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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part XIII

Jeffrey Tucker's post at Mises Blog includes this howler:

In 1900, 40% of Americans worked on farms. Today it is only 3%. This is progress. It really is. What’s more, it represents the results of choice. No one was ever forced to leave a farm. They choose to leave to undertake more socially useful and economically profitable endeavors.

Nobody was ever forced to leave a farm!!?? That sounds an awful lot like the vulgar libertarian argument that all those happy darkies choose to work in sweatshops because they're the "best available alternative." In the comment thread, P. M. Lawrence responds, in part:

(2) It is not true that wherever and whenever people were given the choice they chose urban life over agriculture. The Highland Clearances and Irish Evictions forced people into the cities. One natural experiment - Leverburgh - showed that when crofting remained an alternative, Scottish islanders stayed away from the factory in droves. Also, historically, cities like Antioch were stocked by compulsorily settling local peasantry as well as Macedonian veterans....

(4) Most rural people, if not oppressed by rents and/or taxes, were effectively free peasant proprietors; the comparison should be with those who stayed, not with those like the ploughboy who left. Even those were often demographically different from not having inherited yet, rather than part of a landless underclass (both cases existed). From what little we can reliably infer, unless someone is carrying an extra burden or being forced onto marginal land that yields with work, subsistence farming is a comfortable 20 hours per week....

Tucker, in response, conceded that some examples of forced industrialization existed--the best-known among them being Stalinist Russia and the American south after the Civil War. So, apparently, some people really were forced to, you know, leave the farm. Another example of forced industrialization that readers of E.P. Thompson, J.L. and Barbara Hammond, and the like might be familiar with is the Industrial Revolution in Britain. You know, those little matters of the enclosures, the laws of settlement, the combination laws, an internal passport system coupled with slave auctions by the parish Poor Law overseers, and so forth; but other than that, everything was completely voluntary and non-coercive!

So Tucker's fallback position, it seems, is nobody was ever forced to leave a farm, unless they were forced to leave a farm.

16 Comments:

Blogger Adam said...

In the US, a lot of farmers lost their farms during the depressions of the 1890s and the 1930s. I don't know how significant this was though. Do you have an idea of what portion of small farms were liquidated during these depressions?

I don't know if vulgar libertarians would consider this to be "voluntarily leaving" or not. I think of the John Mellencamp song "Scarecrow"

November 15, 2005 3:14 PM  
Blogger AWolf said...

This is one of those "hits a raw nerve" issues for me. My grandparents lost their farm to the TVA even though Douglas lake stopped rising about 4 miles from where they lived. I also have an elderly uncle whose family is still in the courts over his parents farm being seized and made part of Cherokee National Forest. I know that Jefferson county in Tennessee had about 17% of the land seized by various government agencies in the 1930s and 40s. I don't know the overall percentage but the Federal government is the single largest land owner in Tennessee with most of it acquired under FDR. Bankruptcy was not the cause.

November 15, 2005 4:50 PM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Just out of curiosity, what do you mean when you describe the fate of the American South "after the Civil War" as "forced industrialization"? Are you referring to Reconstruction, or to a bunch of other stuff that happened decades after the civil war (thanks to the TVA and other assorted thieves)? If you're referring to Reconstruction, what specific aspects do you have in mind?

November 15, 2005 7:55 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Actually, Rad Geek, that was just an indirect paraphrase of Jeffrey Tucker's two examples of forced industrialization.

Along the lines of what Adam and AWolf said, it also occurs to me that the state-created and state-subsidized railroads, with their discriminatory pricing had a lot to do with driving farmers into the whole. And the banks and railroads fought what amounted to a war against farmer attempts at cooperative finance, crop storage and marketing.

And that's not even getting into the black sharecroppers, working land that should have been theirs, who got tractored off after WWII and flooded northern cities with destitute and unemployable refugees.

November 16, 2005 7:34 AM  
Blogger JoeTKelley said...

t

November 16, 2005 10:31 AM  
Blogger JoeTKelley said...

Oops

I have yet to learn how to use this blogging program efficiently.

