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How do we eliminate the paradox of poverty & privation amid plenty & abundance?

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Author Topic: How do we eliminate the paradox of poverty & privation amid plenty & abundance?  (Read 8486 times)
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« on: August 24, 2010, 09:48:30 am »

Now that everyone has had a chance to read all three articles, I will now respond to some of the key claims and arguments made in each one -- beginning first, again, with Jacob Hornberger’s “Liberal Delusions about Freedom”:

…according to the liberals, the notion that Obama’s plan for America was socialistic was itself just crazy.

Actually, it is crazy, just not for the reasons most liberals seem to think it is. It’s crazy because Obamacare is the virtual opposite of the Canadian-style system most people envision when they hear the term “socialist health care.”,332.0.html

After all, everyone knows that America has a free-enterprise system, one that was saved by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, an economic program that Obama, like other liberals, extols and wishes to build upon.

This is a classic illustration of how Austrian School types continually give Obama “left cover” by characterizing him as some sort of New Deal "liberal," when in reality he is both a corporate fascist and puppet of Wall Street intent on quietly dismantling the New Deal via IMF-style austerity measures.

Obama biographer, Webster Tarpley, has made this very point countless times on his radio show over the past two years.

First of all, let’s talk about the economic system that existed in the United States from the inception of the nation to the latter part of the 19th century. The principles are simple to enumerate: No income taxation (except during the Civil War), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, economic regulations, licensure laws, drug laws, immigration controls, or coercive transfer programs, such as farm subsidies and education grants.

What Mr. Hornberger is either unaware of or unwilling to admit to is that there were, in fact, “coercive transfer programs.” Specifically, there was

(a) government-protected rent-seeking on the part of land speculators, and consequently a “forced transfer of wealth from workers to landowners”;

(b) government-sanctioned fractional reserve lending (i.e. loaning non-existent “money” in exchange for collateral-backed IOUs and charging usurious interest on it), and consequently a forced transfer of wealth from the productive class to the non-productive, parasitic banking class; and

(c) banker-orchestrated, government-allowed monetary contractions -- most notably the “Crime of '73” -- and consequently a forced transfer of landholdings and other pledged collateral from bankrupted farmers and business owners to criminal financiers.

But because those three coercive transfer programs were not implemented by government directly, but rather by private interests for private gain with the aid and protective cover of government sponsorship and approval; because Austrian Schoolers tend to regard all government “regulations” -- not just most -- as bad and evil by definition, and would hence allow fractional reserve banking to go unchecked despite their professed opposition to it; and because they have an almost religious-like adoration for both land speculation and depression-inducing monetary contractions, they prefer either to ignore these privilege-based transfer programs altogether (particularly when gushing about the Gilded Age), or, when forced to address them, to define the utterly parasitic nature of these programs out of existence by characterizing them as mere “market activities.”

In mocking that claim of socialism, however, what the SSA doesn’t tell you is where Bismarck got the idea of social security and, for that matter, the whole idea of a paternalistic welfare state. He got the idea from German socialist intellectuals, who saw social security as an ideal way to use the state to implement the Marxian principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Actually it is Mr. Hornberger who’s engaged in deception by omission, here, because as that same government web site acknowledges, it was actually Thomas Paine -- one of the very “Founding Fathers” in whose memory Hornberger so loves to wrap his Austrian School snake-oil -- who pioneered the idea of a "social insurance" program -- the key difference being that Paine (to his credit) advocated financing it with a tax on “ground-rent” rather than a tax on wages:

As the years went on, the German people became accustomed to having the government care for them, with their own money of course. Thus, by the time that Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the paternalistic welfare state had become a permanent feature of German life. Given Hitler’s devotion to National Socialism (abbreviated by the term “****”), it was hardly surprising that he embraced such socialist programs as social security, national health care, and public (i.e., government) schooling.

In fact, Hitler embraced not only socialism but also fascism, an economic philosophy that leaves property in private hands but subjects it to government control and regulation. Another feature of Hitler’s fascism was partnerships between government and private industry, whose aims were to further the interests of the nation.

As Jonah Goldberg points out in his book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, in principle there was no difference between socialists and fascists…

Translation: “Anyone who supports Social Security -- or a social safety net of any kind -- is, by definition, a socialist, fascist, and philosophical soulmate of Adolf Hiter!”

