Volitional causation versus systemic analysis

Neither in his theory of economics nor in his theory of history did Marx make end results simply the carrying out of individual volition, even the volition of elites. As his collaborator Friedrich Engels put it, “what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed.” Economics is about the pattern that emerges. Historian Charles A. Beard could seek to explain the Constitution of the United States by the economic interests of those who wrote it but that volitional approach was not the approach used by Marx and Engels, despite how often Beard’s theory of history has been confused with the Marxian theory of history. Marx dismissed a similar theory in his own day as “facile anecdote-mongering and the attribution of all great events to petty and mean causes.”
The question here is not whether most intellectuals agree with systemic analysis, either in economics or elsewhere. Many have never even considered, much less confronted, that kind of analysis. Those who reason in terms of volitional causation see chaos from conflicting individual decisions as the alternative to central control of economic processes. John Dewey said, “comprehensive plans” are required “if the problem of social organization is to be met.” Otherwise, there will be “a continuation of a regime of accident, waste and distress.” To Dewey, “dependence upon intelligence” is an alternative to “drift and casual improvisation” – that is, chaos – and those who are “hostile to intentional social planning” are in favor of “atomistic individualism.”

Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society