This is really very amusing indeed

Private owners of capital used the state to force peasants – who, in the 14th century, worked about a quarter of hours that the average person does now – to work 12 hour days in factories.

We\’re supposed to believe that a peasant working in a subsistence economy works 10 hours a week are we? Assuming a 40 hour working week now.

Or given the average working year in the UK of something like 1500 hours, a peasant worked 375 hours a year? 7 hours a week, not even one full day\’s labour?

No, I think we can call bullshit on that one, don\’t you?

 

95 comments on “This is really very amusing indeed

  1. I’m assuming Michael Perelman is intellectually honest.

    10 hours a week doesn’t sound that ridiculous to me, if all you had to do was maintain sufficient crops not to starve to death?

    Perhaps housework was not included, however.

    Anyway it doesn’t take away from the main point that they were forced into factories.

  2. And the major drawback of being a peasant has always been the starvation and complete absence of prospects of doing anything else.

    Does the writer of Unlearning Economics think the ex-peasants working 12 hour (+) days in China’s factories have been forced there by a capitalist-controlled state.

  3. 10 hours a week doesn’t sound that ridiculous to me, if all you had to do was maintain sufficient crops not to starve to death?

    I think you may be confusing the bondsman’s requirement to work on the lord’s land, with the actual amount of work required. Both the “rent” on the bondsman’s body and then to support himself and his family.

    Even modern farmers tend to a dawn to dusk existence. Admittedly, over more acres than were previously managed …

  4. Ten hours a week is not sufficient to maintain enough crops to prevent yourself starving to death, even averaged out over a year. It’s barely enough to keep an allotment going. “Perhaps housework was not included, however”. Housework in a peasant economy includes everything that isn’t being done on the land, a huge amount of work. I’ve mentioned a programme shown by the BBC a few years ago before, “Green Valley”, take a look at that if you don’t believe me.

  5. 1/ What does he mean by ‘the State’ in the 14thC?
    2/ 14thC peasants didn’t reckon time by hours – no clocks. I’m not aware of ‘factories’ either.
    3/ Medieval serfs owed ‘customary service’ – obligations stretching back beyond memory. ‘Private owners of capital’ only encountered problems when they tried to change these.
    4/ 10 hours a week? I’d like to know his source.

  6. @UnlearningEcon

    When you’ve spent a year at Laxton with medieval tools, I’ll be interested to see your timesheet.

  7. Re: China. There’s ‘forced’ and there’s ‘forced’. Literally walked into a factory at gunpoint is not something that has happened much. However, this is:

    http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2004/10/chinese-peasants-forced-to-give-up-land-to-government/

    Peasants had to be separated from their own means of production so they were unable to subsist without wages. This was done by taking their land, game laws, etc.

    The main source is Michael Perelman, which I link to in my post.

    In Medieval times being poor was not really considered much of a problem and people searched for other paths of enlightenment. Peasants certianly didn’t jump at the chance to work in factories – they had to be coerced somehow or simply given no other option.

    Compared to conditions during the industrial revolution, medieval peasantry was pretty pleasant.

  8. Claims like this have been around for years, at least since the 1960s. I had to learn to do the calculations for some exams once. Crop yields were around to 4 and 5 (still above subsistence farming) while modern yields are well into double figures, so it’s an even more extraordinary claim than appears at first sight.

    Nevertheless, you can make a reasonable case that medieval peasants worked less than modern workers. For a start, there were more than 80 religious holidays a year. While there are periods of intense activity in arable farming, like harvests, there’s also a lot of time when there’s not that much to do except a spot of weeding, and the kids can do most of that.

    You can also make the case that they got more for it. The average landholding for freemen in the 14th century was, I think, a half yardland, or 7 acres.

    What you can’t make a case for, I don’t think, is the idea they were forced into factories. The tendency is for people to look at the hours worked comparison and romanticise it. Being a peasant was crap. Not the Monty Python covered-in-shit thing, but crap nonetheless.

    So far as I know, there’s no reason to think movement to factories was anything but voluntary. Bad as early industrial conditions were, they were better than the contemporary rural conditions.

  9. does housework include activities such as fetching water and firewood, repairing fences, tools, buildings, hovels, making and repairing clothes, tending to draught animals etc?

  10. Well Mr Unlearned Econ, if you’d like to put your sweat & labour where your mouth is, got just the thing waiting for you. Few acres in the Alpuharras. Sunshine 9 months of the year so you could probably get 2 crops in. Plenty of agricultural water but no electric or treated water. Tough guy like you won’t be bothered about that, will he. No sewerage of course, but you’ll be needing your shit for fertiliser & by the sound of it you’ve got ample. Probably be able to sell the surplus to the guy on the next parcela.
    Pick you up from the airport?

  11. Peter thanks for your contribution,

    However, I completely disagree about the ‘being forced into factories’. Things like game laws and repossession of land are historical facts (as much as any history can be concrete, of course). In places like Darjeeling the EIC got natives to work under conditions that were hardly ‘voluntary’.

  12. Unlearningecon, you write

    “Peasants certianly didn’t jump at the chance to work in factories – they had to be coerced somehow or simply given no other option.”

    What do you mean by “simply given no other option”? They had another option, that of remaining peasants. It was not the most popular choice.
    Throughout history and worldwide peasants have jumped and continue to jump at the chance to move into factories. That’s why third world cities have grown so hugely. That’s why our own cites grew so hugely during the industrial revolution. That’s why in countries which require residence permits to live in the city, such permits are hugely sought after. Being a peasant is OK as a hobby but so awful as a life that even work in the factory looks good by comparison. At least you’re warm.

