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Forum Post: "Everyone but an Idiot Knows That the Lower Classes Must Be Kept Poor, or They Will Never Be Industrious"

Posted 1 year ago on April 19, 2012, 5:51 p.m. EST by LeoYo (4795)
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Recovered Economic History: "Everyone but an Idiot Knows That the Lower Classes Must Be Kept Poor, or They Will Never Be Industrious"

Thursday, 19 April 2012 09:22 By Yasha Levine, The eXiled | Analysis

“…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.”

—Arthur Young; 1771

Our popular economic wisdom says that capitalism equals freedom and free societies, right? Well, if you ever suspected that the logic is full of shit, then I’d recommend checking a book called The Invention of Capitalism, written by an economic historian named Michael Perelmen, who’s been exiled to Chico State, a redneck college in rural California, for his lack of freemarket friendliness. And Perelman has been putting his time in exile to damn good use, digging deep into the works and correspondence of Adam Smith and his contemporaries to write a history of the creation of capitalism that goes beyond superficial The Wealth of Nations fairy tale and straight to the source, allowing you to read the early capitalists, economists, philosophers, clergymen and statesmen in their own words. And it ain’t pretty.

One thing that the historical record makes obviously clear is that Adam Smith and his laissez-faire buddies were a bunch of closet-case statists, who needed brutal government policies to whip the English peasantry into a good capitalistic workforce willing to accept wage slavery.

Francis Hutcheson, from whom Adam Smith learned all about the virtue of natural liberty, wrote: ”it is the one great design of civil laws to strengthen by political sanctions the several laws of nature. … The populace needs to be taught, and engaged by laws, into the best methods of managing their own affairs and exercising mechanic art.”

Yep, despite what you might have learned, the transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly. See, English peasants didn’t want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in shitty, dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of landowning capitalists. And for good reason, too. Using Adam Smith’s own estimates of factory wages being paid at the time in Scotland, a factory-peasant would have to toil for more than three days to buy a pair of commercially produced shoes. Or they could make their own traditional brogues using their own leather in a matter of hours, and spend the rest of the time getting wasted on ale. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?

But in order for capitalism to work, capitalists needed a pool of cheap, surplus labor. So what to do? Call in the National Guard!

Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

“The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes Perelman. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘‘primitive accumulation.’’

Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

This pamphlet from the time captures the general attitude towards successful, self-sufficient peasant farmers:

The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the peasant. . . . In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days, are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting; the aversion in- creases by indulgence. And at length the sale of a half-fed calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness.

While another pamphleteer wrote:

Nor can I conceive a greater curse upon a body of people, than to be thrown upon a spot of land, where the productions for subsistence and food were, in great measure, spontaneous, and the climate required or admitted little care for raiment or covering.

John Bellers, a Quaker “philanthropist” and economic thinker saw independent peasants as a hindrance to his plan of forcing poor people into prison-factories, where they would live, work and produce a profit of 45% for aristocratic owners:

“Our Forests and great Commons (make the Poor that are upon them too much like the Indians) being a hindrance to Industry, and are Nurseries of Idleness and Insolence.”

Daniel Defoe, the novelist and trader, noted that in the Scottish Highlands “people were extremely well furnished with provisions. … venison exceedingly plentiful, and at all seasons, young or old, which they kill with their guns whenever they find it.’’

To Thomas Pennant, a botanist, this self-sufficiency was ruining a perfectly good peasant population:

“The manners of the native Highlanders may be expressed in these words: indolent to a high degree, unless roused to war, or any animating amusement.”

If having a full belly and productive land was the problem, then the solution to whipping these lazy bums into shape was obvious: kick ‘em off the land and let em starve.

Arthur Young, a popular writer and economic thinker respected by John Stuart Mill, wrote in 1771: “everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” Sir William Temple, a politician and Jonathan Swift’s boss, agreed, and suggested that food be taxed as much as possible to prevent the working class from a life of “sloth and debauchery.”

Temple also advocated putting four-year-old kids to work in the factories, writing ‘‘for by these means, we hope that the rising generation will be so habituated to constant employment that it would at length prove agreeable and entertaining to them.’’ Some thought that four was already too old. According to Perelmen, “John Locke, often seen as a philosopher of liberty, called for the commencement of work at the ripe age of three.” Child labor also excited Defoe, who was joyed at the prospect that “children after four or five years of age…could every one earn their own bread.’’ But that’s getting off topic…

Even David Hume, that great humanist, hailed poverty and hunger as positive experiences for the lower classes, and even blamed the “poverty” of France on its good weather and fertile soil:

“‘Tis always observed, in years of scarcity, if it be not extreme, that the poor labour more, and really live better.”

Reverend Joseph Townsend believed that restricting food was the way to go:

“[Direct] legal constraint [to labor] . . . is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise, . . . whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry, it calls forth the most powerful exertions. . . . Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjugation to the most brutish, the most obstinate, and the most perverse.”

Patrick Colquhoun, a merchant who set up England’s first private “preventative police“ force to prevent dock workers from supplementing their meager wages with stolen goods, provided what may be the most lucid explanation of how hunger and poverty correlate to productivity and wealth creation:

Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.

