: 1) The existence and development of the world system that stretches back not just for five hundred years but for five thousand years; 2) The (political) world economy is a world system; 3) The process of capital accumulation is the motor force of (world system) history; 4) The center-periphery structure is one of the characteristics of the world (system); 5) The world system is depicted by hegemony and rivalry of political power although system wide hegemony has been rare or non-existent; 6) Long economic cycles of alternating, ascending phases and descending phases underlie economic growth of the world system. This approach addresses several disciplines or concerns and participates in longstanding controversies within and between them by exploring the connections of our thesis with historiography, civilizationism, archaeology, classicism in ancient history, medievalism, modern history, economic history, macro historical sociology, political geography, international relations, development studies, ecology, anthropology, race, ethnic and gender relations, etc. Therefore our thesis also has some important philosophical, social scientific, and political implications.


Our main theoretical categories are:

1. The world system.
Per contra Wallerstein (1974), we believe that the existence and development of the same world system in which we live stretches back five thousand years or more (Frank 1990a, 1991a,b; Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992; Frank and Gills 1992 and especially Frank and Gills 1993). According to Wallerstein and unlike our World System (without a hyphen), World-Systems (with a hyphen and sometimes plural) are in a "world" of their own, which need not be even nearly worldwide. Of course however, the "new world" in the "Americas" was home to some world-systems of its own before its incorporation into our (pre-existing) world system after 1492. However, these American ones never became dominant in the world, as did the Afro-Eurasian one that is therefore the subject of our attention. Braudel and Wallerstein stress the difference between world economy/system (without a hyphen) and world-economy/system (with a hyphen). "The world economy is an expression applied to the whole world.... A world-economy only concerns a fragment of the world, an economically autonomous section" (Braudel 1982:20-21). A similar "difference a hyphen makes" is stressed by Wallerstein (1991, 1993). "Immanuel Wallerstein tells us that he arrived at the theory of the world-economy while looking for the largest units of measurement which would still be coherent" (Braudel 1982:70). In our view, which is shared by Wilkinson, this unit has long been much larger and older than the European centered "world-economy/system" of Braudel and Wallerstein. Wilkinson (1987, 1993) emphasizes political coherence. Therefore, he sees "Central Civilization" as only starting in 1500 BC and spreading out much slower than the economic connections that Wilkinson recognizes as being much earlier and more far-flung. We use the latter as a major criterion for the identification of the world system since at least 3000 BC and, compared to Wilkinson, also see its spread throughout Afro-Eurasia as having been more rapid (Frank and Gills 1993, Frank 1993). For that reason, Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991) usefully suggest that we should refer to a "Central World System."

The distinction between various ancient world-systems, and the one "Central World System," is important. Thus for instance, Algaze (n.d.) refers to two different Bronze Age "world-systems" in what is now West Asia/the Middle East. Instead, Gills and Frank like Wilkinson insist that we can identify one single world system there already in the Bronze Age. We only differ with Wilkinson in that he dates its origin in 1500 BC and we date it from well over a millennium earlier. Moreover, all three argue that there has been an unbroken historical continuity between the Central Civilization/World System from the Bronze Age to our contemporary "Modern Capitalist World-System."

A criterion of systemic participation in a single world system is that no part of this system would be as it is or was if other parts were not as they are or were. The inter-action from one part of the system to another may be only indirectly chain-linked. A weaker systemic link would be that the various parts might also have reacted to, and on, the same global ecological constraints. That system criterion was already proposed in Frank (1990) and in Gills and Frank (1990/91). The latter went on to explicate that surplus extraction and accumulation are "shared" or "inter-penetrating" across otherwise discrete political boundaries. Thus, elites participate in each others' system of exploitation vis a vis the producing classes. This participation may be via economic exchange, political relations (e.g., tribute), or through combination of both. All of these relations characterize the millenarian relationship, for instance, between the peoples of China and Inner Asia. This inter-penetrating accumulation thus creates a causal inter-dependence between structures of accumulation and between political entities. Therefore the structure of each component entity of the world system is saliently affected by this inter-penetration.

Despite the above cited emphasis on "economic" trade connections to cement the world system, Gills and Frank (1990/91) also explicitly argued that world system connections were established and maintained through recurrent "political" conflict among "societies," a point emphasized by David Wilkinson (1987). The recognition of such conflict as a mark of participation in the same world system is important for the conflict has been over economic resources and control of trade routes. Furthermore, trade in metals and/or weapons could increase military capacity, and that in turn, can enhance control over sources of economic resources, including trade itself. Moreover, political conflict (and shifting alliances and war) has also been the expression of the alternation between hegemony and rivalry within the world system and/or its regional parts.

In summary, the following are criteria of participation in the same world system:

  1. extensive and persistent trade connections;
  2. persistent or recurrent political relations with particular regions or peoples, including especially center-periphery-hinterland relations, and hegemony/rivalry relations and processes; and
  3. sharing major (and minor) economic, political, and perhaps also cultural cycles.

The identification of the geographical extent of near-simultaneity of the up and down phases of these cycles may serve as another important operational definition of the (extent) of the world system. If distant parts of Afro-Eurasia experience economic expansions and then again economic contractions nearly simultaneously, that would seem to be important prima facie evidence that they participate in the same world system. Like Gills and Frank (1990/91, 1992), Edens and Kohl (1993) suggest that a major criterion of participation in a single world system is near simultaneity or synchronism of (cyclical?) expansion and contraction. This suggests the "action of an interrelated set of transregional social forces operative over vast regions of western Asia from the mid-3rd through the mid-2nd millennium BC.... The existence of an ancient world system is postulated by the largely synchronous processes of rise and collapse recorded throughout this area; it is difficult to deny that one here is witnessing historically connected processes ... (in) the world system" (Edens & Kohl n.d.:25, 61).

2. The World Economy
We propose that a world economy has been in existence for a long period of time. We may distinguish two related from this proposal. One refers to the existence and significance of production for exchange, through the market, followed with capital accumulation. The other is whether these economic relations comprised of a division of labor with specialization and trade coupled with competitive accumulation occurred on a large scale over long distance so as to link distant areas into a single "world" economy. Both propositions are controversial, but we believe that there is ample historical evidence to support these claims.

