The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation
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Clearly, they did not go willingly. As Michael Perelman shows, they were forced into the factories with the active support of the same economists who were making theoretical claims for capitalism as a self-correcting mechanism that thrived without needing government intervention. Directly contradicting the laissez-faire principles they claimed to espouse, these men advocated government policies that deprived the peasantry of the means for self-provision in order to coerce these small farmers into wage labor. To show how Adam Smith and the other classical economists appear to have deliberately obscured the nature of the control of labor and how policies attacking the economic independence of the rural peasantry were essentially conceived to foster primitive accumulation, Perelman examines diaries, letters, and the more practical writings of the classical economists. He argues that these private and practical writings reveal the real intentions and goals of classical political economy—to separate a rural peasantry from their access to land.
This rereading of the history of classical political economy sheds important light on the rise of capitalism to its present state of world dominance. Historians of political economy and Marxist thought will find that this book broadens their understanding of how capitalism took hold in the industrial age.
domination,’’ albeit on a grander scale. Weber concluded, ‘‘No special proof is necessary to show that military discipline is the ideal model for the modern capitalist factory’’ (1156). In this sense, we may see Jeremy Bentham, rather than Smith, as the archetypal representative of classical political economy. Indeed, Bentham’s dogmatic advocacy of laissez-faire far exceeded that of Smith. For example, after Smith made the case for a government role in controlling interest rates, Bentham (1787b,
industry as a proper category for economics. Marx (1981, 3:637) himself forcefully made the connection between the changing array of commodities and the social division of labor, noting: ‘‘The market for . . . commodities develops by way of the social division of labour; the separation between different productive labours transforms their respective products into commodities, into equivalents for one another, making them serve one another reciprocally as markets.’’ Marx alluded to the
attachment to self-provisioning or to inadequate incomes from wage labor. Either case implies a victory for primitive accumulation. A number of writers acknowledged that such partial self-provisioning, as opposed to more complete self-provisioning, could be highly proﬁtable for employers. For example, William Thornton observed that the money wages of labor were far lower in medieval times because workers’ monetary requirements were minimal then. Workers could squat on neglected land. They had
gardens, according to circumstances. . . . By means of these advantages, the Labourers and their families live better, and are consequently more ﬁt to endure labour; it makes them more contented, and more attached to their situation, and it gives them a sort of independence which makes them set a higher value upon their character. . . . [W]hen a Labourer has obtained a Cow, and Land sufﬁcient to maintain her, the ﬁrst thing he has thought of, has been, how he could save money enough to buy
a ‘‘penetrating genius’’ (Review 1767c, 125), and another still less sympathetic one termed his work ‘‘a code for future statesmen and ministers’’ (Review 1767a, 32). The latter of these two reviewers was typical in his attitude toward Steuart. He feigned surprise that the state had a major role in constructing the economy, claiming: ‘‘We have no idea of a statesman having any connection with the affair, and we believe that the superiority which England has at present over all the world in point