If you were a top international banker who wanted to “divide” the anti-NWO/pro-America movement against itself so that it might be more easily “conquered,” isn’t that just the sort of ridiculously inflammatory rhetoric you would urge your propagandists and disinfo artists to aggressively employ? I know I would if I were one. So even if Mr. Hornberger isn’t a paid “agent” (as opposed to an overzealous, unwitting “dupe”) of the ruling elite, he may as well be!

For what Roosevelt actually did was adopt the principles of socialism and fascism that were spreading across the world, including the premier examples of Benito Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.

If that is true, then why did Hitler-admiring industrialists and financiers attempt to overthrow FDR for the purpose of installing a “fascist dictatorship”?


Oh, that’s right! Austrian School cranks don’t want us asking annoying questions like that, do they? We’re just supposed to accept, without question, that political reality is as conveniently black-and-white as they make it out to be, with virtually no shades of grey. Either you blindly accept each and every aspect of Austrian School dogma as divine gospel, or you’re automatically “delusional” about freedom, and very likely a freedom-hating socialist or fascist! 

Now does everyone see why I regard the Austrian School as little more than a glorified cult?

Turning now to Mr. Sumner’s article:

So lately conservatives, and especially the most hard right wing of conservatives, have been on the lookout for other terms they can use rather than the dreaded "R" word when describing themselves. Some of them have jumped on board the Glenn Beck self-promotion tour. Considering that it's an artificial movement generated around a cheap media persona, declaring yourself a supporter of the Tea Party is a bit like being a proud member of a Monkees Fan Club (and you don't even get to hear "Last Train to Clarksville"), but hey, it plays better than being a part of the George W. Bush legacy.

Other conservatives have jumped in a different direction and declared that they're really "small government Libertarians."

In fairness to Mr. Hornberger and to Austrian Schoolers generally, they have always been (to their credit) at serious odds with neocons like Glenn Beck on both civil liberties and foreign policy matters. So it is misleading at best to lump both into the same ideological category simply because they agree on certain economic issues. Indeed, that’s like calling Ralph Nader a “libertarian” since he actually agrees with most libertarians on civil liberties and foreign policy matters. 

I know of no time -- certainly not in the last 20 years -- in which Mr. Hornberger was in any way affiliated with, or supportive of, the Republican Party. As far as I can tell, he’s always been a 3rd party person. In fact it was he who gave the keynote address at the 1996 National Libertarian Party Convention. Republicans have always hated the Libertarian Party for the same reason Democrats have long hated the Green Party (particularly since 2000).

Ah, the 1880s....A golden age in which people kept all that they earned. Of course, what they earned in the absence of those debilitating minimum wage laws could be nothing more than worthless tokens from the company store. What they earned from twelve hours of work seven days a week could be actually be a bigger debt to the company that sent you into a mine or factory and made you pay for the wear on your tools, the water you drank, the fuel for your lamp, even the blasting powder you used.

Still, a lifetime of debt wasn't so bad in a golden age without OSHA and its safety laws, since lifetimes could be quite brief. Mining accidents didn't kill a piddling 29 men, they killed thousands every year. Over 3 miners out of every 1,000 died on the job each year (twice the rate of Great Britain with it's freedom-robbing concern for safety). But miners were pikers compared to folks on the railroad. Trainmen fell at a rate that made each year of work roughly equal to the risk of being among the troops on D-Day. Now that's freedom you can feel (well, briefly). It was an age where any construction project worth its salt could measure progress by body count and factory workers were privileged to know that they really were valued far less than the machines they tended. And death wasn't all that this golden age had to offer! It was an age when American workers could look forward to the liberation of being disabled for life, and know that they wouldn't be burdened by the crushing burden of worker's compensation or government aid....

It was a golden age without labor laws in which only 5% of people faced the awful restriction of an 8 hour work day while 3 times that many were blessed with a workday that was 12 hours or longer. Many industries, breweries for example, had a standard workday of 15 hours. And with all the extra freedom of that age, many children were able to experience the blessings of back-breaking labor starting every day by the time they reached the age of 10, with more than a third generating freedom dollars before they turned 15.

Although perhaps a bit oversimplified, the above is (despite what Austrian Schoolers want desperately for everyone to believe) a fairly accurate assessment of just how anti-“golden” life for the average worker was in those days. More on that later.

