Hickel tries again

It’s all capitalism and imperialism, Man!

The second conclusion is that the rise of capitalism coincided with a deterioration in human welfare. In every region studied here, incorporation into the capitalist world-system was associated with a decline in wages to below subsistence, a deterioration in human stature, and a marked upturn in premature mortality. In parts of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, key welfare metrics have still not recovered.

Our third conclusion is that in those regions where progress has occurred (as opposed to recovery from an earlier period of immiseration), it began much later than the Ravallion/Pinker graph suggests. In the core regions of Northwest Europe, welfare standards began to improve in the 1880s, four centuries after the emergence of capitalism. In the periphery and semi-periphery, progress began in the mid-20th century. Further research is needed to establish the causal drivers of these improvements, but existing data indicates that progress was achieved with the rise of organized labour, the anti-colonial movement, and other progressive social movements, which organized production around meeting human needs, redistributed wealth, and invested in public provisioning systems (Sen, 1981, Dreze and Sen, 1989, Navarro, 1993, Cereseto and Waitzkin, 1986, Prashad, 2007, Szreter, 1997, Szreter, 2003, Lena and London, 1993).

Sigh. They concentrate upon GDP per capita. Well, OK.

But that means you miss Malthusian growth. It cannot be true that folk fall below subsistence level if population is growing. Was population growing – did it grow – in those places and times? Yep, it did. So, therefore, people did not fall below subsistence level, did they?

But if their numbers and claim depend upon their doing so, then their claim cannot be true if population rises. As population did indeed rise then their claim cannot be true. QED.

Sigh.

11 thoughts on “Hickel tries again”

  1. So capitalism emerged in the 1480s? It depends how you define capitalism. If by capitalism is meant an economic system based on private ownership,capital accumulation and profit, then capitalism pre-dates the 1480s and has been around for millennia. If, however, capitalism is taken also to involve competitive markets, a functioning price system, full recognition of property rights, voluntary exchange and wage labour, then capitalism didn’t emerge until much later.

  2. “If, however, capitalism is taken also to involve competitive markets, a functioning price system, full recognition of property rights, voluntary exchange and wage labour, then capitalism didn’t emerge until much later.”

    Not necessarily, all that was present in medieval times, although the scale and underlying social/legal framework was entirely different.
    Modern capitalism changed what constitutes wealth, how it is generated, and who owns it. But the underlying forces under the hood have remained more or less the same.

    And ultimately, the biggest driver for poverty is population pressure…
    When population growth outstrips increase in resources, especially when wealth distribution is pyramidal and it is the poor that breed the most enthousiatically. …. Weeeell….
    But that one’s been around since ummm… current direct evidence is about 3.5 billion years..

  3. Even the Phoenician traders had to build or buy a boat, acquire the cargo, and recruit or shanghai the sailors, and that was a long time ago. The Spanish monarchs may have funded Columbus’s voyage, but Jamestown was settled by profiteers.

  4. Hunters and gatherers have very low birth rates, or high infant mortality.
    By and large the survivors are healthy.
    same for nomadic herders.
    Agriculturalists have high birth rates and lower infant mortality.
    Numbers of farmers even if less healthy beat hunters, gatherers and nomadic herders by weight of numbers. viz America.
    History is just what it is, not tragedy, not comedy.

  5. Oh dear. Oh dear

    These Marxist Malthusians really haven’t got a clue have they ?

    The population of England before the Black Dearh was rising dramatically, precisely because of the benign climate and ( relative ) peace. There were no prolonged civil wars with huge armies eating their way across the country interrupting harvests. The farming system was feudal and cities run by guilds, both of which suppressed capitalist enterprise.

    The change in the climate ( regular super cold winters and unpredictable summers ) coupled with the Black Death and frequent outbreaks thereafter suppressed the population until the mid 18th Century. What it led to though was direct wage labouring – freed serfs became artisans and employed people or they worked in the fields renting their hovels. This in turn led to the phenomenon of seasonal unemployment. Industrial production was always on a small scale in England, it was a multinational conglomerate equivalent that employed more than a hundred people.

    “Improvement” or what we might also call the Agricultural Revolution in the 17th and 18th Centuries introduced the concept of cash crops and food being grown as a business rathef than farmers selling their surplus.

    What the Industrial Revolution did was to beeak the link between the seasons and employment in the country. It provided year round mass employment at a regular wage. It also led to improvements in inland transportation which meant that the working population also now had year round access to food, instead of starving in Summer like they used to. We now arrive at the crucial factor as to why the 19th Century is such an important watershed. We have arrived at a point where access to food is universally available. Fresh produce can be transported around the country and refrigerated food can be imported from abroad. Food is now plentiful and cheaper and people are paid year-round so can always afford it.

    I mean really guys…

  6. “Fresh produce can be transported around the country and refrigerated food can be imported from abroad. Food is now plentiful and cheaper and people are paid year-round so can always afford it.”

    And they hate that, the hair shirt bastards who want to run the world for us.

  7. If those assertions we’re true – them why did the population explode and everyone leave the farm to work in the city?

  8. The first capitalists were those gatherers who kept some of the seeds and planted them instead of eating them so as to get a crop next autumn, gradually becoming farmers. There were no such things as wages as money hadn’t been invented.
    What the archaeologists and historians tell us is that the farmers became so much better at obtaining food and avoiding premature death (by not hunting dangerous animals) that their communities out-bred the hunter-gatherers by an order of magnitude and our DNA is around 98% from the capitalist farmers and 2% from the hunter-gatherers which is the reverse of what you should expect if Hickel was right about capitalism pushing people below subsistence level.

  9. A propos the Black Death

    The wage earning ex Serf experience was not common across the Continent. In a lot of areas ( Prussia and neighbourng states spring to mind ) the Serfdom ratchet was tightened even more.

  10. 250 years ago 90+% of the population worked in agriculture and had few possessions. Now a fraction of that number does and the rest work elsewhere. Now a large number of poor people are overweight. The death rate amongst under 5’s is a fraction of what it once was. My grandmother lost two siblings to childhood diseases, an event that is virtually unknown in the UK.

    That doesn’t sound to me like my ancestors were more wealthy until the advent of capitalism.

  11. “..but existing data indicates that progress was achieved with the rise of organized labour, the anti-colonial movement, and other progressive social movements, which organized production around meeting human needs..”

    Even Marx didn’t make that claim! In fact he expressly regarded this as a post-capitalist development.

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