Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part XIII
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.