August 8, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XXIV): Sketchy Stories (12): Sudha Shenoy on Enclosures, Mr. Ferrara’s Acceptance of Reality as Evidenced by His Handling of Sources

Tom Woods has just posted “Still More on Enclosures” which links to a 2006 essay on libertarian opinion on enclosure by the late Austrian economist and historian Sudha Shenoy. We learn that he read Mingay’s indispensable work on enclosure (cited and linked in his post) at her suggestion. We commend Shenoy’s extended blogpost to our visitors because "specialized research gives a very complex picture," and her essay gives the reader a handle on that complexity, contrary to the impression Mr. Ferrara’s sketch gives.
And now, on with the show.
As it was with enclosure, so it is with Mr. Ferrara’s sketch covering the Poor Laws, the Laws of Settlement, the Combination Act (aimed at preventing free association among those who worked for politically influential capitalists), and kindred statist, anti-market edicts. More anti-libertarian legislation can hardly be imagined. And yet after snarling several historical, ethical, and economic questions, Mr. Ferrara fails to cite even one Austro-libertarian who supports such repugnant interferences in markets. Again, since what he pillories as “capitalistic” are intrinsically anti-market phenomena, his vignettes are irrelevant to the target of his smears. Perhaps he hopes the denials will be interpreted as admission of guilt and the gunk will nevertheless stick.
In addition to the usual suspects like the Hammonds and Kevin Carson, Mr. Ferrara cites a snippet about the suppression of the home-based spinning jenny, courtesy of the neo-Luddite Kirkpatrick Sale (of SDS notoriety). His sole qualification to contribute to this discussion, for all Mr. Ferrara has told us, is that he expressed an opinion against mass production that Mr. Ferrara fancies he can use in his quarrel with Austro-libertarians. He does not distinguish his own Catholic Distributist worldview from Mr. Sale’s rather different one, articulated over the course of about a dozen books, but simply helps himself to the latter as he sees fit.
If Mr. Ferrara doesn’t hold that mass production the root of all evil, he comes awfully close to that judgment. One gets the distinct impression that he prefers home production, and that you should, too. (More on this in due course.) The afterthought with which he closes out his second of eighteen points rings rather hollow.
. . . of course, Catholic critics of the moral abuses of radical laissez-faire accept the reality of modern industrialization in England and every other Western nation. The issue is how to conform our industrialize world to the law of the Gospel, the moral imperative that is discussed throughout the following pages. (21)
They “accept” that realty, all right, sort of the way the PLO accepts the reality of the State of Israel.
Mr. Ferrara’s reference notes and sources provide more evidence of his second-hand approach to plugging holes in his propagandistic dike. First he cites Mr. Sale as rendered by Mr. Carson (19-20) and then quotes Mr. Carson’s commentary on Mr. Sale, thus reaffirming approval of the former's arguably slanderous reference to the “average vulgar libertarian” strawman:
Apparently, the recipe for “free” market as the average vulgar libertarian uses the term, is as follows: 1) first, steal the land of the producing classes, by state fiat, and turn them into wage-laborers; 2) then, by state terror, prevent them from moving about in search of higher wages or organizing to increase their bargaining strength; 3) finally, convince them that their subsistence wages reflect the marginal productivity of labor in a free market. (20-21) (Mr. Ferrara cites Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, 126. After Mr. Sale, the next witness Mr. Carson calls is Karl Marx.)
A better example of Mr. Ferrara’s scattershot approach to framing a question can probably not be found. (But we’re only up to page 21.) It gets better: after vowing that “there will be no discussion of purely technical economics in Austrian economics” in TCATL (11), he cites an opinion that requires the one entertaining it to understand what is meant by “marginal productivity.” Why mention a topic that, despite one’s promise, one will deal with much later in the book? Well, the better to take another pot-shot at Thomas Woods, that’s why.
According to Mr. Ferrara
Woods provides confirmation of Carson’s assessment when he defends the exploitation of labor during the Industrial Revolution on the ground that a worker was “forced to work 80 or more hours a week” because “his labor [was] so unproductive that 80 hours of labor is necessary for his sheer survival”—with “productivity,” of course, being determined solely by factory owners who kept all the profits. (21)*
In the sentence of Dr. Woods’ that Mr. Ferrara holds up for his readers’ opprobrium, however, he is presupposing, not expounding, the theory that he had defended much earlier in The Church and the Market, namely that the purchasing power of wages is a function of labor’s productivity. What that greater productivity, the result of investment by capitalists, may purchase is leisure in addition to food, clothing, and shelter, leisure that may be spent on the pursuit of education and others goods of civilization. That is, the context of that sentence was a discussion of how labor’s progressively greater productivity since the Industrial Revolution has enabled workers to buy time so that, if they wish, they may partake of the culturally significant activities which, prior to that age, were restricted to a few. Dr. Woods was not comparing rival theories of wage determination.
Greater leisure and greater wealth are precisely what make it possible for people to spend more time doing the things in life that really matter. A man forced to work 80 or more hours per week because, as in the early Industrial Revolution, his labor is so unproductive that 80 hours of labor is necessary for his sheer survival, cannot even dream of such things. The real friend of the “higher things” in life, therefore, are the supporters of the market whose favored system makes those things readily available to more people than anyone centuries ago would have thought possible.” (The Church and the Market, 166)
What a difference a context makes. The suggestion that Dr. Woods was willy-nilly “confirming” the quasi-Marxist labor theory of value underpinning Mr. Carson's historical narrative is ludicrous, if not also dishonest; that he was "defending the  exploitation of labor," insulting. The idea that factory owners determine productivity is just silly. Productivity is ever of goods or services that satisfy the wants of others, and if they fail to do that, factory owners quickly become non-owners. As difficult as conditions were for workers raising families early in the Industrial Revolution, the salient fact (as covered in previous posts) is that workers increasingly had more children to raise for more years, and it took time for their productivity to catch up with not only these basic demographic facts but also their non-material aspirations. But catch up it it did.

* As regular readers may have surmised, Dr. Woods did not emphasize “forced,” but you won’t learn that from the reference note Mr. Ferrara associated with this passage. He announced early on, but once, that all emphasis found in his quotations has been added except where otherwise noted—you need to have caught it the first time and remembered it! Smaller deceptions enable greater ones.