Even the tiniest frontier village rarely went long without a school, many states had organized school districts, and in a good number of areas the ratio of teachers to students was actually higher than in our own socialistic era. Perhaps what Hornberger meant to say was that there were few schools available to minorities.

Thinly-veiled race-baiting, straight out of MSNBC’s playbook, and completely inappropriate --  not to mention unnecessary, considering how much historical reality supports Sumner’s assessment of the 1880s over Hornberger’s. I’ve been following Mr. Hornberger politically for many years, and I can assure Mr. Sumner that Hornberger is no more a “racist” than Ralph Nader is a “fascist.”

However, white literacy remained about the same -- not surprising since whites were already suffering from those socialistic public schools well before 1880.

Now here is where I part company for the moment with Mr. Sumner and express my general agreement with the Austrian School about the true nature and purpose of compulsory government schooling. I should probably add, however, that my approach to education reform, though similar to theirs in some respects, is nevertheless different in others.

It truly was a golden age where there were "no immigration controls" as long as, you know, you were white and European. Oh, and wealthy.

Does this mean Mr. Sumner supports the ruling class policy of letting countless millions of banker-impoverished Mexican peasants break our immigration laws, all so the modern-day robber barons who’ve hijacked our government can (a) want less for slave labor and (b) bankrupt more easily and quickly our already-strained social safety net?

Of course Hispanic, Black, and Asian-Americans were all stimulated by the freedom that comes from having your home burned, your community ransacked, your wife and daughters raped, your belongings stolen, and your body left to turn as "strange fruit" in trees that sprouted across the country.

Does Mr. Sumner realize that many if not most of the criminals who commited those horrible crimes would today be working as cops, CPS workers, TSA thugs or Homeland “Security” goons? Does that type of predatory, psychopathic behavior magically become less wrong merely because the person engaged in it happens to have on a fancy government uniform?

To hear the corporate **** “news” media -- including MSNBC -- talk (deafening silence itself being a form of political speech), it does!

It was a golden age when the last bands of Native Americans still struggling along under the illusion that they were free, were invited into the real liberty that is life on the reservation. And an age where they got to see the lands their ancestors had occupied for centuries or tens of centuries handed over for destruction. Imagine the liberty you get from seeing your lands taken away, your children beaten for speaking their own language, your religious practices used as an excuse for slaughter, and your entire culture erased.

The same type of “liberty” you get from having economic WAR waged against you by Obama's ruling-class string-pullers, perhaps? Or, considering you have an obvious political bias of your own, is that a question you’d rather not answer, since that would mean having to question the legitimacy of the Democrat-vs.-Republican paradigm?

A golden age, free from money-grubbing FEMA, where 400 people could die in a snow storm... then 400 more could die in the next. An age when Florida didn't need no stinking assistance in picking up the thousands who died in hurricanes and Midwestern states laughed off the hundreds who died in tornadoes -- all without warning from a communist government weather bureau.

Oh puh-leeze! If that’s what you think FEMA’s primary purpose is, Mr. Sumner, then you’re either deeply delusional or a bald-faced liar!


An age without communist limits on commerce or immoral government tests, where thousands of Americans each year died from tainted food.

Now we have your beloved FDA looking the other way while companies like Monsanto not only “taint” our food, but play genetic roulette with it!

And why do establishment liberals say virtually nothing about this? Because -- when they’re not signing petitions to ban water -- they’re too busy waxing alarmist about plant food

It was a golden age of rights for women in which... oh, wait. Sorry. I forgot for a moment that women don't count when measuring freedom. Good thing, since in 1880 they couldn't vote

It is, of course, good that women were granted the right to vote. But what good is the right to vote if -- due to an utterly rigged “election” system -- there’s nothing to vote for?

    "Would the essence of slavery change if the rules at a slave auction permitted a slave to choose between the two highest bidders for himself? Could the fact that he made such a choice be interpreted as his sanction for his chains? How can it be argued that the citizen is free in a democracy when he has the choice of two candidates if neither candidate is willing to recognize his right to freedom?"