Anyway; to whom it may concern:

The moderators at the Austrian Economic site have reinstated my freedom to post directly to their site. I think this is a significant breakthrough that can bridge the gap between the fat ones and the skinny ones.

I’ve got a lot of work to do at home now. Work has piled up. Meanwhile; please consider reading and commenting here:

http://austrianforum.com/index.php?showtopic=364

The welcome mat appears to be set outside the door. You may find warmth inside. If not, then, return to business as usual. Don’t mind me. I’m just one skinny opinion among many fat ones. Really - don’t mind me. I am overjoyed about having the ban lifted. Smiley face ho ho he he

November 16, 2005 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

And that's not even getting into the black sharecroppers, working land that should have been theirs, who got tractored off after WWII and flooded northern cities with destitute and unemployable refugees.

Could you explain what you mean by "tractored off" ere?

- Josh

November 16, 2005 10:50 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

It means the separate family plots worked by the sharecroppers were consolidated for mechanized farming.

Just fine, arguably, if the decision was made by the rightful owners. But in most of the cotton south, it was a situation straight out of In the Heat of the Night, where most of the land was held by a "gentry" whose title went back to before the Civil War, and the sharecroppers working it were the descendants of the people who'd been working it under slavery (in other words, the rightful owners).

It's still a culture shock for me, btw, when I get out of hillbilly country and travel down into south Arkansas and see that kind of thing in person. The people up here have a completely different mindset: a lot less likely to take crap off some pedigreed nitwit, and a lot more likely to respond with a loaded shotgun.

November 16, 2005 12:12 PM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Kevin: Actually, Rad Geek, that was just an indirect paraphrase of Jeffrey Tucker's two examples of forced industrialization.

Fair enough. I thought you were accepting what he claimed as well as paraphrasing; if that was too strong a reading, my bad.

Kevin: Along the lines of what Adam and AWolf said, it also occurs to me that the state-created and state-subsidized railroads, with their discriminatory pricing had a lot to do with driving farmers into the whole. And the banks and railroads fought what amounted to a war against farmer attempts at cooperative finance, crop storage and marketing.

Sure, but that doesn't, as far as I know, have much to do with the South specifically; it happened in the South, as it did everywhere, but the area where this was most intense was by far the West (for obvious reasons). To tip my hand a bit, the reason I ask is because I don't know of much in the way of land-grab politics that were specific to the South in the immediate post-war period (the New Deal era thievery by the TVA etc. clearly belongs to a different, albeit related historical era). That doesn't mean it didn't exist, but if it did I'd need to hear more about it and I expect most other readers would as well. What I fear is that Tucker has the usual Von Mises Institute / Gone With The Wind picture of Reconstruction in mind rather than something rooted in historical fact, and is using comparisons to Stalinist Russia in order to beat one of the VMI's favorite dead horses. I would like to be proven wrong, though.

Kevin:, And that's not even getting into the black sharecroppers, working land that should have been theirs, who got tractored off after WWII and flooded northern cities with destitute and unemployable refugees.

This is quite true. In fact I'd say that the legitimation and complicity with the plantation system after the Civil War and during Reconstruction, and the refusal to recognize slaves' rights to the land that they had worked all their lives (an idea put into practice only by wild-eyed radicals like Czar Alexander II), amounted to the final stamp of federal approval for one of the largest and most destructive land robberies in American history. (The coerced Black exodus northwards towards industrial centers began well before WWII, for what it's worth -- under pressure from both state coercion and freelance racial terrorism.) But what I suspect is that this isn't quite what Tucker had in mind. (If it is, I'd enjoy being proven wrong.)

November 16, 2005 3:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Of course, things might have turned out better in Russia if the peasants hadn't had to spend forty years retiring the debt on land that was theirs anyway.

November 16, 2005 8:57 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

That's a very considerable non sequitur about "land that was theirs anyway". In most cases it simply wasn't theirs. Most Russian land had been taken from Turks and/or Tartars, and the only expropriation had been of original russian land formerly worked by free or "black" peasants. Likewise sharecropper land had been taken from Indians and there was no expropriation from former slaves - their just compensation would not have involved giving them someone else's land. Likewise the Dutch Patroons of the Hudson had indeed applied resources to the land that was seized from them, and there was no justice giving it to their tenants without compensation.

