What positive steps can we take? The energy that is now expended by well intentioned, freedom-seeking individuals on the destructive course of politics can be turned into powerful steps that will have a positive effect on the future. All are moral, right and just. None require aggressing. Consider the following...
The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
National Treasury Union President Colleen M. Kelly recently described the 2014 IRS budget allocation as “woefully inadequate.” But the agency has not proven itself to be an efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. Here are ten ways the IRS lost the trust of the American people.
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
Do you trust your doctor? Most patients assume their doctor is working in their best medical interests whenever he or she orders a diagnostic test or recommends a particular treatment. Customers might wonder whether an unscrupulous auto mechanic is being truthful when he recommends a brake job or a new transmission. But most patients trust […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
(First published at the Future of Freedom Foundation site.)
They hang the man, and flog the woman,
That steals the goose from off the common;
But let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.
Anonymous, in The Tickler Magazine, February 1, 1821.
An understanding of the Enclosure Acts is necessary to place aspects of the Industrial Revolution in proper context. The Industrial Revolution is often accused of driving poor laborers en masse out of the countryside and into urban factories where they competed for a pittance in wages and lived in execrable circumstances.
But the opportunity that a factory job represented could only have drawn workers if it offered a better situation than what they were leaving. If laborers were driven to the cities, then some other factor(s) must have been at work.
One factor was the Enclosure Acts. These were a series of Parliamentary Acts, the majority of which were passed between 1750 and 1860; through the Acts, open fields and ‘wastes’ were closed to use by the peasantry. Open fields were large agricultural areas to which a village population had certain rights of access and which they tended to divide into narrow strips for cultivation. The wastes were unproductive areas – for example, fens, marches, rocky land, or moors – to which the peasantry had traditional and collective rights of access in order to pasture animals, fish, harvest meadow grass, collect firewood or otherwise benefit. Rural laborers who lived on the margin depended on open fields and the wastes to fend off starvation.
Enclosure refers to the consolidation of land, usually for the stated purpose of making it more productive. The British Enclosure Acts removed the prior rights of local people to rural land they had often used for generations. As compensation, the displaced people were commonly offered alternative land of smaller scope and inferior quality,sometimes with no access to water or wood. The land seized by the Acts were then consolidated into individual and privately-owned farms, with larger and politically connected farmers receiving the best land. Often small land-owners could not afford the legal and other associated costs of enclosure and, so, were forced out.
In his pivotal essay “English Enclosures and Soviet Collectivization: Two Instances of an Anti-Peasant Mode of Development”, libertarian historian Joseph R. Stromberg observed,
“[T]he political dominance of large landowners determined the course of enclosure….[i]t was their power in Parliament and as local Justices of the Peace that enabled them to redistribute the land in their own favor. A typical round of enclosure began when several, or even a single, prominent landholder initiated it….by petition to Parliament….[T]he commissioners were invariably of the same class and outlook as the major landholders who had petitioned in the first place, it was not surprising that the great landholders awarded themselves the best land and the most of it, thereby making England a classic land of great, well-kept estates with a small marginal peasantry and a large class of rural wage labourers.”
In turn, this led to new practices of agriculture, such as crop rotation, and resulted in a dramatic increase in productivity over time. (Of course, this may have happened naturally, with common users co-operating for greater productivity.) Whatever the long term effect, the immediate one was to advantage those fortunate enough to become individual owners and disadvantage peasants. The immediate effect was to devastate the peasant class.
When access was systematically denied, ultimately the peasantry was left with three basic alternatives: to work in a serf-like manner as tenant farmers for large landowners; to emigrate to the New World; or, ultimately, to pour into already crowded cities where they pushed down each others’ wages by competing for a limited number of jobs.
HISTORY OF THE ENCLOSURE ACTS
The British enclosure question is extremely complex, varying from region to region and extending over centuries. Enclosure reaches back to the 12th century but peaks from approximately 1750 to 1860, a time period that coincides with the emergence and rise of the Industrial Revolution. British economic historian Sudha Shenoy stated, “Between 1730 & 1839, 4,041 enclosure Bills passed, 581 faced counter-petitions, & 872 others also failed.” How far-reaching were those thousands of Acts? According a 1993 study by J. M. Neeson, Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700-1820, winner of the 1994 Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society, enclosures occurring 1750 and 1820 dispossessed former occupiers from some 30 percent of the agricultural land of England.
Perhaps the most significant measure was the General Enclosure Act of 1801 (also called the Enclosure Consolidation Act) because it simplified and standardized the legal procedures of ensuing Acts.
Historians J. L. and Barbara Hammond in The Village Labourer 1760-1832 (1970) described the worker who was driven into factories by the Enclosure Acts:
The enclosures created a new organization of classes. The peasant with rights and a status, with a share in the fortunes and government of his village, standing in rags, but standing on his feet, makes way for the labourer with no corporate rights to defend, no corporate power to invoke, no property to cherish, no ambition to pursue, bent beneath the fear of his masters, and the weight of a future without hope. No class in the world has so beaten and crouching a history.”
Cumulatively and within a few generations, the enclosures created a veritable army of industrial reserve labor. The displaced and disenfranchised class were reduced to working for starvation wages that they supplemented through prostitution, theft and other stigmatized or illegal means. When the workers swelled the ranks of the poor, the Government once again stepped in once more…this time to assist capitalists who petitioned for tax-funded favors.
Even the anti-libertarian comentator Christopher A. Ferrara explains,
“England’s response to the crisis of poverty among the landless proletariat” was a “system of poor relief supplements to meager wages, adopted de facto throughout England (beginning in 1795) in order to insure that families did not starve. The result…was a vast, government-subsidized mass of wage-dependent paupers whose capitalist employers, both urban and rural, were freed from the burden of paying even bare subsistence wages.”
In turn, the palpable misery of this class fueled the rise of a vigorous socialist movement that blamed the Industrial Revolution for the exploitation of the masses. (The socialists were aware of the impact of enclosure but ultimately blamed industrialization.) And exploitation by industrialists undoubtedly existed; for one thing, some used governmental means. But the masses were there to be exploited largely because powerful land owners had used political means to deny to peasants their traditional means of rural livelihood. Exploitation was possible because other opportunities had been legally denied.
It is deceptively simplistic to blame the Enclosure Acts alone for the abuses usually ascribed to the Industrial Revolution. Many factors were in play. For example, the majority of people in pre-Industrial England dwelt in the countryside where they often supplemented their income through cottage industries, especially the weaving of wool. This income evaporated with the advent of cheap cotton and industrialized means of weaving it. Many influences contributed to the desperation of an unemployed army of workers.
What enclosure does illustrate without question, however, is that the abuses ascribed to the Industrial Revolution are far from straight-forward. Blaming industrialization for workers’ misery is not merely simplistic, it is also often incorrect. Whether or not some exploitation would have existed within free-market industrialization, the abuses of the Industrial Revolution were standardized, institutionalized and carried to excess by government and the use of political means.