-- James Bovard, Freedom In Chains, p. 132

Of course, what Hornberger was likely envisioning was the flip side of all this liberty. The freedom of being a rich in a society where those with money enjoyed tremendous advantage. The freedom that factory owners and robber barons enjoyed in treating workers as they wanted,

Thanks to the aforementioned “war” that Obama the Wall Street Puppet is helping to wage against We the People, today’s robber barons are quickly regaining that particular “freedom.” (As I’m certain any sweatshop owner will readily attest, the more desperate people are for employment, the less they tend to complain openly about how badly their employers “treat” them. So don’t let those fake smiles at Wal-Mart fool you.)

employing private armies to beat or kill those who opposed them

News flash: that is exactly what’s going on now, yet the Democrat-controlled Congress and White House refuse to even acknowledge this as an issue, let alone counteract it:

and indulging any whim in the sure knowledge that a large enough bribe could smooth things over.

Again, bad as that was, how is it any different from what we have today -- particularly after more than a year of a Democrat-controlled White House and more than three years of a Democrat-controlled House and Senate?

It doesn't require a time machine and a trip to the 1880s to experience all the joys of this golden age he so longs for. You can reach this land of paradise with a couple of flights and a short boat ride. It's called Somalia.

For reasons given above, one doesn’t even have to take a long trip to experience certain of those “joys.” One need only remove one’s partisan blinders and open one’s eyes to the reality that surrounds him. It’s called America.

Real advocates of the free market realize that term has no meaning unless the market is free from coercion and the law is not defined by "might makes right."

By that measure, would you characterize either President Obama or Democratic Congressional leaders as “advocates” of the free market? If so, don’t be surprised if it isn’t just “conservatives” and “libertarians” who laugh at you!

They know that individual freedoms are incompatible with a system where corporations are treated as super-citizens

And the Democrat-controlled Congress and White House have done what exactly (legislatively, not rhetorically) to eliminate corporate personhood? .... [20 seconds later] .... Hello? You still there?

And now for Hornberger’s response to Sumner:

Sumner’s response contains all the standard the stuff that suggests that our American ancestors hated their wives and children, as reflected in their sending them into dangerous factories to work long hours.

In his masterwork, Progress and Poverty -- the first regular market edition of which was published in 1880 -- Henry George explains that it was economic necessity, far more than anything else, that drove countless “wives” and “children” to work long hours in dangerous, dehumanizing factories; and that this necessity had, in turn, been imposed on them by overprivileged landlords and slumlords via parasitic rent-gouging.

Albert Jay Nock -- to whom many Austrian School ideologues pay homage (ironically enough) -- explains in the following excerpt how the equally horrid economic conditions that plauged Britain throughout the 19th century were mere symptoms of the very same root cause:


"This imperfect policy of non-intervention, or laissez-faire, led straight to a most hideous and dreadful economic exploitation; starvation wages, slum dwelling, killing hours, pauperism, coffin-ships, child-labour -- nothing like it had ever been seen in modern times....People began to say, perhaps naturally, if this is what State absentation comes to, let us have some State intervention.

"But the State had intervened; that was the whole trouble. The State had established one monopoly, -- the landlord's monopoly of economic rent, -- thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into the factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labour market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus." [Emphasis original]

-- Albert Jay Nock, Free Speech and Plain Language, pp. 320-1


To eliminate this original layer of privilege that had been bestowed to rent-seeking landlords and speculators, Henry George advocated the Single Tax, which, if fully implemented, would have quickly eliminated the widely perceived need for all of the additional layers of privilege that (as an inevitable consequence of George’s remedy not being implemented) were eventually granted to the working class as a means of mitigating the poverty-creating effects of the original layer just enough to neutralize the threat of armed revolt.

Austrian Schoolers have always been vehemently opposed to eliminating that original layer of privilege, and, consequently, have spent the last century helping to fuel -- however unwittingly -- popular demand for the very “welfare state” protections and safeguards about which they incessantly whine. And the more one learns about who financed the Austrian School’s rise to apparent prominence, the more one realizes why:

    “The Austrian School came into existence when a bunch of Viennese rent-gouging landlords didn’t want rent control on the rents they could gouge out of their tenants in old Vienna, so they hired a bunch of scribblers--and that’s the Austrian School.”

-- Webster Tarpley, World Crisis Radio broadcast, 9/27/08

    "For the first years of Mises’s life in the United States...he was almost totally dependent on annual research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.”