  13. Peter Risdon @9
    Think you may be confusing holidays with Holy Days, there. Work on monastery farms might have been affected by the requirements of attending masses but they’re unlikely to have been much observed by the ordinary folk. The big ones, Xmas, Easter, Ascension & the like, then much like it is here. Different localities get excited about different saints.

  14. If you’re talking about medieval England there weren’t any factories to be forced into but there were towns and people moved to them whenever they could, the same was true right up to the industrial revolution which only accelerated the process. The thing is though that hellish as conditions were in factories that didn’t last, there was slow improvement right throughout the nineteenth century and a quickening of the pace in the twentieth. If you’re a peasant in a peasant economy you’re stuck with it, it stays pretty much changeless for generations.
    Another thing has just occurred to me concerning the life of a medieval peasant, this was during one of the warmest periods since the end of the Ice Age, life was comparatively easy, that ended pretty abruptly with the Black Death and the onset of the Little Ice Age. It’s probably not sensible to take an untypical period as your yardstick.

  15. Ah, well, he’s attracting a bunch of fellow travellers (okay, ‘true believers’) over on his s(h)ite.

  16. ‘What do you mean by “simply given no other option”? They had another option, that of remaining peasants. It was not the most popular choice.’

    As I have detailed in my other posts here, there is evidence that land is taken from peasants and game laws are enforced so that they *cannot* subside. So they didn’t have the option of remaining peasants.

    The idea that peasants jump at the chance to work long days doing repetitive tasks under hierarchical conditions just doesn’t hold up when you look at the history of what has happened. British colonialism and the first multinational companies forced many peasants in India into the wage system, for example.

  17. Even assuming only 10hr of work in the fields (which I think is low balling the time required) that still excludes a lot of extra work.

    Buildings were poor quality needing regular maintenance.

    The only heat source was wood which has to be collected and dried, or purchased.

    Water would have to be collected

    Any tools, clothes,pots,plates etc would need made or purchased.

    If anything needed to be purchased then time is spent going to market to sell/buy goods.

    Even in winter when the fields are fallow I would expect someone on a subsistence lifestyle to be spending several hours a day just collecting firewood, making repairs, tending animals etc.

    Its not an exact comparison but the Amish work bloody hard. Minimum dawn till dusk 6 days a week.

  18. Guys:

    for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point about 1/4 of the hours. It still doesn’t change the fact that peasants were coerced into working in factories, suggesting that they preferred peasantry.

  19. The idea that peasants jump at the chance to work long days doing repetitive tasks under hierarchical conditions just doesn’t hold up when you look at the history of what has happened.

    That’s not what people are arguing, you ********. People go to work, in appalling conditions, for limited pay, under the spiked and driven boot-heels of the evil capitalist overlords in the “dark satanic mills” because being a peasant was so bloody awful. Whether you were a bondsman, a villein, a franklin or a freeman.

    Dawn to dusk grubbing in the regularly (but probably not the fault of the evil capitalist overlords because we hadn’t invented poisoning the environment to drive the peons to the cities, yet) unproductive land just to feed the family.

    Wilful ignorance isn’t attractive, even in a child.

  20. You’ll have to toughen up a bit if you’re going to comment here UE, it’s a bit rough and ready. If you are talking about colonialism, you didn’t appear to be in your original post, then you aren’t talking primarily about peasant life and it’s supposed advantages over industrial life, which is what this thread is about.

  21. I know my historical evidence conflicts with your fantasy idea of capitalism but there’s no need to be rude

    You have submitted no evidence, I’m not talking about capitalism and /facepalm simply isn’t effective over the internet. Rudeness, I’ll admit, isn’t necessary. On the other hand, it is pretty damn therapeutic.

  22. I have linked to evidence showing that:

    - Game laws were enforced to bring peasants below subsistence.

    - Land has been taken away from peasants in China to make room for factories.

    I have also linked to Michael Perelman’s book on the history of capitalism, which presents a hell of a lot of evidence of things like this.

    Thornavis:

    Colonialism is linked to capitalism through the East Indian Companies, wouldn’t you agree? My point was that they used similar tactics in India to the ones they used in the UK and are using in China.

  23. Well I’m going to confine my comments to the English experience and the peasantry really weren’t coerced into the factories this is a myth. There was a surplus of labour on the land due to more productive methods of farming the enclosures, game laws etc, were all a part of this to a greater or lesser extent. Much surplus labour in my part of the world, the south eastern maritime counties, went off to London and others went to the naval towns , a large part of the navy in the Napoleonic wars came from round here, even more in the imperial era probably. This and the drift to the more prosperous north in the nineteenth century were what counted nothing to do with coercion.

  24. Reading unleaningecon’s comments.

    The only conceivable way his argument works is if a subsistence family owns its own land and has 0% population growth.

    With population growth there is a point where not enough food can be grown and family members have to move on. Where do these new people get land to live off? It cant just magically appear. Either rent or buy.

    You could argue that its the fault of the catholic church, or just the randyness of humans.

  25. It still doesn’t change the fact that peasants were coerced into working in factories, suggesting that they preferred peasantry.

    OK, I’m going to call bullshit on this one. C’mon, UE, post your stats here. Give us your objective facts. Don’t hide behind links to the work of others. Give us the lowdown. Put your money where your mouth is so we can refute it.

    Or as my grandfather used to say, shit or get off the pot.