For evidence of the market/credit economy existing as far back as Assyria, see Mogens-Trolle Larsen (1967 and 1976); Adams (1974); Silver (1975); and Rowlands, Larsen, and Kristiansen (1987). In our definition of the world system above, regular exchange of surplus does affect the "internal" character of each of the parts of the world system as well. Some scholars, like Wallerstein (1993) for instance, reject our definition because they do not believe that "mere" trade makes a "system". We do. We not only believe that regular and significant trade provides sufficient ground for speaking of a "system" or of a real "world economy" (without the hyphen), but also that trade integrates "social formations" into something that should be called the "international division of labor", even in the ancient Eurasian world economy. This takes place because trade and production are not separated. The nature of trade directly affects the character of production, as the history of the early modern world system so clearly illustrates. These effects are a consequence of specialization if nothing else, and we contend that they are intimately related to the system of the regular transfer of surplus as well as to specialization. Wallerstein (1993) sets very specific criteria for the level of integration in his international division of labor that, for him at least, precludes considering the pre-1500 division of labor as being in the same formal category. We believe that he has again erected a false dichotomy, the aim of which is axiomatically to preserve the distinctiveness of the "capitalist" world-economy, which is an issue to which we return below.

A related question then is how extensive (and intensive) this division of labor and trade network was. By our above mentioned criteria, as early as the 3rd millennium BC, the world economy/system included Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Anatolia, Iran, the Indus Valley, Transcaucasia, and parts of Central Asia - all south of the East-West mountain ranges, which transverse much of Asia. However, the analysis of E.N. Chernykh also leads to the inclusion in this world system of the region North of the mountains involving "a whole chain from the Atlantic to the Pacific: the European, Eurasian, Caucasian and Central Asian provinces, along with others outside the USSR." (Chernykh 1993:302). He also suggests that "the world system itself has turned out to be far more extensive than appeared earlier" Chernykh (1993:304).

We find that this world economy/system was formed in the3rd millenium BC or earlier and that since then it has had a continuous, albeit cyclical, development that incorporated more and more areas of the globe, and which still proceeds today. Although luxury/preciosities did play a significant role in these ancient "external" trade and "internal" political relations - and therefore also must do so in our theory and analysis - it is that time there were also significant amounts of economically vital trade in bulky necessities: metals, timber, grain, animals and other raw materials and foodstuffs, and textiles and ceramics. For instance, southern Mesopotamia lacked metals and timber and was dependent on their import from Anatolia and the Levant, while it exported grains and textiles.

Capital Accumulation.
We regard the process of accumulation as the motor force of (world system) history. Wallerstein and others regard continuous capital accumulation as the differentia specifica of the "modern world-system." We have argued elsewhere that in this regard the "modern" world system is not so different and that this same process of capital accumulation has played a, if not the, central role in the world system for several millennia (Frank 1991b and Gills and Frank 1990/91). Amin (1991) and Wallerstein (1991a) disagree. They argue that previous world-systems were what Amin and Wolf (1982) call "tributary" or Wallerstein "world empires." In these, Amin claims that politics and ideology were in command, not the economic law of value in the accumulation of capital. Wallerstein seems to agree.

It is particularly important to clarify our controversial suggestion that "ceaseless accumulation," which according to Wallerstein is the differentia specifica of capitalism, is a feature of the world system throughout its development and is not unique to the modern period. Though there can be no real doubt that industrialization of production played a crucial role in bringing about a quantitative change in the rate of "ceaseless accumulation" in the modern period, in our view, this change is essentially a matter of degree. Indeed, Wallerstein himself says, that the difference between so-called "protocapitalism" and supposedly full-blown "capitalism" is really a matter of degree. This debate turns on the definition of "ceaseless," since Wallerstein also notes the existence and indeed even perhaps the prevalence of capital before the "modern" period. In our view, following Marx (up to a point), "ceaseless" accumulation implies that capital is constantly re-invested into the circuits of production in order to sustain capital accumulation. This ceaselessness is imperative, especially given the facts of competition. The historical evidence suggests to us (Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992) that capital accumulation has normally been "competitive" and has involved a continuous re-investment in the means of production, and indeed in a whole social and political ensemble of sectors, including infrastructure. This investment process is carried out both by private capital and by the state, which is of course essentially the case even today in most modern economies. Then, as now, states lived partly on a "rent" from this international commerce - through direct taxation on trade; partly from "profits" accumulated by their "national" merchants, manufacturers, and money-men; and partly from taxing the national product or income of the general population. Imperialism has provided an additional source of revenue to powerful states throughout history, which often takes the form of "tribute" proper, i.e., either extortion, or loot acquired through conquest. Indeed the logic of conquest often followed the logic of the trade routes and the sources of materials, and especially precious metal means of payment for them, which were central in that trade (Gills and Frank 1990/1991, also in Frank and Gills 1993).

There has been a fundamental misconception of the character of the "pre-modern" economy, particularly of Eurasia, based on the mistaken generalization of the "command economy" or as Anderson (1974) would have it, of the role of "coercion" and determination by the "political instance" rather than by "economics" (Gills1993, 1995). In our view, what Samir Amin (1991,1993) and Eric Wolf (1982) call the "tributary mode" is, more often than not, merely "taxation" by another name. The fact that all historical states have lived by some form of taxation is hardly a revelation to anyone. However, it is not necessarily incompatible with the idea, that more often than not, these pre-modern states co-existed with a vibrant commercial sector in the economy, primarily directed by private merchants and bankers and conducted on a vast international scale. The sheer volume of evidence from each "specialist" history of the various "parts" of Eurasia corroborates the contention of the "centrality" of this world economic commerce again and again (For the earlier period see for instance Adams 1974; Eckholm and Friedman 1982, 1993; Frank 1993, and for early modern times Abu-Lughod 1989.)