-- Richard M. Ebeling, “The Life and Works of Ludwig von Mises,” The Independent Review, Summer 2008

You know, like the stuff that suggests that liberals love the poor, needy, and disadvantaged while advocates of the free market just love the rich, greedy, and selfish people in life.

In my experience, neither establishment liberals nor Austrian School ideologues “love” the “poor.” But even if either group did, that of course wouldn’t change whether or not the policy agenda they advocate would, if fully implemented, actually help the poor not be poor in the first place. (And I’m sure Mr. Hornberger knows this, which is why this is a pathetic and shameless appeal to emotion on his part.)

If, metaphorically speaking, it’s a choice between

(a) an “unloving” good doctor who actually cures the disease,

(b) a “loving” liberal doctor who merely treats the symptoms of the disease while leaving the underlying root cause untouched, and

(c) a “loving” Austrian doctor who, in a sweet, caring voice, tells his financially bankrupt would-be patients they must have faith that the mystical, God-like entity euphemistically called the “free market” will see to it that “charity” groups will give them the money they need to secure his services (presumably before they die of sickness or injury), and that in the mean time he has some divinely-inspired Austrian School literature for them to read,

I’d choose the first option, and I suspect most others would as well. But for establishment liberals and Austrian Schoolers alike, truth and intellectual honesty are both secondary to ideology, so each group wants desperately for the masses to not even be aware of the first option, lest the oh-so-precious dogma of each group be seen for the ideological snake oil it really is.

You know, like the stuff that suggests that without the coercive apparatus of the welfare state, poor people and old people would just be dying in the streets.

As contrasted with ideological snake-oil salesmen such as Mr. Hornberger, whose greatest fear is a mass awakening to the aforementioned “original layer of privilege,” and how -- in the Gilded Age about which Austrian School cranks so love to wax nostalgic -- it was this privilege, more than anything else, that made so many people poor and destitute in the first place. Because if such an awakening occurred, people everywhere would realize that the primary purpose of the Austrian School all along has been to protect and entrench this privilege -- not eliminate it -- and would consequently see their (the Austrian School’s) bumper-sticker slogans about “liberty” and the “free market” not as something to mindlessly cheerlead and applaud at Tea Party rallies, but as a sick joke.

As I have long pointed out, the problem with liberals is their dismally poor understanding of economics, and Sumner’s article is just the most recent example of this phenomenon.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hornberger, the very same thing can be truthfully said about both his article and the Austrian School cult he fronts for.

Neither side of this controlled-opposition “debate” is part of the solution. On the contrary, both are part of the problem.

In their purported concern for the poor, liberals never ask the important question: What is it that causes wealth and prosperity to come into existence? The only question they ask themselves is, “What is the cause of poverty”?

By contrast, Austrian Schoolers, in their shameful attempt to make their economic snake-oil seem like a legitimate cure, ignore the question of to whom -- and on what basis -- wealth is ultimately distributed once it’s been brought into “existence.” Because they know that to not ignore this question would be to draw attention to other questions -- particularly the ones asked by John Stuart Mill in the following quote -- which they want desperately to remain unasked:


“Suppose that there is a kind of income which constantly tends to increase, without any exertion or sacrifice on the part of the owners: those owners constituting a class in the community, whom the natural course of things progressively enriches, consistently with complete passiveness on their own part. In such a case it would be no violation of the principles on which private property is grounded, if the state should appropriate this increase of wealth, or part of it, as it arises. This would not properly be taking anything from anybody; it would merely be applying an accession of wealth, created by circumstances, to the benefit of society, instead of allowing it to become an unearned appendage to the riches of a particular class.

“Now this is actually the case with rent. The ordinary progress of a society which increases in wealth, is at all times tending to augment the incomes of landlords; to give them both a greater amount and a greater proportion of the wealth of the community, independently of any trouble or outlay incurred by themselves. They grow richer, as it were in their sleep, without working, risking, or economizing. What claim have they, on the general principle of social justice, to this accession of riches? In what would they have been wronged if society had, from the beginning, reserved the right of taxing the spontaneous increase of rent, to the highest amount required by financial exigencies?”

-- John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Bk 5, Ch. 2


But the latter is a ridiculous question because poverty has always been the natural state of mankind.