  26. alan,

    “You could argue that its the fault of the catholic church, or just the randyness of humans.”

    That can’t be true historically – reliable, cheap contraception didn’t exist so it wasn’t available for anybody, not just Catholics. (In practice the figures show that modern Catholic fertility rates even in the third world barely differ from neighbouring non-Catholic countries. They ignore doctrine. But I digress.)

    Unlearningecon,
    SE is a little free in his language, but you have no call to talk about his “fantasy idea of capitalism” when you yourself have come out with this fantasy idea of feudalism:

    “In Medieval times being poor was not really considered much of a problem and people searched for other paths of enlightenment. ”

    Tell ‘em that in the Peasants’ Revolt! Even Marx, who was closer in time to feudalism, particularly in his native Germany, than we are, recognised that capitalism was a huge advance on feudalism.

  27. NS.
    I think that “other paths of enlightenment” stuff is a bit of a giveaway. UE appears to be a romantic soul who probably adheres to the William Morris/John Ruskin school of medievalism. I can empathise as I used to be the same in my late teens to mid twenties, it’s an attractive position considered purely as aesthetics, as economics it’s a fantasy.

  28. So, everything was going fine and people were happy working the land for a few hours a week.

    And then the government intervened to make that lifestyle impractical, forcing these people into crappy factory work to survive.

    I’m afraid I’m not smart enough to understand how that’s an argument against capitalism (providing that’s your intent of course).

  29. “I have linked to”

    Where?

    “- Game laws were enforced to bring peasants below subsistence.”

    Nope. Game laws were enforced to prevent peasants from enjoying the perquisites of the nobility and the church. Regardless of whether they were being used by the aforesaid. Nothing to do with subsistence (you farm your peasants, you don’t slaughter or enslave them – see the workforce / pay issues post 1348.) All to do with entitlement.

    “- Land has been taken away from peasants in China to make room for factories.”

    Err, nope – no linky thing here (yes, I know, somewhere in the past, on some site or other, you may well have linked to something you call evidence but …) Now, I know (no, I haven’t linked to evidence, I actually ‘know’) it has happened, and not just for factories. Dams, reservoirs, party complexes, military facilities, etc. But what has this to do with neo-liberal capitalism? They’re your beloved commies ffs.

    “I have also linked to Michael Perelman’s book on the history of capitalism, which presents a hell of a lot of evidence of things like this.”

    A £16 book. Thanks. You might have the collective of the uni library but that’s a decent bottle of whisky …

  30. Mea culpa

    “Err, nope – no linky thing here ”

    Found it at #8. But:

    1. That’s not ‘evidence’.

    2. We admit that evil commie dictators are evil commie dictators. We just don’t think they are neo-liberal capitalists. Just like many of us don’t think that Hitler was “right wing” just because he was an evil authoritarian and not a commie.

  31. UE.
    Have you read Gilbert White ? He gives a very good account of what happened when the peasantry got hold of guns, nothing on four legs or that flew was safe, the poaching laws don’t seem to have made much difference. They didn’t shoot to gain subsistence, they shot because it was fun, the landowners did too and they could close of their woods and as they controlled parliament they could pass game laws. Absolutely nothing to do with driving the serfs into the factories.

  32. Between Norman invasion & ‘Black Death’ medieval population of England grew from around 2.5 million to around 7.5 million (partly due to climate change, partly to improved trading conditions). Younger sons were forced into the emerging boroughs because low rates of agricultural efficiency prevented an over-used land from being subdivided any further. Finally, using phrases as ‘factory’ and ‘State’ is wrong as the medievals would not have understood either term.

  33. UE #21: ‘for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point about 1/4 of the hours

    (For the sake of avoiding argument, no?)

    To reassure you that your concession was not unjustified, here are some estimates of annual and daily working hours through the centuries:

    groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_workweek.html

    That whole page was lifted from Juliet Schor’s book _The Overworked American_ (viewable at Google Books).

    Nothing specifically about 14th-century peasants but 13th-century peasants worked 1620 hours a year and from 1400-1600 a ‘farmer-miner’ put in 1980 hours (an annual average of 38 hours a week). It’s unlikely that the annual hours worked by 14th-century peasants were outside the 1620-1980 range, the 14th century being on the whole a good time for poorer people (if you don’t mind a lot of plague deaths in the family).

  34. “The idea that peasants jump at the chance to work long days doing repetitive tasks under hierarchical conditions just doesn’t hold up ….”

    UE really should take that offer of farming a bit of land. He’d greatly benefit from the experience.
    All subsistence agriculture is repetitive tasks & the hierarchy are disease, starvation & death. The peasant swapped following the south end of a northbound plough ox in driving rain & sleet with the possibility of maybe a meal at the end of the day, if last summer’s crops hadn’t failed, for the relative luxury of a mere 14 hour day tending a machine in a warm factory with the guarantee of a wage.
    As I said, come & try it but remember, you’re doing this for real. When your spuds rot in the ground, the birds eat the peas & your chickens die of pest there’s no benefit cheque to cash. You got kids? You going to enjoy watching their bellies swell as they starve?

  35. bis…remember that real peasants in the Uk did not have spuds until the 17th century…maybe turnips and swedes and carrots….what? no protein?

  36. Could it be dinosaurs that scared the 14th-century serfs into the factories?

    I’m not sure I’d call subsistence farming ‘working’, although I’m sure it’s tough and demanding, it’s just, well… living.

    It must be a terrifying jump for someone used to fending for themselves to go spend their time in a job in return for bits of inedible silver. No economists around at the time explaining it to them.