The center-periphery structure
This structure is familiar to analysts of dependence in the "modern" world system and especially in Latin America since 1492.It includes but is not limited to the transfer of surplus between zones of the world system. However, we now find that this analytical category is also applicable to the early periods of the world system. The structure of this world system does not conform to the "unipolar" model of center-periphery relations, common in most approaches using this concept. We see more "multipolar" center-periphery relations on a world scale. Therefore, the world system is not viewed as having always been composed of a single core and single periphery, but rather of an inter-linked set of center-periphery complexes (and also including "hinterland" as discussed in Gills and Frank 1990/91), joined together in an overall ensemble. Thus, the world system, first in Eurasia before 1500 and globally after 1500, has always been multicentric in structure (Gills 1994; Frank 1994). This includes even the period of supposed unipolar European or Western global hegemony in the modern world system. This approach to structuralist analysis allows greater flexibility, since distinct regional, imperial, or market mediated center-periphery complexes are accepted and yet are all seen as part of a single whole with systemic links to one another.

Yet this multicentricity does not mean "equality" among the various centers or between different center-periphery complexes in the world system. This multicentricity is hierarchically structured. There is a very complex "chain" of "metropole-satellite" relations of extraction and transfer of surplus throughout the whole world system, such as discussed in Frank (1967).

Hegemony is defined as a hierarchical structure of accumulation between classes and states, mediated by force (Gills 1987, 1989a, 1989b; Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992). In this sense, the center-periphery structure of the world system is simultaneously an economic hierarchy as well as a political hierarchy, as hegemony embodies both.

In a supposed alternation between hegemony and rivalry, regional hegemonies and rivalries succeed the previous period of hegemony. World system and international relations literature has recently produced many good analyses of alternation between hegemonic leadership and rivalry for hegemony in the world system since 1492, for instance by Wallerstein (1984), or since 1494 by Modelski (1987) and by Modelski and Thompson (1988). We find that hegemony and rivalry also mark world (system) history long before that (Gills and Frank 1992).

However just as the world economy/system never entirely "falls" but only changes, hegemonic ascent and descent are usually quite gradual and do not occur in a unipolar framework, but rather in a multipolar one. This world historical process "favours some at a particular time while discriminating against others, and so on through time" (Gills 1993:121). Indeed, it is integral to our structural theory of world development, though not unique to only our position of course, that areas that were once "peripheral" may ascend to hegemonic or core status, while areas that have once been core may descend into the periphery. We particularly emphasize how economic rhythms common to the entire world economy/system, such as long cycles of expansion and contraction, affect the relative position of all of the "parts" of the system (Gills and Frank 1992). The schema of the structure of the world system should perhaps be akin to a "truncated pyramid," at the "apex" of which there is not usually one sole hegemonic center of political power and capital accumulation, but rather several co-existing and inter-active centers. Thus, if one descends from this truncated apex, there is not necessarily a vacuum to be automatically filled by an entirely new ascending center.

Our position is distinguished by the argument that these ascents and declines occur within the same world economy/system. Therefore, we also have serious reservations about received theories of hegemony, such as Modelski-Thompson's "political" leadership or Wallerstein's "economic" hegemony. Our reservations rest principally on two bases: the extent of the world system and the essence of hegemony within it. To begin with, the claims that Portugal, the Netherlands, England and the United States have successively been hegemonic is based on their hegemony in an essentially European/western based and centered "world-system." If we recognize that in the 16th to 18th centuries the world economy/system was much larger than the "European world-economy/system," then the claim to hegemony of little Venice, Portugal and the Netherlands within the whole Afro-Eurasian and American world economy immediately becomes doubtful. All of these economies and their participation in the world were too small in scale to exercise any kind of "hegemony" in the world economy/system. Moreover, they certainly were not the centers of world economic accumulation. By comparison and instead, Ming/Qing China and Moghul India, as well as Ottoman Turkey and perhaps Safavid Persia political(ly)/ economic(ally) far outranked any of the individual West European economies and states, and probably all the European ones added together.

Furthermore, we have previously argued that "hegemony" is a feature of the world economy/system itself, more than of any of its parts, and that it should be defined and measured primarily by the centralization of world economic accumulation in a particular part of the world system (Gills and Frank 1991, also in Frank and Gills 1993). By that criterion also, the small European city-state and even national economies were in no sense hegemonic. On the contrary, their very economic success was entirely derived from their subsidiary participation in an Asian based world economy in which, as we have seen, accumulation was centralized in India and China. Indeed, the Europeans were able to participate in this world economy at all only by "virtue" of the golden and silver means of payment that they plundered from the Americas, a substantial portion of which they trans-shipped to the economies of West, South and East Asia, where the real accumulation took place on the basis of their respective manufacturing superiority and competitiveness.

Therefore we are led to conclude that not only throughout world system history but even during the modern period, world economic/systemic hegemony is:

  1. rare if not non-existent;
  2. incomplete and transitory; and
  3. that hegemony tends itself to generate the conditions and competition, which soon undermine one hegemony and replace it with rivalry and an alternative hegemony.

The norm of the situation that we have called "inter-linked hegemonies" (Gills and Frank 1992; Gills 1993; Gills 1994; Frank 1994).

This is how one arrives at the formulation that global or world hegemony is always shared hegemony, exercised through a complex network composed of class coalitions, alliances and other forms of association between states, including competitive ones (Gills 1993:120). Furthermore, the world system is characterized by a number of coexisting core powers (or inter-linked hegemonic powers) that become increasingly integrated via both conflictual and cooperative relations (Gills 1993:120).

Long (and Short) Economic Cycles
We have already noted the apparent existence of alternating ascending (sometimes denominated "A") phases of economic and political expansion and descending (sometimes denominated "B") phases of political economic crises. In the real world historical process and in its analysis by students of the "modern" world system, these long cycles are also associated with each of the previous categories. That is, an important characteristic of the "modern" world system is that the process of capital accumulation, center-periphery position, world system hegemony and rivalry are all cyclical and occur in tandem with each other. We now find that this same world system cycle and its features also extend back many centuries before 1492.