What Hornberger is either unaware of or unwilling to admit to is that this “ridiculous” assertion of his comes straight from Thomas Malthus:,394.msg1206.html#msg1206

You would think that those would be important questions for a liberal, especially since liberals have long purported to be concerned about the poor.

You would think that Austrian School “libertarians” wouldn’t be so blatant about their agreement with Malthusian dogma, considering their professed opposition to the global elite’s depopulation agenda -- which is rooted in Malthusianism.

Instead, he points out all the bad things that were taking place in, say 1880, and then concludes that all those statist programs that our American ancestors rejected, and which are so beloved to Sumner, should be embraced. In other words, he’s suggesting that the absence of the statist programs is the cause of the bad living conditions in American society that he laments. But his logic and his conclusions are faulty and fallacious.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hornberger and his ideological cheerleaders, the logic he employs in defense of the Austrian School’s 19th-century alternative to these statist programs is -- for reasons already given -- equally “faulty and fallacious.”

No one denies that economic conditions were bad for many people in 1880. No question about it. No dispute there.

But what is in dispute is the extent to which these conditions were because of, not in spite of, the very tax and monetary policies that Austrian Schoolers are chomping at the bit to reinstitute.

But in focusing on those bad conditions, Sumner makes a common mistake. He is comparing those conditions to conditions in which we live today or at least to some sort of ideal economic utopia. In doing that, he misses the important point, which is this: What were conditions for ordinary people prior to the Industrial Revolution? Answer: As Hobbes put it, life was nasty, brutish, and short — that is, much, much worse than it was in 1880 America.

True to Austrian School tradition, what Mr. Hornberger is counting on his readers to remain blissfully ignorant of is (a) the alarming extent to which life for the average landless wage-earner continued to be “nasty, brutish, and short” precisely where wealth was most abundant, and (b) the extent to which these horrid economic conditions were the direct result of both the pro-land speculation tax system and deflationary “gold standard” he and his fellow Austrian Schoolers routinely endorse.

But don’t take my word for it, nor the contrary word of some Austrian School ideologue blabbing about how wonderful things were back then. Read what a highly respected author who actually lived in 1880, and who observed the socioeconomic conditions of that era first hand, had to say on the matter:


“I hold, and I think no one who looks at the facts can fail to see, that poverty is utterly unnecessary. It is not by the decree of the Almighty, but it is because of our own injustice, our own selfishness, our own ignorance, that this scourge, worse than any pestilence, ravages our civilisation, bringing want and suffering and degradation, destroying souls as well as bodies. Look over the world, in this heyday of nineteenth century civilisation. In every civilised country under the sun you will find men and women whose condition is worse than that of the savage: men and women and little children with whom the veriest savage could not afford to exchange. Even in this new city of yours with virgin soil around you, you have had this winter to institute a relief society. Your roads have been filled with tramps, fifteen, I am told, at one time taking shelter in a round-house here. As here, so everywhere; and poverty is deepest where wealth most abounds.

“What more unnatural than this? There is nothing in nature like this poverty which to-day curses us. We see rapine in nature; we see one species destroying another; but as a general thing animals do not feed on their own kind; and, wherever we see one kind enjoying plenty, all creatures of that kind share it. No man, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No man ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease and the others all skin and bone. Nor in savage life is there anything like the poverty that festers in our civilisation.

“In a rude state of society there are seasons of want, seasons when people starve; but they are seasons when the earth has refused to yield her increase, when the rain has not fallen from the heavens, or when the land has been swept by some foe--not when there is plenty. And yet the peculiar characteristic of this modern poverty of ours is that it is deepest where wealth most abounds….

“I read in the New York papers a while ago that the girls at the Yonkers factories had struck. The papers said that the girls did not seem to know why they had struck, and intimated that it must be just for the fun of striking. Then came out the girls' side of the story and it appeared that they had struck against the rules in force. They were fined if they spoke to one another, and they were fined still more heavily if they laughed. There was a heavy fine for being a minute late. I visited a lady in Philadelphia who had been a forewoman in various factories, and I asked her, ‘Is it possible that such rules are enforced?’ She said it was so in Philadelphia. There is a fine for speaking to your next neighbour, a fine for laughing; and she told me that the girls in one place where she was employed were fined ten cents a minute for being late, though many of them had to come for miles in winter storms. She told me of one poor girl who really worked hard one week and made $3.50; but the fines against her were $5.25. That seems ridiculous; it is ridiculous, but it is pathetic and it is shameful.

