Monday, December 24, 2018

Timothy Taylor — Charles Dickens on Management vs. Labor UPDATED

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens is now an entertainment staple at Christmas time. This and many of the other stories that Dickens recounted so skillfully while avoiding rank sentimentality raise the question of his personal political views. The world he describes fictionally is now famous as "the Dickensian world." HIs work was instrumental in the reform of the classical economic liberalism in Britain of the time and the introduction of at least a degree of social liberalism.

Fortunately, Dickens addressed this question.
But more broadly, the article is of interest because Dickens, telling the story in the first person, takes the position that in thinking about a strike taking place in the town of Preston, one need not take the side either of management or labor. Instead, Dickens writes, one may "be a friend to both," and feel that the strike is "to be deplored on all accounts." Of course, the problem with a middle-of-the-road position is that you can end up being hit by ideological traffic going in both directions. But the ability of Dickens to sympathize with people in a wide range of positions is surely part what gives his novels and his world-view such lasting power. The article goes into a fair amount of detail, and can be read on-line, so I will content myself here with a substantial excerpt.
Here's a portion of the 1854 essay by Dickens:
Conversable Economist
Charles Dickens on Management vs. Labor
Timothy Taylor | Managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota

One of Dickens' contemporary admirers was Karl Marx, who praised him in an article for the New York Tribune on August 1, 1854:

The present splendid brotherhood of fiction-writers in England, whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together, have described every section of the middle class, from the "highly genteel" annuitant and fundholder who looks upon all sorts of business as vulgar, to the little shopkeeper and lawyer's clerk.
And how have Dickens and Thackeray, Miss Brontë and Mrs. Gaskell painted them? As full of presumption, affectation, petty tyranny and ignorance; and the civilized world have confirmed their verdict with the damning epigram that it has fixed to this class, that "they are servile to those above, and tyrannical to those beneath them."
Read Dickens. If you're not up for 800-900 pages, start with the much shorter Hard Times or Great Expectations. Dickens isn't a revolutionary, but his representations of 19th-century capitalist society speak powerfully to the need and desire for revolution. His novels are among the most amazing things in the English language--and in world literature.
I recall Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin being required in my high school course in American history, which was a required course for all student at that time. It made a profound impression on me. I also loved reading Victorian novels while I was in high school. I devoured Dickens, Thackeray, etc. But I didn't connect this plots to the present. At the time, I though that that was just times gone by.

Socialist Worker
Bill Keach


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels documented conditions in industrial England in those times as part of the empirical research for writing Das Kapital. See F. Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England (1845).

Conversable Economist
Charles Dickens on Seeing the Poor
Timothy Taylor | Managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota


Konrad said...

“I recall Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin being required in my high school course in American history, which was a required course for all students at that time.”

My own high school course in “American” history dismissed things like slavery of blacks and the slaughter of indigenous people.

Instead, all students were obliged to read the fiction novels Diary of Anne Frank, and Night by the notorious Elie Wiesel.

Holo-hoax programming in public schools is mandatory in twelve U.S. states. Legislatures have pledged to make programming obligatory in 20 more states.

Most states require holo-hoax indoctrination from grade 7-12. However Florida, Illinois and New Jersey require holo-hoax programming for all grades K-12.

Meanwhile I have not been able to determine if the Israel Anti-Boycott Act has passed in Congress. The media outlets are being extremely quiet about it, not wanting to draw attention to it. The law will fine you $1 million for participating in, or verbally supporting a boycott against Israel. The law will also punish anyone connected with the United Nations and the European Union who supports a boycott.

Trump will sign the Anti-Boycott bill if it is buried in a funding bill for his border wall.

Magpie said...

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

I think Marx was wrong about that. Sometimes small facts and personages may appear twice ... both times as a farce.

Taylor is re-hashing a 2015 post. Around that time, his namesake, Timbo Worst-of-All, was having one of those fits that seem to characterise him; in 2015 it was about the meaning of the adjective Dickensian.

I wrote about that (Friday, 25 December 2015):

Bits and Pieces: The Meaning of "Dickensian".

Merry Christmas everyone