Colquhoun’s summary is so on the money, it has to be repeated. Because what was true for English peasants is still just as true for us:

“Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society…It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.” This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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[-] 3 points by epa1nter (4650) from Rutherford, NJ 1 year ago

Even Adam Smith was not quite as pro- Laissez Faire as the die-hard capitalists would have us believe.

In 1776, in The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote:

""The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something MORE than in that proportion."

[-] 2 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

Geroge Carlin: "The rich get all the money, pay no taxes. The middle class does all the work, and pays all the taxes. The poor are there to... scare the shit out of the middle class!....Keep em showin up at those jobs!"

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4795) 1 year ago

Hang on to That Paycheck! ALEC "Sharpens Focus on Jobs"

Thursday, 19 April 2012 14:35 By Mary Bottari, PR Watch | Report

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that it would disband its controversial "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" to "Sharpen its Focus on Jobs, Free Markets and Growth." The disbanding of the source of a few of its more extreme proposals on voter ID, "Stand Your Ground/Shoot to Kill," and AZ SB1070 will do little to clean up ALEC's reputation. Each of ALEC's nine task forces is a little shop of horrors of legislative proposals that only Milton Friedman could love.

Focus on jobs, you say? The Center for Media and Democracy's archive of over 800 ALEC "model bills" has exposed a jobs agenda that is nothing less than a ruthless race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.

ALEC's Race to the Bottom in Wages for American Workers

The "Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act" would repeal and then ban local "living wage" ordinances like the ones in some 140 cities that provide a higher minimum for city workers/contractors -- enough to maintain a safe, decent standard of living in a community. Similarly, the ALEC "Starting (Minimum) Wage Repeal Act" would preempt the ability of localities to pay a minimum wage higher than the federal level. Some 22 states allow starting wages, but ALEC objects to the policy as an "unfunded mandate."

The ALEC "Prevailing Wage Repeal Act" would get rid of all state prevailing wage laws that give workers engaged in public works contracts a regional, average salary in an attempt to prevent contractors from entering into a race to the bottom in worker wages to win contract bids.

Not satisfied by pulling down workers' wages in every imaginable domestic scenario, ALEC also supports a radical free trade agenda that pits U.S. workers against foreign workers making a fraction of their wage and facilitates the off-shoring of U.S. jobs. From China Free Trade in 2000 to Korea Free Trade today, ALEC has supported shipping jobs overseas.

Where is the bottom in ALEC's race to the bottom? Why, prison labor of course. ALEC promotes the privatization of prisons and prison industries that do not have to abide by minimum wage rules.

Perhaps in an oversight, the ALEC archive does not contain bills rolling back child labor laws.

Benefits and Working Conditions

There's more. ALEC wants to deter injured employees from making worker's compensation claims by, for example, giving employers wider access to workers' medical records. ALEC wants to privatize public pension plans by transferring the management of pension funds to for-profit Wall Street firms. What could go wrong?

And where to begin on the health care agenda? When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a law preempting a modest ordinance granting Milwaukee's restaurant workers a few paid sick days a year, a largely female work force earning poverty wages, ALEC eagerly took up the issue in its "Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee" at the ALEC 2011 meeting in New Orleans. The committee has been co-chaired by YUM! Brands, owners of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and other fast food chains.

Yum, who wants flu with their burger or taco? Today, YUM Brands was the 12th company to announce that it was pulling out of ALEC.

Crushing Unions

ALEC has a sweeping anti-union agenda that would cripple labor's ability to serve as an effective counterweight to corporate CEOs. Let's start with decades of support for "Right to Work" and "Paycheck Protection" legislation, and other measures to disempower and defund unions.

On collective bargaining, ALEC's "Public Employee Freedom Act" declares that "an employee should be able to contract on their own terms" and "mandatory collective bargaining laws violate this freedom." This ALEC bill and the "Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act" prohibit automatic payroll deductions for union dues, a key aspect of Walker's collective bargaining bill struck down by a federal court judge.

These bills are designed to financially cripple the most significant organized voice for working families. The co-chair of ALEC's "Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force" currently is State Farm Insurance. Other committee members include Macquarie Capital and Cintra USA. These foreign firms have rushed to purchase bridges, toll roads, and other public assets of financially stressed state and local governments so they can provide formerly public services on a for-profit basis. They have a lot to gain from ALEC's expansive agenda to privatize public services.

Apparently, ALEC and the corporations funding ALEC's operations like State Farm, Johnson and Johnson, and AT&T would like to turn back the clock to those good old days when there were no unions and no minimum wage. They must not be allowed to succeed.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by TheMisfit (48) 1 year ago

Our government seems to love people being poor. The Reps/neo-cons have low wage workers to help the top turn a higher profit and the Dems have a dependent class that will keep voting for Dems because they may get more scraps thrown their way. NAFTA, tariffs, exports-imports, burdensome regulations and a ridiculous minimum wage law all work against the people and serve to only help the ruling class in DC. Until the people wake up and see that they are being sold out by the very people who claim to have their best interests at heart, nothing will improve. We have the means to fix this every two years, but so many people are stuck in the rut of "left vs right" that they don't see the real struggle is between the keepers of the laws and those of us subject to them.

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

It's unfortunate that there was such little discussion on it here.

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

I was just trying to post this article but it appears you have beat me to it.