We now believe that we can identify a cyclical pattern of long ascending (A) and descending (B) phases in the same world system back at least through the Bronze Age 3rd millennium BC. We have already noted that a most revealing operational criterion of the extent of the world system is the participation or not in the approximate 500 year long economic cycle and the inter-regional near-synchronization of its approximate 250 year long A and B phases. Of course, as we will observe below, world economic synchronization of shorter cycles and their phases, and particularly crises, are even more revealing.

Our suggested dating of the up (A) and down (B) phases are for the entire Bronze Age world system is BC: A: 3000-28/2700, B: 2700-26/2500, A: 2600-2400, B: 24/2300-2000, A: 2000-18/1750, B: 18/1750-16/1500, A: 16/1500-1200, B: 1200-1000, which was the Bronze "Dark Age" Crisis (Frank 1993). Tentative Iron Age dates are: A: 1000-800?, B: 800-550?, A: 600/550-450/400?, B: 450-350?, A: 350-250/200?, B: 250/200-100/50, A: 200/100, BC - 200 AD. B: 150\200 - 500 AD, A: 500 - 750\800 AD, B: 750\800 - 1000\1050 AD, A: 1000\1050 -1250\1300 AD, B: 1250\1300 - 1450 AD, A: 1450-1600 AD.

The dating of periods during the Bronze Age 1st millennium BC by Andrew and Susan Sherratt (1991) coincided almost exactly with our dating of the up and down phases. Kristian Kristiansen's (1992, 1999) also has a similar dating of expansions and contractions in Europe during the 1st millennium BC, as does Klav Randsborg (1991) for the 1st millennium AD. Chase-Dunn and Willard's (1993) analysis, again using Chandler's data, of city-size growth and decline lend less corroboration to our precise datings; but as already observed, they do confirm the simultaneity of cycle phases between East and West Asia since mid-first millennium BC.

Of course, we should not expect to find complete synchronization nor simultaneity of A and B phases across the entire world system, and still less in its Bronze Age beginnings. It seems enough to be able to demonstrate or even suggest "substantial" synchronization of economic expansion or contraction over very wide areas, which are usually considered to be quite independent of each other. Moreover, other world systemic cyclical characteristics complicate the pattern.

Expansions and contractions seem to begin in one part of the world system, usually in its center core, and then to diffuse to other parts, including core competitors and periphery. Dales (1976) observed and Frank (1993) pursued an apparent eastward displacement of cycle phases through West, Central and South Asia in the 3rd millenium BC. Today, cyclical expansion, and especially contraction, begins in the United States and spreads out from there. Therefore, cyclical decline also tends to spell the relative or even absolute decline of the principal core power.

This decline - crisis involves danger and opportunity. It offers opportunities to some rivals, or often even to some peripheral part of the system. Some of them advance both absolutely and relatively, perhaps to even replace the previous central core. Today, we witness this process in Japan and the East Asian NICs relative to the United States. Another related major concern is the "shorter" more or less 50 year long "Kondratieff" type cycles, and how they fit into our long/er cycle, if at all. How far back these Kondratieff cycles go is still in dispute. Kondratieff, and most researchers who have followed him and Schumpeter (1939), studied, these cycles only from an A phase beginning in 1790. Frank (1978) and Goldstein (1989), also identified K cycles back into the 17th century, and Modelski and Thompson (1993) have now identified 19 "K waves" beginning in 930 AD. But can any of these cycles be said to have been world economy/system wide? Modelski and Thompson have said so. We certainly do not and would have to find evidence for K waves that include large parts of the still dominant Asia.

However, Modelski and Thompson also recognize that these shorter "long" cycles probably nested in still longer "long" political economic cycles, which (same or different ones?) we trace back to 3,000 BC. Of course, these much longer "long" cycles may also contain other shorter cycles, including perhaps cycles of Kondratieff type duration. Indeed, C.J. Going (1992) has argued that it is possible to identify "Kondratieff type" long cycles in Roman times. Mark Metzler (1994) claims to find them in Japan and maybe in China.

IMPLICATIONS FOR AND APPLICATION TO RECENT Thus, long before the birth of the putative "European world-economy" and still long after its advent, the real world economy had a far-flung division of labor and intricate trade system, which was preponderantly Asian. This also means of course that, as Abu-Lughod (1989) persuasively argues, the city-centered inter-linked regions of Asia were dominant in the world economy before European hegemony. However, this Asian dominance was not limited to her "13th century world system." It also preceded and continued long after that in a world economy, which Europe did not significantly (re)join until then, and in which (Western)Europe did not achieve dominance or hegemony until the 19th century. (Instead, as Janet Abu-Lughod (1989:338) insists "of crucial importance is the fact that the fall of the east precedes the rise of the west." Even that is true only if we date the rise of the west only after the closing date of Braudel's book in 1800.) Moreover, it signifies that all these "world-economies" in the "West" and "East" were only parts of a single age old world economy/system, within which this change took place, like all else, only temporarily! In reality, during the period 1450-1750, sometimes regarded as the period of "primitive accumulation" leading to full capitalism, the world system was still very predominantly under Asian hegemonic influences. The Chinese Ming/Qing, Turkish Ottoman, Indian Moghul, and Persian Safavid empires were economically and politically very powerful and only waned vis a vis the Europeans toward the end of this period and thereafter. Therefore, if anything, the modern world economic system was under Asian hegemony, not European. Likewise, much of the real dynamism of the world economy and its primary centers of production and capital accumulation also still lay in Asia throughout this period, not in Europe.

The most important European impact was the injection of new supplies of American bullion -and thereby themselves - into the already well-established Eurasian economy (Blaut 1993; Frank1998). The Europeans did not in any sense "create" either the world economic system itself nor did they create "capitalism". What the injection of new liquidity into the world economy actually seems to have done was to make important, though also limited, changes in financial flows, trade and production patterns within the world economy, and to permit the Europeans to participate more actively in the same. They specialized in exploiting global differences in resources, production and prices to maximize their profits as middlemen, and where convenient they used military force and naval forts to enforce their own participation in this exchange. However, Europe itself was not a first rank power nor economic core region during these three centuries. The core regions, especially of industrial production, were in China and India. West Asia and Southeast Asia also remained economically more important than Europe. We will try to present estimates of GNP or something like that by major regions before 1800. Braudel uses estimates by Bairoch according to which the Asian economy was still five times larger than the European-American one in 1750.

