July 28, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XXI): Sketchy Stories (10): Dismissive of the New, Evasive of the Old

When Tom Woods once again drew kind attention to this blog, he also indirectly reminded us of our limitations. One doesn’t have to be an expert to see that someone else isn’t, a point we made before, but one would do well to know just where one’s “inexpertise” lies.
And so when Tom cited two books by G. E. Mingay (Enclosure and the Small Farmer in the Age of the Industrial Revolution and the more recent Parliamentary Enclosure in England), both in the above-cited post and in a paper he co-authored and linked to in an earlier post, he showed us, as only a trained historian who keeps abreast of the literature could, where we could supplement our knowledge.
Although we have not read Mingay, we observe that doing so is demonstrably not a condition of exposing the inadequacy of Mr. Ferrara’s awareness of what had been written before Mingay.
When we provided an excerpt from a review by Rothbard on enclosure, we omitted a reference note of his that Roberta Modugno had included in her edition of Rothbard’s previously unpublished reviews, Rothbard vs. The Philosophers:
For a refutation of the enclosure myth and a recognition of the key being increase of population, see W. H. B. Court, A Concise Economic History of Britain from 1750 to Recent Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954).
That book, more than fifty years old--and therefore falling within Mr. Ferrara's chronological ambit of possible interest--shows in its first two chapters that the coffin of Received Opinion on the Industrial Revolution and enclosure, if nailed shut only by Mingay’s day (if we discern Dr. Woods’s assessment accurately), was at least closed by Court’s. We now cite parts of his narrative that bear on Mr. Ferrara’s promotion of Dickensian tragedy, which makes incomprehensible the pro-life story that was unfolding during this period, including an increase in living standards, most centrally the dramatic increase in the numbers of Britons who were born and lived to have children of their own.
In eighteenth-century Britain we are watching the gradual rise of the large average size of family which prevailed in this country in Victorian times. . . . To put the matter more exactly, the large surviving family was, so far as can be seen on imperfect evidence, mainly the result of forces which diminished mortality, but which had as their secondary effect the increase of fertility, meaning by fertility the number of children born to a family. The saving of children at birth or in the first years of life and the lengthening in the expectation of life among mothers may account for the greater part of the advance of population in the eighteenth century. . . . (op. cit. 10-11)
The general fall in the death-rate was due to many things. An improvement of medical services was one of them. Medical knowledge in the eighteenth century was beginning to show what it could do, although much of the knowledge was empirical rather than scientific in the strict sense. . .  . Knowledge of the rules of health, however, could not have helped very much, if the slow improvement in the water-supply, paving and sanitation of English towns had not made it possible to apply them. (op. cit. 11)
. . . Taking the country as a whole, the rate of deaths per thousand of population began to fall, as far as we can tell, after the first quarter of the century and declined markedly from 1780 onwards, despite the rapid growth of town life. Between the end of the French wars in 1815 and the cholera epidemic of 1831-2, the death-rate rose sharply, but it never regained the old levels. (op. cit. 12)
. . . Every increment in the productivity of British agriculture and industry, from the end of the Civil War [1642–1651—A.F.] onwards, had a bearing on the increase in numbers in the subsequent century and a half. The population of Tudor [1485-1603—A.F.] and Stuart [1603-1714—A.F.] England had lived a hard life. Every change for the better, however small, in their food, clothes or housing, must have affected the chances of survival. Many changes of this kind took place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, not least owing to improvements in agriculture. . . .  (op. cit. 12)
Industrial production provided cheaper and cleaner underwear, cotton and soap and greater cleanliness increased the resistance to disease. . . . (op. cit. 12)
There were, therefore, powerful forces playing in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century upon the old high mortality which British population had suffered along with that of other countries, and they brought it down. . . . The saving of lives among young children and child-bearing women promoted a high birth-rate; but as more children were born and survived, the greater proportion of young people in the population may be assumed to have brought the average death-rate down, for an old population dies faster. These interactions must have been important, but they cannot with the surviving material be easily traced and weighed. (op. cit. 13)
The picture presented by the British population after 1750 is therefore one of a land in which the old conditions of life had been sufficiently modified to permit a rapid increase of numbers. (op. cit. 13)
Mr. Ferrara ignores all of this, preferring to bemoan “the loss of village life, and the independence of the cottager with his small plot of land,” (17) that is, what Court summarily referred to as “the old conditions of life,” redolent in its anti-human implications of the most chilling of today’s “green” propaganda.