  37. There is a genuine conundrum as to why people would swap subsistence agriculture for industrial wages.
    The experts find the question even more difficult when it comes to swapping hunter-gathering for subsistence agriculture.
    Analysis of contemporaneous skeletons shows that hunter gatherers had larger frames, better teeth and longer lives.
    So perhaps UnlearnedEconomics should bugger off and join the bushmen of the Kalahari? With their incredibly idle existence (less than 2 hours per day for men) and their 30% murder rate?

  38. Thanks diogenes, you’re right. I’m being far too easy on him. Let him get his grub from C14th varieties so he gets half the yields from twice as much work.
    Protein? Well I’ve given him chickens. They’re actually an intrinsic part of the arable, picking weed seeds & stuff out of the cropland before planting. Down here would be a few goats for the milk. They eat everything you don’t but, oh boy, do they take some watching. I’d give him a donkey but it strikes me he’s doing pretty well himself.

  39. As someone who has, for the fun of just trying it out, done the routine for sowing, tending, reaping and grinding to flour, with traditional methods of farming rye (the main crop over here), I’ll say that this joke about medieval people working less than today is just unbelievably sick. Hey, mere medieval subsistence required you to work your ass off. It required your kids to start working their asses off right from the moment they could climb out of the crib. And you’d work your ass off to old age, which you seldom reached. You’d work as long as you could get up, and then you’d die.

    People didn’t move to work in factories because someone “coerced” them. They moved because they made a living that way, a living that they couldn’t make in subsistence farming.

  40. There is a genuine conundrum as to why people would swap subsistence agriculture for industrial wages.

    But they are still doing so in many parts of the world. Can’t we just, you know, ask them?

  41. One reason we can be very sure that Tim is right is that we have documentary evidence. Between roughly 900 and 1300 we know that peasant in Western Europe had to give something like 2 days a week in labour services to their feudal overlord. Let’s generously say 10 hours a day, so 20 hours a week, working for someone else. I think therefore we can confident that their overall working week was considerably more than 15hours overall.

  42. Between roughly 900 and 1300 we know that peasants in Western Europe had to give something like 2 days a week in labour services to their feudal overlord

    Ah, so that’s a 28% tax rate – they had it easy!

  43. UE
    There’s no job offer. I said you can have the land. The bloke who was trying to live off it pissed off because it was a bloody sight harder to do than he’d ever imagined. Dinner this evening was chicken, neck wrung & plucked, spuds, onions & carrots thanks to his efforts. Make it quick before the weeds choke it all out.

    BiF
    Think you’ve probably answered your own question there. Security. Agriculture may provide a poor diet & worn down teeth but you & your kids don’t starve when the herds aren’t showing up. The Bushman’s 30% male murder rate is likely cultural evolution. Selectively kills hunters. Tribes with better tempers hunted out the game & aren’t around any more.

  44. I can’t sustain an argument with this many people at once. Anyway, here’s some evidence:

    China atm:

    http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2004/10/chinese-peasants-forced-to-give-up-land-to-government/

    On a lack of work hours:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/03/hay-festival-2010-medieval-serfs

    Elite collusion to keep worker’s wages down:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statute_of_Labourers

    I don’t see why some of you take exception to me linking to books. Do you only accept historical archives or something?

    http://www.amazon.com/Law-Rise-Capitalism-Michael-Tigar/dp/0853454116

    Game Laws were initially used for potentially justified purposes but their use exploded during the industrial revolution, as they were a great way to force peasants into the wage system.

    As for the EICS: I consider the history of Darjeeling and similar tea/coffee cities standard knowledge so I won’t bother linking anything. Saying that was ‘mercentalism’ and therefore doesn’t count doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as they’re all part of the same historical process to which I’m trying to draw attention.

    I find it amusing that just because I adopt a critical perspective on the history of capitalism, I am in some sort of fantasy world/am Stalin or whatever. I know you guys like to frame it as you versus the commies but the fact is I’m just highlighting potential libertarian blind spots when they call everything ‘voluntary’. I wouldn’t even call myself a marxist.

  45. UE are you arguing against industrialisation, colonialism or what? I thought you were talking about the joys of peasantry and therefore expended effort to try to disabuse you of your cosy bourgeois notions. If you are shifting the grounds, kindly let us know.

  46. Oh & UE, it’s a foreign country because, unlike the UK, people still live like that here. Mostly you can tell the ones who do because they’re about 5 ft tall & seem to go straight from puberty into middle age without an intervening life.

  47. All his arguments seem to be along the line that The Illuminati deliberately manipulated situations to force people to do their bidding… mwahahahah… excellent (/rubs hands). But he’s not a conspiracy theorist, after all, the Grauniad has been writing this kind of garbage for years now.

  48. UnlearningEcon

    China atm:

    China’s industry is mainly located in the Eastern coastal regions. This is where land is being taken from peasants. Although, of course they don’t own it and these days they are entitled to some compensation – it is a bit like a LVP tax really in that the government gets most of the money for development. Anyway. Workers in China’s factories virtually never come from those provinces any more. They are from more inland. In a province like Guangdong, they are mainly from Guangxi and Guizhou. In one like Zhejiang, they are mainly from Hunan and even Sichuan these days. In places like Tianjin and Beijing, they come from Shaanxi and even Gansu now. Where land is not being taken from peasants. Because there are so few factories there. The peasants are choosing the lesser of two evils and moving to factory work. Girls who have worked in a sweat shop flatly refuse to marry boys back in their villages now so that there is a surplus of women in the cities and a surplus of men in the countryside.