The introduction of American silver (and to a lesser extent gold) and with it of Europeans into this Afro-Eurasian economy only increased and accelerated quantitative economic growth in another wise qualitatively ongoing system. The major producer/exporters of silver bullion were Latin America and Japan and of gold, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Both West and South/east Africa had been a, or the, major source of gold for centuries, but parts of Africa also exported slaves westward and eastward. The other regions were importers of precious metals and copper for their own monetary, coinage, and hoarding use - or for re-export to cover their own b/t deficits.

The major importer and re-exporter of both silver and gold bullion was Western and southern Europe, to cover its own perpetual massive structural b/t deficit with all other regions, except (perhaps) with the Americas and Africa, although the Europeans received African and especially American bullion without giving much in return.

India had a massive b/t surplus with Europe and some with West Asia, based mostly on its more efficient low-cost cotton textile production and export. These went westwards to Africa, West Asia, Europe, and from there on across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Americas. In return, India received massive amounts of silver and some gold from the West, directly around the Cape or via West Asia. India also exported cotton textiles to and imported spices from Southeast Asia, and also via the same exchanged cotton textiles for silk and porcelain and other ceramics from China.

China had a b/t surplus with everybody (was a "super-accumulator"?), based on its unrivalled manufacturing production and export of silks and porcelain and other ceramics. Therefore, China, which like India had a perpetual silver shortage, was the major net importer of silver and met much of its need for coinage out of imports of American silver which arrived via Europe, West Asia, India, Southeast Asia and with the Manilla galleons directly from Acapulco. China also received massive amounts of silver and copper from Japan and some through the overland caravan trade across Central Asia.

The complexity of the international division of labor and the network of world trade was of course vastly greater than this simplified summary. However, even this mere summary statement should suffice to indicate that and how all of these world regions were integral parts of a single world economic system between about 1400 and 1800 AD.

Continuing the above argument, the changes in the world economic system after the injections of American (and Japanese) bullion were not simply due to Europe, nor were they primarily a diffusion of changes occurring within Europe. Instead, the injection of American bullion (overwhelmingly silver) provided new liquidity and credit formation that facilitated an important, perhaps dramatic, increase in world wide production, which rose to meet the new monetary demand. This "pull" factor therefore encouraged further industrial success and development in China, India, Southeast Asia, and West Asia (including Persia). Even so, the Europeans were able to sell very few manufactures to the East, and instead profited substantially from inserting themselves into the "country trade" within the Asian economy itself.


In summary and comparison with some of our colleagues, we find that the principal systemic features of the "modern world system" can also be identified earlier than 1500. Wallerstein (1974,1984, 1989a,b, 1991a), Modelski (1987), and Amin (1991) argue that the differentia specifica of our world system are new since1500 and essentially different from previous times and places. However, Modelski (1991) includes some leadership before 1500 in his analysis, and Modelski and Thompson (1993) now trace 18 Kondratieff cycles back to 930 AD. Christopher Chase-Dunn (1986) and others find parallels in "other" and prior world systems. Wilkinson (1989) discovers at least some of these features also in his "Central Civilization" and elsewhere. However, he sees historical continuity, but no world system. Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a "thirteenth century world system," but she regards it as different from the world system since 1500 or before 1250. Moreover, she is not so interested in comparing systemic features or characteristics. We combine all of the above into an analysis, or at least an identification, of the principal features of this world system over several thousand years of its history and development (Frank 1990a, 1991a,b; Gills and Frank 1990/91,1992).

The debate between 500 and 5,000 years of world system history is really about how to write a world (system) history. This debate is primarily about continuity versus discontinuity in world history. There are two main positions in this debate. One position is that political/ideological determination of the mode of production or social formation in world history before about 1500 AD, and of ceaseless capital accumulation and economic determination (through the "law of value") at least in the modern capitalist world-system thereafter, makes for a sharp break or discontinuity between the pre-1500 and post-1500 periods. This first position is dominant among most historians and other students of world history; and among world-system theorists it is shared by Wallerstein and his followers, including Amin, who at least therein represent the probably nearly universally accepted received wisdom on this matter. The real debate/disagreement revolves around the question of what structures constitute a "system" or a "world(-)system" in particular. We contend that a hierarchy of center-periphery (and hinterland) complexes within the world system, in which surplus is being transferred between zones of the hierarchy, necessarily implies the existence of some form of an "international " (though this is not the best term) division of labor. In our view, Amin and Wallerstein continue in the footsteps of Polanyi and Finleyand underestimate the importance of capital accumulation via trade and the market in the ancient world system. Therefore, Amin and Wallerstein do not see participation in the system the same way we do and look for the "incorporation" of peoples and their societies and economies into the world-system long after we see them as having long since been part and parcel of the historical development of the world system.

The other position is that capital accumulation did not begin or become "ceaseless" only after 1500 AD, but has been the motor force of the historical process throughout world system history. Therefore, there was no such sharp break between different "world-systems" or even "modes of production" around 1500. Thus we believe that the modes of production are not the key to understanding the "transitions" in the history of world development (Frank 1991; Frank and Gills 1993). Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) are also critical of these mode-of-production categories, yet they still maintain that 1500 represents a sharp break with the past. We believe that the continuity and developmental dynamic of the world system as a whole is far more important. Furthermore, real "transitions" seem to be more a consequence of larger competitive patterns in the world system than of changes in modes of production. Above all, real transitions seem to be a matter of the role and position a particular entity fills in the world accumulation process.

From this perspective, "hegemonic transitions" have occurred throughout world history and entail not only a shift in the locus of the "concentration" of capital accumulation, but necessarily entail profound changes in social, political, economic, cultural, and ideological aspects of the world system. These phenomena should be analyzed together, as aspects of one overall historical process of change. In this sense, the concept of the "hegemonic transition" could not only be an alternative to that of "modes of production" analysis, but could become a central concept of the analysis of all world history (Gills 1993).

