July 26, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XIX): Sketchy Stories (8): The Hammonds, T. S. Ashton, and Emily Litella

We take the occasion of this post, our fiftieth, to remind our visitors that we do not belabor Mr. Ferrara’s errors on enclosure (or on anything else) because we believe they are in a close competition with the truth. We do so only to discredit the rhetorical performance of a propagandist. No one except theologically like-minded individuals already disposed toward his conclusions take his historical opinions seriously. But the performance still merits exposure.
We pass over quickly his reliance on the Hammonds’ long-superseded The Village Labourer, 1760-1832 (1911), which he refers to as “a Protestant source with no Catholic axe to grind” (16), the latter phrase being one he should perhaps not mention aloud. He apparently never cared to see whether they maintained their uniformly gloomy assessment of period:
[S]tatisticians tell us that when they have put in order such data as they can find, they are satisfied that earnings increased and that most men and women were less poor when this discontent was loud and active that they were when the eighteenth century was beginning to grow old in a silence like that of autumn. The evidence, of course, is scanty, and its interpretation not too simple, but this general view is probably more or less correct. J. L. and Barbara Hammond, The Bleak Age, revised edition, London: Pelican Books, [1934] 1947, p. 15. Cited in F. A. Hayek, “History and Politics,” Hayek, ed., Capitalism and the Historians, The University of Chicago Press, 1954, p. 14. (Available through Amazon or the Mises Bookstore.)
Mr. Ferrara’s distortion of T. S. Ashton’s perspective is more serious. He introduces his quotation of the historian with: “Even that sturdy Protestant defender of the Industrial Revolution, T. S. Ashton, was constrained to admit the truth.” (16) It is insolent to suggest that Ashton, a master of the period, would feel "constrained" to “admit” any facts, as though he were afraid of their effect on prejudice. On the contrary, it is Mr. Ferrara who has reason to fear the effect of what Ashton actually wrote on Mr. Ferrara’s reputation as a writer.
In the very paragraph from which Mr. Ferrara took his quotation, Ashton—having just noted that enclosure “had been taking place almost continuously from at least as early as the thirteenth century,” that most of these enclosures “were made by private arrangement between the proprietors concerned,” and that “enclosure by Act [of Parliament against unwilling tenants] did not play an important part until after 1760”—writes sympathetically of:
. . . humbler classes of people who received little or no consideration. The cottagers who had cultivated a few strips in the open fields, and supplemented their incomes by part-time work on those of their wealthier neighbours, might, indeed, be given a small holding when the land was re-divided. But it was less easy to graze a cow, keep fowls, or gather fuel, when the greater part of the waste [land] had been allotted to the squire or the larger cultivators. On the fringe of most open-field villages, there were many squatters who obtained a precarious living, either by primitive husbandry on tiny intakes, or by wage-earning, poaching, begging, thieving, or the receipt of poor relief. Taking little part in the life of the community, they had been tolerated by the easy-going, open-field cultivators. But the enclosed village had little use for such people: their presence was an obstacle to the full utilization of the land, and their poverty laid a burden of parish rates on the tenant farmers.
T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution [1961]. With a new preface and bibliography by Pat Hudson. Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 20.
It is hard to see how Mr. Ferrara could introduce to his readers parts of that paragraph and the next in terms of what Ashton would be “constrained to admit” unless he was confident that they probably did not have Ashton’s immediately preceding words at hand. Here are those parts in Mr. Ferrara’s rendition:
Evicted from their cottages, which were afterwards razed to the ground, they [the dispossessed peasants] crowded to areas where the fields were still open, or took to vagrancy. They and their descendants must have contributed largely to the body of semi-employed, inefficient labour that was to trouble the peace of politicians and poor-law administrators until 1834 and beyond . . . . [I]t was precisely because enclosure released [!] (or drove) [Ashton’s embarrassed parentheses] men from the land that it is to be counted among the processes that led to the industrial revolution. (16-17)
Mr. Ferrara’s exclamatory sound effect and suggestion that the facts that Ashton had just recounted “embarrassed” him express only insolence. Men were mainly released from the land by voluntary agreement for centuries before the violent seizure of Church lands by Henry VIII (with whose violent images Mr. Ferrara is determined to associate enclosure in the minds of his readers) and before the industrial revolution. In some cases they were evicted unjustly. Ashton’s non-embarrassing, parenthetical reference to those who were driven out expresses proportion.
What Mr. Ferrara’s ellipses obscured we indicate in italics:
Evicted from their cottages, which were afterwards razed to the ground, they crowded to areas where the fields were still open, or took to vagrancy. They and their descendants must have contributed largely to the body of semi-employed, inefficient labour that was to trouble the peace of politicians and poor-law administrators until 1834 and beyond.
Some writers who have dwelt at length on the fate of those who were forced to leave the land have tended to overlook the constructive activities that were being carried on inside the fences. The essential fact about enclosure is that it brought about an increase in the productivity of the soil. There has been much discussion as to whether it led to a decline in the number of cultivators, and some who hold that it did write as though this were a consequence to be deplored. It is a truism, however, that the standard of life of a nation is raised when fewer people are needed to provide the mean of subsistence. Many of those who were divorced from the soil (as the stereotyped phrase goes) were free to devote themselves to other activities: it was precisely because enclosure released (or drove) from the land that it is to be counted among the processes that led to the industrial revolution, with the higher standards of consumption this brought with it. (Ashton, op. cit., 20-21.)
We insist that one unjust eviction is one too many, but Ashton asks what else was going forward besides eviction, just as we would ask despisers of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church whether they are interested in knowing anything else about the Church besides schism, pedophile priests (and their episcopal protectors), and the predominance, in the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals, of Italians who have tended to elect Italians for popes. Ashton argued that much else went on during the period we call the industrial revolution, and much of that redounded to the benefit of the “humbler classes of people.”
Mr. Ferrara, who apparently knows how to use an ellipsis when it suits him, appended a full stop after “revolution,” even though there is more to the last sentence. Unless higher standards of consumption embarrass him, why not refer to it, or have the decency to cover mention of it with three dots?
Again, we are not so naïve as to think that pointing out lapse after lapse from standards of controversy has any effect on him. His obduracy in error may be the rhetorical equivalent of Emily Litella’s hearing deficit, but even she would eventually face the camera and say “Never mind!”