“But take the cases of those even who are comparatively independent and well off. Here is a man working hour after hour, day after day, week after week, in doing one thing over and over again, and for what? Just to live! He is working ten hours a day in order that he may sleep eight and may have two or three hours for himself when he is tired out and all his faculties are exhausted. That is not a reasonable life; that is not a life for a being possessed of the powers that are in man, and I think every man must have felt it for himself. I know that when I first went to my trade I thought to myself that it was incredible that a man was created to work all day long just to live. I used to read the Scientific American, and as invention after invention was heralded in that paper I used to think to myself that when I became a man it would not be necessary to work so hard. But on the contrary, the struggle for existence has become more and more intense. People who want to prove the contrary get up masses of statistics to show that the condition of the working classes is improving. Improvement that you have to take a statistical microscope to discover does not amount to anything. But there is not improvement….

“Here is a broad general fact that is asserted by all who have investigated the question, by such men as Hallam, the historian, and Professor Thorold Rogers, who has made a study of the history of prices as they were five centuries ago. When all the productive arts were in the most primitive state, when the most prolific of our modern vegetables had not been introduced, when the breeds of cattle were small and poor, when there were hardly any roads and transportation was exceedingly difficult, when all manufacturing was done by hand — in that rude time the condition of the laborers of England was far better than it is today. In those rude times no man need fear want save when actual famine came, and owing to the difficulties of transportation the plenty of one district could not relieve the scarcity of another. Save in such times, no man need fear want. Pauperism, such as exists in modern times, was absolutely unknown. Everyone, save the physically disabled, could make a living, and the poorest lived in rude plenty. But perhaps the most astonishing fact brought to light by this investigation is that at that time, under those conditions in those 'dark ages,' as we call them, the working day was only eight hours. While with all our modern inventions and improvements, our working classes have been agitating and struggling in vain to get the working day reduced to eight hours.

“Do these facts show improvement? Why, in the rudest state of society in the most primitive state of the arts the labour of the natural bread-winner will suffice to provide a living for himself and for those who are dependent upon him. Amid all our inventions there are large bodies of men who cannot do this. What is the most astonishing thing in our civilisation? Why, the most astonishing thing to those Sioux chiefs who were recently brought from the Far West and taken through our manufacturing cities in the East, was not the marvellous inventions that enabled machinery to act almost as if it had intellect; it was not the growth of our cities; it was not the speed with which the railway car whirled along; it was not the telegraph or the telephone that most astonished them; but the fact that amid this marvellous development of productive power they found little children at work. And astonishing that ought to be to us; a most astounding thing!

“Talk about improvement in the condition of the working classes, when the facts are that a larger and larger proportion of women and children are forced to toil. Why, I am told that, even here in your own city, there are children of thirteen and fourteen working in factories. In Detroit, according to the report of the Michigan Bureau of Labour Statistics, one half of the children of school age do not go to school. In New Jersey, the report made to the legislature discloses an amount of misery and ignorance that is appalling. Children are growing up there, compelled to monotonous toil when they ought to be at play, children who do not know how to play; children who have been so long accustomed to work that they have become used to it; children growing up in such ignorance that they do not know what country New Jersey is in, that they never heard of George Washington, that some of them think Europe is in New York. Such facts are appalling; they mean that the very foundations of the Republic are being sapped. The dangerous man is not the man who tries to excite discontent; the dangerous man is the man who says that all is as it ought to be.” [Continued…]

-- Henry George, “The Crime of Poverty,” April 1, 1885


As bad as things were in 1880 America, it was a golden era compared to the pre-industrial age.

For land speculators and robber barons, yes, but not necessarily for the average worker.

This point was made as long ago as 1954 in a book entitled Capitalism and the Historians, which was edited by libertarian Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek.