All of the world system/s approaches have some commonalities, differences, limitations, and offer possibilities for mutual cooperation and extension. We shall concentrate below on some of the limitations of our own approach and how they may be overcome in cooperation with our colleagues, in particular Wilkinson, Chase-Dunn and Hall, and Modelski and Thompson, and their respective approaches.

We are gratified that our continuous 5000 year world system scheme of things is gaining increasing acceptance from Wilkinson (1993), that Modelski and Thompson are pushing their own empirical work backwards beyond the 1500 AD -their previous 1494 - divide, so far to 930 AD, and that Chase-Dunn and Hall (1994a, b) are moving in our direction -- and we in theirs! They (1994b:22) refer to "the general idea of a single AfroEurasian world-system with nearly synchronous phases of growth and decline. They ask whether that is correct; answer that they hesitate to so conclude; but end up with "what are the alternatives"? The only one they offer is that an East Asian world-system may have developed independently of the West Asian one, but that interaction between them - and of both of them on Central Asia - created a dynamic which then affected both simultaneously -- at least since the middle of the 1st millennium BC. Frank (1991), however looked into the "Centrality of Central Asia" in this very world system structure and process. Chase-Dunn and Hall agree that climatic changes need further study in this connection. Chase-Dunn and Hall suggest that our 5000 year world system perspective can also "be used to tease out the real structural and processual differences as well as the similarities across time and across different systems.

As Chase-Dunn and Hall (1994a:258) observe, all of these and other world system approaches "share an emphasis on the interaction of societies as a major source of social change...within societies." In so doing, they also call into question thievery concept and identification of a "society." What distinguishes one "society" from another and where does one stop and the other begin? Another commonality, which is however less common and less extensive, is that these scholars and we increasingly try to extend our studies of the world system and its origins farther and farther back through history and pre-history. Of course, this procedure also conjures up the question of how alike or different the early world system was from the modern and contemporary one. The "continuationists," like Wilkinson and ourselves and apparently increasingly Chase-Dunn and Hall (who like we, eschew modes of production and prefer modes of accumulation) and Modelski and Thompson, emphasize the commonalities; and the "transformationsists," especially Wallerstein and Amin, focus on, or only see, the differences, and especially the "mode of production." Yet what both lack most is a systematic theory of social or historical evolution. In our case, if as Gills put it, it is the same system but it is not the same, then what has made the same system change to become different? We do not have many answers to that question, except the very general - albeit we think important - one that the unequal social (including center-periphery) structure and uneven temporal(cyclical) process of the world system themselves generate change within it and thus its transformation. These days it is increasingly fashionable at least among the more materially --but not for that reason necessarily wrongly --inclined to look at ecology, demography and technology as major factors in the generation of the social/historical "evolutionary" dynamic. Our own work has, however, given these factors too short schrift; and we could benefit from technological propositions of others, including Chase-Dunn and Hall (1994a) and ecological ones, including those of Chew (1994), and demographic ones, including Goldstone (1991).

Chase-Dunn and Hall (1994b:6) also observe that "all world-systems pulsate in the sense that the spatial scale of integration, especially by trade, gets larger and then smaller again" and that "all systems experience the rise and fall of hierarchies" (Chase Dunn and Hall 1994a:272). We agree and have found large regions which seem to "drop out" of the world system for long periods of time (India apparently from nearly 1900 to900 BC and Western Europe significantly from 500 to 1000 AD), in that we do not find evidence of their continued participation in especially the system's cyclical up-swings. However, if a region or a people was an integral part of the world system and was marginalized during a major world economic/political crisis as the two above mentioned ones were, then we should not regard that region as being not a part of the world system during the time when it is not or less active within it; for paradoxically it was the very participation in the world system that generated the non- or reduced-participation. This is a process that we can easily observe happening before our eyes in many parts of the world, and particularly Africa, today. Therefore also, the extent of the world system cannot be interpreted in terms of the amount or degree of interaction within it at any one particular time; since the cyclical rhythm or pulsation of the system itself generates greater or lesser scales of integration, especially by trade. A related issue is that of "internal" vs. "external" influence, causation, or determination. Weberians and Marxists privilege "internal" ones. As observed above, world system theory also stresses influences that are "external" to the particular "society" or "economy" in question; except, of course, that they are internal to the world system, which is of course why we regard the world system so important.

However, world systemic influences and effects may also be more important at some (world system) times than at others: Expansive cyclical A phases in the world economy/system, like the rising tide, can raise all, or at least most individual "societal" political economic boats, as it also strengthens and increases the economic relations among them. The onset of a receding tide B phase crisis also affects all or most boats. However, one of the effects of a B phase is the breakdown of these closer economic relations and a turning-inward-on-itself involution of some or even many "societal" and political parts of the world economy/system, which makes "internal" processes then seem more preponderant, as in "feudal" society. In particular, domestic political processes can become more "determinant" in periods of political economic crisis. If a region or people/s is substantially marginalized from the world system, as in the above-mentioned cases of India and Western Europe, their "internal" political processes would seem, a forteriori, to be absolutely and relatively even more preponderant. The falling economic tide or shrinking pie also tends to generate fiercer political disputes.

This understanding of world system cyclical expansion and "contraction" as well as commonalities/differences could also help bridge the differences between our larger (central) world system and Wilkinson's smaller Central Civilization, while at the same time allowing us to benefit from his detailed recording and analysis of the rise and decline of polities within the same. Wilkinson (1987, 1993:241, 240, 235) concurs in the importance of Central Asia, finds that "civilizations follow oikumenes and 'the flag follows trade' and not the reverse". He also stresses that no endogenous crisis has ever made the central world economy itself collapse, and regards our apparent differences as "not in principle irresolvable.". In the meantime, we try to abide by the archeologists' maxim that the absence of evidence is no evidence of absence!

Thus, one further avenue of research, following with David Wilkinson and others, is to clarify how, when, and why each region of Eurasia became integrated into the Eurasian world economy/system. In addition, it is necessary to investigate cases where there may have been "secessions" or "drop outs" from the world system. There is also the even more complex subject of refining the "calibration" of the overall world systemic cycles across all of the regions. The clearest working hypothesis seems to be that world systemic cycles are probably more "sequential" than "simultaneous", though there is also a causal link in the sequentialization. For instance, following Dales (1976), Frank found a sequential eastward shift through West and South Asia of the bronze age world system cycle in the third millenium BC. In this regard, we should clarify the "unevenness" even of crisis periods, i.e., that even in a general world economic crisis not all core areas are equally affected, nor all peripheral areas.

