Levine (2013). The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves.

Levine, Y. (2013, January 30). The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves [Book review]. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from http://www.filmsforaction.org/news/recovered-economic-history-everyone-but-an-idiot-knows-that-the-lower-classes-must-be-kept-poor-or-they-will-never-be-industrious/

[Book review/summary of The Invention of Capitalism by Michael Perelmen (2000).]

“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.” (¶2)

“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.” (¶6)

[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.”” (¶7)

“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 …” (¶11)

“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.'” (¶15)

“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.'” (¶16)

[Edits in original …]

“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.'” (¶18)

[Patrick Colquhoun …]

“‘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 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.'” (¶19)

Selected References

  • Perelman, M. (2000). The invention of capitalism: Classical political economy and the secret history of primitive accumulation. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
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