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This section comes from important piece by Yasha Levine that summarized the book The Invention of Capitalism by economic historian Michael Perelman: 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…
Yep, despite what you might have learned, the transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly.
Real wages and living standards are arguably higher for lower paid workers today than were 70 years ago, even if inequality has risen.
That said, I strongly believe that most people work longer hours than they should and consume too much, and many would benefit from increased free time to spend with family or relaxing.
These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.” It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
But it takes a team of engineers to keep things running, doing everything from cleaning out bird feathers to checking for broken lights.
I’m going to reverse my normal convention when I have a cross post but have something to add.
It is also a reason why I am such a strong advocate for more affordable housing, principally through freeing-up the supply-side. First, if you look back historically, the idea that the lower classes needed to be kept busy for their own sake was in moralistic terms but was in fact ruthlessly economic.