    On a lack of work hours:

    The Guardian is not a source of anything.

    Elite collusion to keep worker’s wages down:

    The Statute of Labourers is a textbook example of regulation that did not work.

    Game Laws were initially used for potentially justified purposes but their use exploded during the industrial revolution, as they were a great way to force peasants into the wage system.

    So we are talking about 100 years out of the past 1000? Oddly enough French peasants also moved into factory work. Even though the French Revolution gave them the right to shoot at anything with four legs that moved. You might think that something else was at work.

    As for the EICS: I consider the history of Darjeeling and similar tea/coffee cities standard knowledge so I won’t bother linking anything.

    Darjeeling got its first tea plantation in 1856. The EIC being abolished in what year? Not a lot of time to exploit the locals is there?

    I find it amusing that just because I adopt a critical perspective on the history of capitalism, I am in some sort of fantasy world/am Stalin or whatever.

    No, if you behave like a know-it-all tool and refuse to learn from people who know better than you, you will be treated like a know-it-all tool. No more.

  49. Do the people commenting on this thread *actually* not know anything about English 16th-19th century history? Or are you pretending?

    The process of enclosure – driven by landowners, and first tolerated and then actively encouraged by the government (which isn’t too surprising, given the make-up of electorate in them days) made peasant lifestyles unliveable, and forced mass exodus to the cities, which drove the industrial revolution. This isn’t even in dispute among serious historians. No illuminati conspiracy, just the natural tendency of landlords to maximise their own profits.

    People stopped being peasants because they couldn’t be peasants any more, not because the concept of moving to Manchester, living in a slum and working 14-hour days was appealing.

    As BlokeinFrance notes above, surviving bushmen and other hunter-gatherer tribes (eg the !Kung, as well as various Pacific islanders) do actually work 10ish hour days. Peasants work longer hours than that, although certainly fewer than an industrial revolution-era worker, and quite possibly fewer than 40.

  50. “The Guardian is not a source of anything.”

    That is an epicly stupid comment. Of course the news sections of the Guardian are a source, as in this case of an article recording the contents of a person’s speech. If the Guardian wasn’t a source, then there wouldn’t be a tabloid hacking scandal to report on.

    It is true, and only a raving lunatic would deny, that some chaps from NEF gave a speech which made the assertions that the Guardian says it made. Now, you can say – with some justification – that NEF are a clueless bunch of fucknuts, and you’d seek a second opinion if they told you the day of the week. But that has nothing to do with the Guardian’s credibility as a source.

  51. We are talking the 14th century…

    WHAT. FUCKING. FACTORIES???

    IN. WHAT. FUCKING. INDUSTRIES???

    Oh yeah, Unlearning Econ… Ever heard of a “Guild”? Ever heard of what guilds did in pre-industrial Europe? Look it up… They erected barriers to entry… To keep unskilled peasants OUT of the labor pool in what was then the closest thing to manufacturing in PRE-INDUSTRIAL Europe.

    Next you’ll be babbling on about how there’s no difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.

  52. “Of course the news sections of the Guardian are a source, as in this case of an article recording the contents of a person’s speech.”

    Of course, The Graun isn’t The Sun, or the Star, etc… um… is it not really the case that newspapers are a source of bullshit and gossip? Fuck you johnb, fuck you in the ear

  53. john b – “As BlokeinFrance notes above, surviving bushmen and other hunter-gatherer tribes (eg the !Kung, as well as various Pacific islanders) do actually work 10ish hour days.”

    Surviving bushmen. I would be interested in any Pacific islanders who do likewise. Who are not a source for much. As they are surviving on remote areas enclosed by the State. There is a constant flow of people out of those areas. It does not follow that without the rest of society they would be working so little.

    “Peasants work longer hours than that, although certainly fewer than an industrial revolution-era worker, and quite possibly fewer than 40.”

    Peasants where precisely? Go to China or India. I assure you they do not work less than 40 hours a week.

    60john b – “That is an epicly stupid comment. Of course the news sections of the Guardian are a source, as in this case of an article recording the contents of a person’s speech.”

    A source of what though? Given the number of Guardian journalists in the pay of the KGB and/or its friends, their general bias to the Left and to the Islamists, that comment was entirely sensible. You cannot call the Guardian a paper of record. Even in its news reporting. Not even in its quoting.

    “If the Guardian wasn’t a source, then there wouldn’t be a tabloid hacking scandal to report on.”

    How does that follow?

    “It is true, and only a raving lunatic would deny, that some chaps from NEF gave a speech which made the assertions that the Guardian says it made.”

    Having some slight experience of how most newspapers use quotes, I would agree the Guardian could probably get the day right, and that the conference took place, but I would not assume anyone said what the journalist said they said. That applies to all British newspapers but the Guardian more than most.

  54. SMFS:

    So you’ve concede that land *is* being taken from peasants in China, simply dismissed one of my pieces of evidence because of ideological blinders, concede that game laws *were* used for the purpose of creating workers but pleaded that it wasn’t for very long and didn’t happen everywhere.

    BEIC officials were also most certainly involved in the development of Darjeeling.

  55. What’s worst about this thread is not the complete lack of knowledge about history (whilst all being oh-so-sure that capitalism magically appeared out of nowhere and everyone rejoiced, cos your ideology says so) or even the simple denial of historical evidence.