Most importantly, the world system approach must be extended by research into the causality of the cycles, both the economic and the hegemonic, and their mutual relations. In this regard and even if they may not be causative, the intervention of climatic, ecological, and demographic change, and their relations with each other and in turn with social structural ones have received far less attention than they surely merit. This problematique also invites further research into how local conditions interact with systemic level impulses and stimuli. Specifically, there should also be further research into how local responses affect ascent and decline in the "inter-linked hegemonies" hierarchy. Gills' working hypothesis is that "mercantilist" types of "policy" normally accompany a bid for ascent and that "openness" often accompanies already established core/hegemonic status. This hypothesis is general and intended to refer to the entire development of the world economy/system, and not merely to the modern period, where such a general hypothesis is fairly well supported and widely held by colleagues in the field.

Modelski and Thompson's (1993) temporal and spatial expansion of their empirically grounded cyclical and theoretically sophisticated purview overlaps with ours in several respects and offers opportunities for mutual enrichment and cooperation -- as well as criticism. They now also refer to 5,000 years of world history, but refer only to stages of its "evolution" before 1000AD and do not carry their cyclical analysis farther back. We do, and perhaps they could join us, or use some of our findings in their own work, and then let us benefit from their sophistication to improve our own work. They already offer an analysis of Kondratieff cycles centering in China and the Mongol Empire from930 to 1350 AD and from then in Egypt and Venice until 1500.

Despite our welcome to the spatially widened and temporally deepened scope of Modelski and Thompson's work, we also have some serious reservations, which are grounded in our perception of both theoretical contradictions and corresponding empirical limitations in their work so far. The essential theoretical contradiction is that they now intend and claim to analyze the world system/economy, but in fact do not, but remain essentially Eurocentric! Their very own words as well as their procedure betray their basic working assumptions. We could grant them that the "lead economies are the sparkplugs of the world economy" (p.100 emphasis in original) and that, as McNeill (1982) already claimed, the lead economy in the 11th and 12th centuries was in China. But in that case, when begins "the history of European expansion as the core of the world economy" (p. 102)? In their schema, the shift occurs already in the 5th Kondratieff beginning in 1190, which they see as centered on the Champagne fairs, the 6th on Black Sea trade, the 7th on Venice after 1300,from 1350 on the pepper trade, from 1430 on Guinea gold, from1494 on Indian spices, 1540 the Baltic and Atlantic trade, and1580 Asian trade (Tables 6.1 and 8.3). However, although the Black Sea, Guinea, India and Asia may sound not quite European, it is clear that crucial for Modelski and Thompson is only European trade in these regions. "The principal structural change experienced by the global economy in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries was the construction of an oceanic trading system...(and) innovations in long-distance trade after 1500 ...centered around the pioneering of new trading routes ... (in) new phases of European imperialism" (pp. 101,104). Yes, indeed -- for Europe, but only for Europe and its new American colonies! For Asians, as we noted above, these same trade routes were age old. It is empirically quite incorrect, and only a Eurocentric perspective, to claim that an oceanic trading system was constructed - much less that it represented any principal structural change - only from the 15th to 18th centuries, just as it is incorrect to claim that "Indian textiles became important about the same time as American plantation crops"(p.117). Perhaps they did so for Europeans, but in Asia the importance of its own textile production and trade was much earlier, as even Palat and Wallerstein (19xx) recognize, and remained much greater in the world economy. The same goes for the relatively much less significant "Portugal's innovative economic activities... West African gold and Asian pepper imports" (p.108) -- into Europe, but not on the scale of the (Asian based)world economy/system. So just how, and through what cause or at least mechanism, does the Modelski-Thompson center of gravity in the world economy shift from Sung China westward allegedly all the way over to little (one million population) Portugal, by-passing virtually everything and everybody in between? How was this possible? Simply in that another place gets a new technology, and that's it -- not to mention what that new Portuguese and then Dutch technology was? We need more explanation of this crucial process of transition, if it took place at all, which we deny.

Modelski and Thompson's analysis of innovation and leadership is also not unequivocal. Their definition of "leading sector" seems inconsistent. Sometimes it seems to be essentially a "most profitable" sector, e.g., gold, while at other times and places it was the "most innovative" sector, e.g., a new industry or technology, Yet the authors seem to use these interchangeably. Sugar was surely one of the most profitable "sectors" but not necessarily the most "innovative technology." Moreover, the Modelski-Thompson identification of innovation and leadership is compromised by their Eurocentric near-sightedness. However, this is not a "mere fact," but rather a strictly Eurocentric assumption. Where is the evidence for such a shift? Even Modelski and Thompson contradict this claim when they observe correctly that Genovese wealth and power was derived from plugging into the Asian trade at the Black Sea thanks to Pax Mongolica (pp. 238, 248) and that "for another two-three centuries, until and including the time of Columbus ... the Chinese market still served as the magnet for world trade" (p. 217). We observed above this remained true in global world economic/system terms and through to the end of the 18th century. The Indian textile and the Chinese ceramics industries and their technological sophistication, as well as their respective imperial polities, and world economic accumulation remained far more important than anything in Genoa and Venice, Portugal and Spain, or later even in the Netherlands and Britain. Their "leadership" in Modelski-Thompson terms or "hegemony" in Wallerstein terms were limited to the European "world-economy/system" and by no means extended to the whole world economy/system. So this Eurocentric limitation of the Modelski-Thompson perspective also casts a long shadow of doubt on the validity and usefulness of their otherwise so fruitful analysis of the shifting loci of economic innovation and political leadership in the world economy/system. We invite Modelski and Thompson to continue bringing their analytic sophistication and empirical knowledge to bear on economic and political cycles in the whole real system/system, and to carry it back as far as the historical evidence permits, perhaps well beyond the 1000 AD date that they now view as the beginning of the "global economy process" -- and we would be honoured and delighted to be permitted to join them in such a common enterprise.