Compensating former Russian serf "owners" (who actually owned the land via the serfs) actually made sense in political and even economic terms, though it was too one sided and slow. The US small farmer/bamk scenario omits the populist tendency to favour small voting farmers over large foreign and self financing farmers; the voting system distorted that and had previously given the farmers an unfair and unsustainable advantage, which left them prey to the banks (see Billy the Kid's back story, who he worked for before the land wars).

BTW, I prefer "P.M.Lawrence" to the US form of first name, middle initial, surname. That's not just emotional, it's also because it reduces the faulty data matching I am susceptible to.

November 16, 2005 9:30 PM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Kevin: Of course, things might have turned out better in Russia if the peasants hadn't had to spend forty years retiring the debt on land that was theirs anyway.

Oh, undoubtedly. And it would have been the just thing to do anyway (which I think is more important). But things would have gone even worse if the Emancipation had, like the American Emancipation, simply legitimated all the slave-masters' claims to their stolen land and left the serfs completely at the mercy of masters-cum-landlords.

P.M. Lawrence: Likewise sharecropper land had been taken from Indians and there was no expropriation from former slaves - their just compensation would not have involved giving them someone else's land.

The issue isn't compensation (although the slavers clearly owed their former slaves that too -- money or seed would have done nicely). The issue is homesteading and the enforcement of the slavers' phoney land titles against it. When the prior rightful owners were no longer in a position to exercise their rightful claim to the land it became available for homesteading by those who worked the land. Black people worked the land. Slavers didn't. Therefore, the land belonged to the Black people. Enforcing the slavers' illegitimate land titles against Black slaves who lived on and worked the land is thus theft.

The same is true, incidentally, of the landed lords of Russia -- whatever legitimate claim that they might ever have held over the land was forfeited when they abandoned it. They abandoned their land when they turned the work over to serfs (who, by the 15th century, had absolutely no legal rights whatever that would differentiate them from slaves). If the labor being done on the land were being done under contract, there might be some case for saying that the lords retained a legitimate proprietary interest in it; but since there was no contract and they had absolutely no legitimate claim whatsoever to the bodies or labor of "their" serfs, they abandoned the land entirely. The ransom that the Czar demanded on their behalf may or may not have been expedient from a political standpoint, but neither the Czar nor the lords had any more right to demand it than the slavers had a right to demand compensation for the loss of their "property" after emancipation in the British Caribbean.

November 16, 2005 11:51 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Rad Geek, you're missing the point. In those times and places, homesteading didn't apply. Coming along afterwards and imposing those rules instead would have been a separate injustice (since two wrongs don't make a right). And if they had been put in as part of the same package of reforms, the sharecroppers etc. wouldn't have been allowed to build up a claim - they would have been evicted there and then.

The "non sequitur" part is that the issues are unrelated in principle, i.e. it is a mere coincidence that both problems came up together. They aren't inherently connected.

November 17, 2005 1:32 AM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Lawrence: In those times and places, homesteading didn't apply.

What do you mean when you say "homesteading didn't apply"? Are you using homesteading in the same sense that I am, i.e., original appropriation of an unowned or abandoned resource by personal occupancy and honest labor? If not, what do you mean? If so, why wouldn't original appropriation of an unowned or abandoned parcel of land by personal occupancy and honest labor (which the slaves, but not the slave-drivers, satisfied) "apply" in the American South during the period of emancipation from 1863-1866?

Lawrence: Coming along afterwards and imposing those rules instead would have been a separate injustice (since two wrongs don't make a right).

A separate injustice against whom? The slave-drivers? On what possible grounds would they have a legitimate proprietary claim to the land in question?

November 17, 2005 3:33 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Even using your definition of homesteading - which, as I pointed out, wasn't the understood basis of property in those times and places - the plantation owners did apply their own labour to the land. You'll see a literary example of it in Scarlett O'Hara's father setting up Tara in "Gone with the Wind" (she later applies her own labour to it).

