Thursday, June 16, 2016

Adam Smith - The Invisible handcuffs, by Micheal Perelman

Micheal Perelman describes in his book, The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation, and, The Invisible Handcuffs, how at the time of the British industrial revolution the peasants lived quite happy farming their land, usually only needing to work about two to three days week. They hunted, fished, and farmed the land, but this wasn't any good for the ruling class and their industrial revolution, so they got the king to re-enact old laws on poaching and reclaim the land to drive the peasants off it.

Adam Smith made lot of his theory about the 'Invisible Hand of God', but failed to mention that to get capitalism going the ruling class had to drive the peasants off their land by making it difficult for them to get food and farm their land. Starving, they were forced into the cities desperate for any type of work. This was, The Invisible Handcuffs, as Micheal Perelman calls it, and this is really what drove early capitalism. But are things any different today? Had a true free market been left in place, the peasants would have just preferred to carry on working two or three days a week doing a bit of farming, instead slaving away in the rich people's factories, and often being beaten badly while doing so.

Micheal Perelman went through all the old historical documents to discover the real horrors of working in those factories. The working days would be very long, with only a few hours free at the end of each day, during which time the workers would often get drunk, as an escape from their suffering, but the ruling class disapproved of this behavior, they themselves were not greedy or gluttonous, of course. The factory owners also believed that the workers respected harsh discipline because it made them into real men, and very young boys liked being beaten too, as it helped them to grow up.

From the back cover of, The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation.

The originators of classical political economy—Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Steuart, and others—created a discourse that explained the logic, the origin, and, in many respects, the essential rightness of capitalism. But, in the great texts of that discourse, these writers downplayed a crucial requirement for capitalism’s creation: For it to succeed, peasants would have to abandon their self-sufficient lifestyle and go to work for wages in a factory. Why would they willingly do this?

Clearly, they did not go willingly. As Michael Perelman shows, they were forced into the factories with the active support of the same economists who were making theoretical claims for capitalism as a self-correcting mechanism that thrived without needing government intervention. Directly contradicting the laissez-faire principles they claimed to espouse, these men advocated government policies that deprived the peasantry of the means for self-provision in order to coerce these small farmers into wage labor. To show how Adam Smith and the other classical economists appear to have deliberately obscured the nature of the control of labor and how policies attacking the economic independence of the rural peasantry were essentially conceived to foster primitive accumulation, Perelman examines diaries, letters, and the more practical writings of the classical economists. He argues that these private and practical writings reveal the real intentions and goals of classical political economy—to separate a rural peasantry from their access to land.


This rereading of the history of classical political economy sheds important light on the rise of capitalism to its present state of world dominance. Historians of political economy and Marxist thought will find that this book broadens their 
understanding of how capitalism took hold in the industrial age.

6 comments:

Andrew Anderson said...

Looks like a great book; I just ordered it.

Bob said...

"This guy is a conspiracy theorist!" - Matt Franko, book review, 2016.

André said...

"the peasants lived quite happy farming their land"

This is a simplistic and innocent unproved claim based on ideology. It's not based on evidences.

In saying things like that you are no different from the neoliberals that you criticise.

We must seek truth, evidence, facts.

We shouldn't follow some ideology just because it make us more confortable.

John said...

Perelman has written some interesting stuff, but he loses the plot over Adam Smith. Although Perelman defends Marx from his alleged acolytes, he doesn't afford Smith the same courtesy. Smith isn't the reactionary prophet who gave birth to the monetarists and their offshoots. He was a classical liberal philosopher who wanted to do away with the concentrations of power that existed in his time. If Smith was alive today, he'd similarly want to do away with the concentrations of power that now exist, the corporations, especially the multinational kind.

Kaivey said...

Calling Micheal Perelman a conspiracy theorist is a conspiracy theory.

Ryan Harris said...

The Brits placed a fixed tax on property, the people needed to work to get money, basic mmt stuff. But as with all property taxes, government got greedy. Since the land couldn't produce enough to sell and pay the tax and eat too, people would sell their property or mortgage it when weather or markets were unfavourable. And voila, they could extract all real production and financial rents too. As the beneficiary of unscrupulous lending that could never be repaid, they could even place people in debtors prison. The system was purpose built. So people got pissed off at old King John and we got the Magna carta.