Chase-Dunn and Hall valiantly come out for comparative analysis, which is exactly why they insist on studying world-systems. Indeed, they are so anxious to do comparative work that they categorize not only all or parts of Eurasia, but also the Wente Indians in California or "indigenous" Hawaii as "world-systems." We agree that the more comparison we can manage, the better; but we prefer to use the term "world system" without a hyphen and to reserve it for as much of Afro-Eurasia and later the "New World" as can legitimately be viewed as sufficiently interconnected to have been parts of a single world system.

Supposedly, Chase Dunn and Hall are "splitters", whereas we are "lumpers", to use their own preferred language on this matter. The point of being a splitter, a la Chase-Dunn and Hall's project, is precisely to undertake comparative analysis, where the units of analysis being compared are "world-systems," including even the putative "mini-systems." This worthy and potentially fruitful project could generate useful abstractions about similar (and different) large-scale, long-term processes of social change and especially about the transformational logic in world system evolution, particularly if the comparisons were among long-lasting large-scale historical world systems, e.g. in Mesoamerica, the Andes, and Afro Eurasia. That is where there is much room for collaboration - and comparison - with Wilkinson and us. However, the Chase-Dunn and Hall, like Marx and still Wolf and Amin, reliance on the concept of a "tributary mode of production" or even of accumulation makes any such structural, let alone transformational, comparisons problematic, especially if the same "mode" was supposed to have been qualitatively unchanged all around the world for over four thousand years. Moreover, their further insistence to compare these large world-systems with mini-systems like the Wintu and Hawaii strikes us as comparing more disparate entities than apples and oranges, which are at least fruits of comparable size.

We see three further possible problems or dangers:1. the vast amount of historical data that must first be gathered and analyzed before meaningful comparisons become possible; 2.therefore, the temptation to simplify the processes too much, particularly if this takes the form of some kind of economic reductionism; 3.There is the danger in the Chase-Dunn and Hall model to emphasize evolutionism too much to the detriment of other types of change, e.g., conjunctural, retrogression, crisis, etc. In so doing,they also risk losing the parsimonious elegance and the comparative potential of their original project by going too far in the direction of "lumping" and away from their committment to "splitting" and comparing.

Of course, we welcome all useful comparisons promoted by Chase-Dunn and Hall (and indeed we do some ourselves) both within this"central" world system and between it or any part of it and otherplaces. We simply think that it is both unnecessary and undesireable to call these other (small) places other "worlds" or even regard them as "world-like."

McNeill has taken our approach as it was intended and has said that he feels he under-valued the importance of international commerce/trade. In McNeill's own words (from his Foreword to Frank and Gills (1993) ?), "across the past thirty years or so, my own view has been evolving away from 'civilization' and toward 'world system' as the best available framework for world history." However, he also suggests that the concept "communications nets" is preferable to both. McNeill (xii) concludes "thus I agree with the authors of this book (The World System) in thinking that the rise of specialised occupations producing goods for distant markets was a critical dimension of the deeper human past. Resulting alterations in every day lives were among the most persistent and effective paths of innovation in ancient times as well as more recently." However, McNeill amends our approach by adding that "markets and trade constituted only part of the communications network that crossed political, civilizational and linguistic boundaries." This, quite rightly, is the final area for further extension of our world system research agenda: i.e., to broaden the inquiry to really encompass the cultural and political patterns that form an integral part of the world systemic whole.


In summary, our world system approach is based on the rejection of three conventional dichotomies:(A) between the "pre-modern" and the "modern" economies or between the supposed "political determination" versus the (modern) "economic determination" of economies; (B) between the pre-modern and modern political cycles: i.e., between a pre-modern "cycle of empires" versus a uniquely modern cycle of (single) hegemonies; and (C) between a "pre-capitalist" world composed of several distinct world-economies and a unitary "capitalist" world system post 1500. We believe that such a humanocentric history of the world can form the intellectual basis for a new cosmopolitan praxis. Since we reject essentialist views on ethnicity and civilization, in favor of our structuralist approach to ever-changing political economic configurations, our humanocentrism speaks directly to the present era of conflicting nationalisms, localisms, religious identities, and "fragmentation." From our perspective humanity truly is one, having a true common heritage and sharing a common destiny. We do not propose to return us to the cause of universalism(s), and especially not of the Western-based universalism of "development" or "modernization," now being sold in the guise of the equation of "democracy" equals the "free market" (Gills, Rocamora and Wilson 1993; Frank 1993b). This modern universalism has been inextricably linked with imperialism, and perhaps all universalism must be so to some extent. Modern European colonialism and imperialism, it must be said, was not the first or only attempt to impose universal values.

However, one can and we believe we should propose a defense of cosmopolitanism - in the face of a growing chorus for particularism, methodological individualism, "fundamentalism" and emotive nationalism. A cosmopolitan praxis, based on a humanocentric understanding of the common historical development of humanity, could serve to re-channel the impulses of rebellion so prevalent in the present world crisis situation into a more positive direction. The present situation breeds the construction of new separate historical narratives and emphasizes separation, distance, and otherness. Such "historiography" if that is what it can be called, can have little other effect than encouraging conflict and mutual suspicion, even hatred and contempt. If humanity is to truly have a common future on this planet based on mutual trust, acceptance, and even cooperation, it is most imperative that the intellectual underpinnings of a new cosmopolitan praxis be established - and the sooner it is translated into practice the better. Neither "socialism" nor "capitalism" can flourish any longer in a world divided against itself. We must learn to accept our differences while recognizing our common history and working toward our common future. Those who have rejected our world system approach because they believed that it denied all practice in favor of some ahistorical view of unchanging world history have been totally mistaken. On the contrary, our perspective has been intended from the outset to re-think the fundamentals of both political economy and world history (and world development) precisely in order to try to find a broader and better basis for progressive, cosmopolitan praxis.

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Personal and Professional
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Research Interests
Publications Summary
Recent Publications
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999 On-line Essays

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