    It’s the fact that it doesn’t even address the broader point of my original post, which was how public choice considerations should affect the provision of private property and contracts.

  56. But they are still doing so in many parts of the world. Can’t we just, you know, ask them?

    Living in Nigeria, I have the opportunity to do just that. Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in the world as people flood in from all over the country to find work. There are no land clearance programmes or forced relocations going on anywhere in Nigeria, it is simply the case that subsistence farming is mind-bogglingly hard work, the risk of death from starvation or disease is very high, and almost any alternative is better. Yes, I speak to Nigerians about this, ask them where they’re from, etc. and why they came to Nigeria to eke out a living in a sawmill or as a mobile motorbike repair man.

  57. Surely, one of the problems we have with this discussion is the way UE & his cronies define work.
    The modern worker may put in a 40 hour week but the wages earned go to pay for the endeavours of other workers providing all the goods & services he requires in everyday life. Peasant farmer doesn’t have that benefit. If he wants soap to wash his hands he can’t slip into Tesco for a 50p bar. He renders animal fat with wood ash & makes his own. If the roof leaks, he doesn’t ring the builder he gets his ladder out. His wife doesn’t pop the washing in the machine, she scrubs it in a tub. It’s all work. Work that’s being substituted for purchasing power & because there’s no benefit from division of labour, mostly inefficient work.
    Let’s look at one particular definition of work. Remember the hoo ha over the Working Time Directive preventing doctors working 70/80 hour weeks? But the WTD defined the doctor as working when he was on call & available, not necessarily doctoring. By that definition our subsistence farmer is doing 24/7/365. He’s always ‘on call’. His place of work & his domicile are the same thing. Like an industrial continuous process, a farm runs all the time requiring attention all the time.

  58. Industrial conditions were awful…

    Yes, they were. But one of the main reasons why factory work was nevertheless so preferable was that the workers were protected from the elements. One of the reasons Stalin’s reforms were considered an improvement by the Russians despite the millions killed in the process was that it moved peoples’ lives from outdoors to indoors. Getting shelter is on the very lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, regardless of the climate.

    Economies developing from agricultural to industrial is so common throughout history because it is driven by human desire for an improved lot. One of the other attractions is the predictability of income: once you know that if you work 1 year you will earn X, you can make plans based on that, such as borrow money to improve your house, or have a child. The problem with even modern farming, and especially subsistence farming, is that there is no direct correlation between time passed or work done and reward. You simply cannot plan, as crop failure or other pitfalls are far too common.

    Looking at this concept from a different perspective, I have taken an approximate 30% pay cut in order to have job security. I want to be able to plan stuff over the next 2-3 year satisfied that I will have the income to do so. Some of my colleagues earn a lot more, but are on short-term contracts with 2 weeks notice period. For those on the breadline, secure income, food, and shelter are probably the two most important things in their lives. Even the crappiest factory jobs can guarantee 2 of these, subsistence farming can only sometimes produce one of them.

  59. I think almost everyone here has missed the point spectacularly.

    It doesn’t matter if:

    - There are some places where peasants want to work in factories.

    - The standard of living is objectively ‘better’ now (of course its not easy to define that, but I digress).

    All that matters is that there is substantial evidence that peasants had to be separated from their means of production and hence forced into wage labour. If that happened, it happened. That’s the history of capitalism in the UK, a supposedly ‘voluntary’ system.

  60. All that matters is that there is substantial evidence that peasants had to be separated from their means of production and hence forced into wage labour.

    Yes, but it is the degree to which it happened which is important. There will obviously be various push-pull factors at work when peasants takes up jobs in factories en masse. If he has been thrown of his land, then it is a push factor; if he wants to work out of the snow, it is a pull factor.

    You seem to be arguing that the push factors outweighed the pull factors, which I think is not correct. In the absence of push factors, the pull factor is still strong enough to get the peasants moving into cities seeking work, and this has happened throughout history and continues to day in Nigeria and Thailand, to name two places with which I am familiar.

    I don’t think anybody is denying the existence of push factors; but the idea that they outweigh the pull factors to the extent it was an entirely forced move is not supported by evidence, and nor does it pass a basic smell test.

  61. The need for the sheer volume of push factors (e.g. the surge in game laws) suggests that pull factors were *not* sufficient and the development of capitalism required force.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of whether there were more of one or the other; just the fact that the push factors were substantial or even existed at all is enough to blow a hole in the standard ‘voluntary’ interpretation of capitalism.

    This is interesting, btw:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg3YDN5gTX0

  62. The problem with hanging your tenuous argument on ‘proofs’ from one time or place, is that the same phenomena occuring in another time or place, that lacks your ‘proofs’, invalidates your argument, completely.

    The phenomena of peasants moving to seemingly terrible jobs in cities is a constant that occurs throughout time and place, independent of your imaginary marxist constructs.

  63. It’s worth noting that this whole argument is somewhat pointless. The simple fact is that for an economy to become an advanced economy, most of the population have to leave the land. This has been accomplished in a variety of ways including, yes, various degrees of State force.

    But it has to happen anyway, for the simple reason that if 95% of your population are devoted to growing food, that’s only 5% left to make all the other stuff that ends up with an internet where you can argue about the Enclosure Acts. And this is in fact one of the reasons why many third world economies stay third world; they’re trying to “grow” while keeping most of the population as farmers, and that’s just impossible.

    If you avoid State force, the free market would do it anyway. Whether it’s kinder to lose your farm by Enclosure or because the guy down the road is cheaper and more efficient than you is debatable. A Libertarian like me wants the market to do it, not the State.