The thing is, the land owning and the slave owning capacities intersected but were not identical. As for your requirement of "honest labour", well, they did that too, but I don't see how extracting slave labour to do it confers an interest in the land as opposed to a more general obligation. But in any case, the slaves were only part of setting up the plantations - the actual "planting".

You get a better insight bu looking at the Dutch Patroons of upper New York state, since they did the same things and similarly got squeezed out by populism after applying resources to open the land up. Only, they didn't use slavery by and large. Slavery is a red herring on the land issue.

November 17, 2005 9:05 PM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Lawrence: Even using your definition of homesteading - which, as I pointed out, wasn't the understood basis of property in those times and places - ...

If this is what you were trying to point out, I don't know what its relevance is supposed to be. People have had lots of wacky ideas about property rights. For example, in the American South ca. 1850 most large planters believed that they could own other human beings; and even further that if they owned any one human being they would also own all of her or his descendents. But they were wrong; the people whom they enslaved were not actually their property, but rather free and independent human beings. The moral of this story is that the proper question is what property rights people actually had, not what property rights some set of people thought that they had.

Lawrence: the plantation owners did apply their own labour to the land. You'll see a literary example of it in Scarlett O'Hara's father setting up Tara in "Gone with the Wind" (she later applies her own labour to it).

The fact that you have to resort to fiction -- a rather notorious example of wistful apologia for slavery, incidentally -- in order to bolster your historical point doesn't speak well for it. That said, there are certainly plenty of historical examples of white planters who spent a bit of time doing some work on the farm. But so what? I'd be glad to see a land reform plan on which former slaves were recognized as the owners of parcels of land proportionate to the amount of their labor that was spent in cultivating and maintaining it, and in which the planters retained control over parcels of land proportionate to the amount of their labor that was spent in cultivating and maintaining it. I doubt the planters would have been very happy with the results, but it's not their happiness that I am, or that you should be, concerned with.

Lawrence: But in any case, the slaves were only part of setting up the plantations - the actual "planting".

This is a plain lie. Slaves ploughed, planted, tended, and harvested. They also cleared land, worked on roads and structures, tended to animals, built and maintained their own houses, built and maintained the master's manor, cooked, cleaned, cared for children and adults, greeted and entertained guests, ran errands in town, and did any number of other tasks which were set for them by the slave-driver, his family, and his overseers. Slave-drivers also extracted more money from their slaves by forcing them to work on other plantations or in towns or on public works projects, and taking their wages; and by "selling" them and their children. (Even if "all" that slaves were doing was tilling the soil, I can't imagine why in the world you wouldn't think that they are doing a substantial and essential part of the labor necessary for running a bloody farm.)

Lawrence: You get a better insight bu looking at the Dutch Patroons of upper New York state

A better insight on what? Why would it offer a better insight on the question of land ownership ca. 1866 in the American South than ... considering facts about the American South ca. 1866?

I don't think that the arbitrary grants of the Dutch West India Company conferred any more right to the estates that the Patroons claimed than the Southern slave-drivers had over the land they claimed. But I think there's an open question in the theory of property whether you can homestead land by voluntarily arranging for others to cultivate it. If you can, then the Patroons had a legitimate right to as much of their land as was worked by either themselves or by free tenants. (I don't know how many of their tenants actually were free, and how many were held to illegitimate forms of servitude which were quite common in early modern Europe. Whatever the proportion of free to unfree was, that's the proportion of land you could say they rightly held.) If you can't homestead land by voluntarily arranging for others to cultivate it, then the Patroons had only a leigitimate right to as much of their land as they personally worked. I don't think either of these answers is obviously wrong. (I suspect Kevin has more fixed beliefs than I do on the question.) There is, on the other hand, no open question as towhether you can homestead land by coercing other people to labor on it. The reason that working unowned land is a means to owning is that the labor is yours. If the labor was never yours to begin with, then neither is the land. Conflating this latter case with the former case, where exchange is voluntary, is not an insight into the issue; it's merely changing the subject.

November 18, 2005 11:29 AM  

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