As noted above by Henry George, the obvious fallacy of that “point” (to the extent it applies to the working class) becomes obvious to anyone who reads Thorold Rogers’ authoritative, exhaustively-researched book, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, wherein Rogers explains how the progressive push for the 40-hour workweek was actually a mere effort to reclaim what the average worker used to enjoy:

    “According to Oxford Professor James E. Thorold Rogers, the medieval workday was not more than eight hours. The worker participating in the eight-hour movements of the late nineteenth century was ‘simply striving to recover what his ancestor worked by four or five centuries ago.’”

-- Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American, p. 46

Austrian economist Murray Rothbard stated, “Hayek contributed to and edited a series of essays that showed conclusively that the Industrial Revolution in England, spurred by a roughly free-market economy, enormously improved rather than crippled the standard of living of the average consumer and worker in England. In this way, Hayek led the way in shattering one of the most widespread socialist myths about the Industrial Revolution.

This is a classic illustration of how Austrian Schoolers, in their cult-like zeal to appear anti-“socialist,” replace socialist half-truths with equally false anti-socialist half-truths.

Did the industrial revolution make life better, or at least less intolerable, for many workers? Of course. But this, again, was in spite of, not because of, both the pro-land speculation tax system and deflationary gold standard they (Austrian Schoolers) endorse.

With particular regard to said tax system, whenever this system is in place, there is always -- in the words of economist Fred Foldvary -- a "constanct race” between (a) the process by which labor-saving technology increases wages and (b) the process by which increasing numbers of people with increasing incomes all competing for access to the same amount of land enables titleholders to absorb much of these wage gains through higher rent demands while providing no service in return -- a parasitic process commonly referred to as rack-renting.

In early 19th-century America, workers could always “move west” to escape the rack-renting that had long plagued the laboring classes of England, and which was now beginning to rear its ugly head in numerous population centers throughout the eastern half of the U.S. But by the late 19th century, all cheap land had been appropriated (much of it by land speculators), and it was at this point that industrial progress started to become less of a blessing to the working class and more of a curse, since continued increases in production were always met by higher and higher rent demands.

Thus, whatever increase there was in the average worker’s quality of life during the 19th century was due in large part to the fact that so much cheap land was available. Once all land became appropriated, however, the paradox of “poverty admid plenty” quickly began to appear where wealth was most abundant. That’s the dirty little secret about the Gilded Age that Austrian School cranks don’t want anyone to know about.

In summary: although Sumner’s article is not itself without its glaring flaws and omissions, it is nevertheless (insofar as the Gilded Age is concerned) a more accurate account of what life was like for the average worker in the late 19th century than Hornberger’s. Although Hornberger pays obligatory lip service to the notion that this so-called “golden era” was tarnished by certain “bad” things, he is noticeably careful not to identify what those things were or what caused them. And the reason for this convenient omission is obvious: because deep down he knows damn well that most if not all of those “bad” things would return with a vengeance if his beloved Austrian School’s economic agenda were fully implemented, and that most people would -- upon realizing this -- reject this insane agenda accordingly.

What is perhaps most laughable of all, however, is that, since Hornberger describes 1880 as an economic “golden era” in the context of railing self-righteously against the “welfare state” that was instituted decades later by FDR and subsequently expanded by LBJ, he is clearly implying that the average worker was not only better off in 1880 than he was in, say, 1772, but better off than he was in 1972.

Quite frankly, anyone who parrots this absurd belief is either a disinfo agent or a brainwashed dupe of someone who is. But then Ludwig von Mises -- a virtual deity to most Austrian Schoolers -- was admittedly financed out of obscurity by the Rockefeller Foundation. So is it really any surprise that the school of “thought” which von Mises (for all practical purposes) founded -- and to which Hornberger subscribes -- would turn reality on its head in order to make the Rockefeller-dominated Gilded Age seem like a worker’s paradise (as opposed to a robber baron’s paradise)? Certainly not to me.

All that being said, I’d like to close with a point of clarification: I’m well aware of how horribly flawed and corrupt our welfare system is. I just reject the ridiculous notion that the only alternative to the current system is to (a) have no social safety net at all and (b) reinstitute the tax and monetary policies that gave rise to the very economic conditions (dehumanizing sweatshops, widespread pauperism, etc.) that in turn created the apparent need for welfare programs in the first place.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2011, 03:09:19 pm by Geolibertarian » Report Spam   Logged

"For the first years of [Ludwig von] Mises’s life in the United States...he was almost totally dependent on annual research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.” -- Richard M. Ebeling
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