    But it is going to happen anyway unless the State actively prevents it, and if the State actively prevents it, you’re going to stay poor. So that’s the issue really, not how much push and how much pull there were in particular times and places.

  64. john b
    “People stopped being peasants because they couldn’t be peasants any more, not because the concept of moving to Manchester, living in a slum and working 14-hour days was appealing.”

    Manchester started to grow some time after the enclosures were all but complete and they only affected the midland and eastern counties mainly, why didn’t, say, Norwich benefit from that ? It’s a pretty simplistic thing to imply that the industrial revolution was driven by de-population of the countryside due to the enclosures. It was a surplus of labour generally surely that helped speed up the process. UE has been saying, as far as I can tell that there was a deliberate policy of forcing the peasantry off the land and the enclosures were part of it. There is some truth in that but only in so far as the landowners were seeking to maximise their agricultural production and profits, that’s the point really, UE is mistaking an agricultural revolution for an industrial one.

    UE, when you say that the nineteenth century was a low point in human happiness you cannot possibly know that, it’s an unfalsifiable assertion.

  65. The need for the sheer volume of push factors (e.g. the surge in game laws) suggests that pull factors were *not* sufficient and the development of capitalism required force.

    Where is your evidence that these push factors were introduced for the purpose of forcing peasants into factories? Is there any evidence that the game laws were introduced on order to provide bodies for factories? I suspect not.

  66. I don’t think it’s a matter of whether there were more of one or the other; just the fact that the push factors were substantial or even existed at all is enough to blow a hole in the standard ‘voluntary’ interpretation of capitalism.

    So if there are not push factors we cannot conclude the movement or people is voluntary? Well, actually we can.

  67. <emI don’t think it’s a matter of whether there were more of one or the other; just the fact that the push factors were substantial or even existed at all is enough to blow a hole in the standard ‘voluntary’ interpretation of capitalism.

    Ah, I see what you’re doing now. You’re looking only at form and ignoring degree. You might as well claim the US supply of wheat to the USSR during the Khrushchev years is enough to blow a hole in the idea that the US was opposed to Communism.

    The extent to which something happened is important when discussing historical events. To try to turn it into a binary discussion where mere existence is all that is required shows a rather inept grasp of how historical claims are evaluated.

  68. ‘The problem with hanging your tenuous argument on ‘proofs’ from one time or place, is that the same phenomena occuring in another time or place, that lacks your ‘proofs’, invalidates your argument, completely.’

    Nope. I didn’t say capitalism necessitates forcing peasants into factories always and everywhere; I’m just saying that that’s what happened in certain places. I’m sorry it’s just a historical fact. The origins of capitalism are far from voluntary, certainly in the UK and in various places the UK colonised, as well as in China now and in the former USSR once it was ‘capitalised’.

    At this point guys I’ve presented plenty of evidence., You can keep denying it or you could just accept that peasants were forced into factories.

    Denying that this is a problem with a simple, unverifiable counterfactual of ‘it would have happened anyway’ is logically incoherent.

    ‘UE, when you say that the nineteenth century was a low point in human happiness you cannot possibly know that, it’s an unfalsifiable assertion.’

    Try Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of Revolution’

    Some of seem to be justifying it based on the fact that standards of living are higher now or were actually better in factories. That sounds a lot like forcing individuals to make their own decisions for them to me. Rather collectivist, no?

  69. I didn’t say capitalism necessitates forcing peasants into factories always and everywhere; I’m just saying that that’s what happened in certain places. I’m sorry it’s just a historical fact.

    No, not in the examples you give it isn’t. You cite the Game Laws as being push factors, but have not provided any evidence that they were introduced in order to provide bodies for factories. And you have downplayed or ignored the role of pull factors in explaining the movement of people from the countryside to the factories, and refused to consider the relative strengths of the push and pull factors.

    And nobody is denying that people have in the past been forcibly moved from the countryside to factories – the USSR is a good example of where this occurred. What is being contended is the idea – which you present as historical fact – that in the UK forcing people off the land and into factories was a policy deliberately carried out as a necessity of capitalism.

  70. Thanks, you’re being a bit clearer.

    I have linked to a lot of books but unfortunately I do not have them with me at university. You can read the beginning of Perelman’s ‘Invention of Capitalism’ on Amazon, which cites an explosion in the use of game laws around the time of industrial revolution, though. He also presents other extensive evidence of collusion between landlords, capitalists and the state in creating a workforce dependent on wages.

  71. “Nope. I didn’t say capitalism necessitates forcing peasants into factories always and everywhere; I’m just saying that that’s what happened in certain places. I’m sorry it’s just a historical fact. The origins of capitalism are far from voluntary, certainly in the UK and in various places the UK colonised, as well as in China now and in the former USSR once it was ‘capitalised’.”

    So, you’re not saying that is what happened, except you then go on to do exactly that. And then you then go on to use the policies of communist countries to prove it. Way to go. That’s a lot of muddle to cram into a single paragraph.

    BTW, here’s a tip: Don’t quote a discredited Marxist historian as a unimpeachable source. Hobsbawm was, and still is, an apologist for totalitarian psychopathic regimes and is as big a useful idiot as ever existed.

  72. UE.
    I’m going to stick to England again and try and pin you down here, as Stuck-Record says you are claiming that there was a deliberate forcing of people off the land to provide labour in factories and you have cited the game laws as evidence of that, I think it’s been shown that that wasn’t the case. So what other hard evidence do you have of this occurring here ? Your view of history seems teleological to me, you assume some kind of guiding hand behind every event with an end purpose in mind. It couldn’t be that there were lots of changes happening for many different reasons more or less simultaneously, all intermeshing and confronting everyone capitalist, landowner and peasant alike with new problems and opportunities. No there had to be some dark purpose at work, for someone who claims to be breaking out of the shackles of accepted wisdom you seem very beholden to vaguely Marxist ideas that were looking pretty tired forty years ago when I was your age.

  73. SR,

    You seem unable to comprehend that I don’t frame everything as capitalism versus the Soviet Union or the state or whatever. I am equally critical of the state in China and the previous state in the UK for imposing those sanctions.

    In some senses you might call me a ‘libertarian’ in that I oppose most hierarchies (obviously some form is required to have functional civilisation). The main problem with right ‘libertarians’ is that they completely ignore the hierarchical nature of capitalist workplaces and the class/power structures that are at work between the wealthy elite and the state.

    And overall you seem to have reading comprehension problems. I am saying that the forced wage labour is what happened in many places, not all. Can I say that, given enough time, peasants wouldn’t have worked in factories voluntarily? No. But you can’t say they would have so it’s sort of a dead end, and still doesn’t change the fact that they *were* forced.

    Even if I accept your dismissal of my evidence from Hobsbawm, it doesn’t change the other evidence I have presented.

  74. Alms for Oblivion, the magisterial econometric history of the period you argue about, UE, shows clearly that:
    Peasant fertility didn’t change much.
    Genteel class fertility did increase a lot and infant mortality declined.

    So according to Clark the Industrial Revolution was not driven by your push theory of forcing peasants into a cash economy.
    It was downward social mobility, certainly in terms of skilled factory jobs. Poorly automated factories would of course require higher levels of skill than a production line today.
    (Clark also accounts for the steep decline in criminality by this “genteel” population explosion.)

    BTW, previous commentators, I have asked people why they leave the land and end up in shit holes in the city. They say it’s for the sake of their kids. There is also an optimism bias at work. People from the home village only get to hear about those who made it in the smoke, and ignore the losers just as I bet you can’t remember who lost at Wimbledon.

  75. Unlearningecon, you write, “The main problem with right ‘libertarians’ is that they completely ignore the hierarchical nature of capitalist workplaces and the class/power structures that are at work between the wealthy elite and the state.”

    What you completely ignore is that the wealthy elite and the state are not one unified body with one agreed set of interests, mashed together into one big Guardian bogeyman of the-landowners-and-the-capitalists-and-the-state. There are class/power structures at work between them, as well.

    There are at least three interest groups there, the wealthy landowners, the wealthy capitalists and the state. They overlap, but do not coincide. Quite often the landowners hate the capitalists and the capitalists resent the landowners. Frequently the state does much that far from enriching the wealthy bankrupts them, such as fight ruinous wars. The landowners and the capitalists fight (with a slight but growing input from the poor) over who shall control the state for long enough to decide e.g. whether the Corn Laws shall be imposed or repealed. Power see-saws. Every now and then somebody does something contrary to their own interests out of principle.

    And all that Tim Newman said. A relative of mine often works in Nigeria and says similar.

  76. UnlearningEcon,

    Sir, you are quite right. I am having comprehension problems with what you are saying.

  77. George Orwell describing peasant life in Homage to Catalonia, his memoir of the Spanish civil war: “Men in ragged blue shirts and black corduroy breeches, with broad-brimmed straw hats, were ploughing the fields behind teams of mules with rhythmically flopping ears. Their ploughs were wretched things, only stirring the soil, not cutting anything we should regard as a furrow. All the agricultural implements were pitifully antiquated, everything being governed by the expensiveness of metal. A broken plough-share, for instance, was patched, and then patched again, till sometimes it was mainly patches. Rakes and pitchforks were made of wood. Spades, among a people who seldom possessed boots, were unknown; they did their digging with a clumsy hoe like those used in India. There was
    a kind of harrow that took one straight back to the later Stone Age. It was made of boards joined together, to about the size of a kitchen table; in the boards hundreds of holes were morticed, and into each hole was jammed a piece of flint which had been chipped into shape exactly as men used to chip them ten thousand years ago. I remember my feelings almost of horror when I first came upon one of these things in a derelict hut in no man’s land. I had to puzzle over it for a long while before grasping that it was a harrow. It made me sick to think of the work that must go into the making of such a thing, and the poverty that was obliged to use flint in place of steel. I have felt more kindly towards industrialism ever since.”

  78. Orwell was right to be repelled by the poverty he saw but his knowledge of tools is a bit deficient. leaving aside the hopeless ploughshares and the stone harrow, which was probably reasonably effective if a bugger to produce, the wooden rakes and pitchforks were in common use in England at the time, quite easy to make, cheap and perfectly serviceable. The digging tool he describes sounds like a mattock, there is a Spanish version called the Azada I believe, a good tool especially in hard ground and better for your back than a spade. His experience of tools was probably watching the family gardener at work.

  79. About 20-30 years ago, the writer John Berger went to live in a peaasant village in France and wrote a book called “Pig Earth” about it. From memory, the idea that a peasant only “works” 10 hours a week is b/s. Basically ever waking hour was spent in some kind of activity just to keep living. And the population of the village was dwindling because younger generations preferred to try their luck in the cities rather than in back-breaking agricultural labour. So they were not being forced out by some external force.

  80. Pingback: The horrid industrial revolution? Bucolic nonsense! | Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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