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The Myth That People Work Harder Under Capitalism

The Myth That People Work Harder Under Capitalism thumbnail

In the not so distant past, people didn’t work hard, but not for the reasons the ahistorical or socialists think. There were no happy peasants laboring a few hours in the fields and spending the rest of the day in leisure. They were starving and had no energy to work hard. Far from an idyllic life, watching one’s children suffer from malnutrition and being too weak to help must have been a hellish experience.

In his book The Great Escape, Nobel laureate in economics Angus Deaton explains the “nutritional trap” Britain’s population once experienced:

The population of Britain in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries consumed fewer calories than they needed for children to grow to their full potential, and for adults to maintain healthy bodily functioning and to do productive and remunerative manual labor. People were very skinny and very short, perhaps as short as at any previous (or subsequent) time.

Deaton explains how the lack of nutrition affected the body. Workers centuries ago were not strapping; a stunted body offered the best hope for survival:

Throughout history, people adapted to a lack of calories by not growing too big or too tall. Not only is stunting a consequence of not having enough to eat, especially in childhood, but smaller bodies require fewer calories for basic maintenance, and they make it possible to work with less food than would be needed by a bigger person. A six-foot-tall worker weighing 200 pounds would have survived about as well in the eighteenth century as a man on the moon without a spacesuit; on average there simply was not enough food to support a population of people of today’s physical dimensions.

The average 18th-century Englishman got fewer calories than the average individual living today in sub-Saharan Africa. Because they couldn’t eat, these poor Englishmen worked little. Deaton writes:

The small workers of the eighteenth century were effectively locked into a nutritional trap; they could not earn much because they were so physically weak, and they could not eat because, without work, they did not have the money to buy food.

Johan Norberg in his book Progress reports the research findings of economic historian and Nobel laureate Robert Fogel:

Two-hundred years ago some twenty percent of the inhabitants of England and France could not work at all. At most they had enough energy for a few hours of slow walking per day, which condemned most of them to a life of begging.

And then, everything began to change. Deaton explains:

With the beginnings of the agricultural revolution, the trap began to fall apart. Per capita incomes began to grow and, perhaps for the first time in history, there was the possibility of steadily improving nutrition. Better nutrition enabled people to grow bigger and stronger, which further enabled productivity to increase, setting up a positive synergy between improvements in incomes and improvements in health, each feeding off the other.

By the end of my teaching career, ahistorical undergraduate students were becoming disturbingly common. They did not know the hellish poverty the vast majority of humanity had endured for millennia. They didn’t believe the past could have been as brutal as writers such as Matt Ridley described in his book The Rational Optimist. Even worse, exposed to hard evidence, some students refuse to question their positions.

Individuals, ignorant of economics and history, believe today’s cornucopia always has been.

Camille Paglia explains that because “Everything is so easy now, [undergrads] have a sense that this is the way life has always been.” Paglia continues, “Because they’ve never been exposed to history, they have no idea that these are recent attainments that come from a very specific economic system.”

Capitalism, she continues, has “produced this cornucopia around us. But the young seem to believe in having the government run everything.”

Individuals, ignorant of economics and history, believe today’s cornucopia always has been. It is understandable why they might be enamored with their favorite democratic socialist. Believing they will get to keep their cornucopia, they dream of obtaining even more as a socialist government passes seized wealth on to them. Perhaps also they dream of the world, promised by socialists, where they work less.

The democratic socialist Jacobin magazine argues we work too many hours and blames capitalism for this “problem.” They wonder, “how would we organize time differently if we were free from the demands of capitalism?” Writing in the Jacobin, Matt Bruening calls for forced reductions in the hours Americans work:

There is a good case for redistributing the work in the US a bit more broadly. The best way to do that would be to decrease the amount of hours people currently employed have to work by providing more holidays, vacation, paid leave, and sick leave, and then increasing the ability of others to work by providing social care for children, the elderly, and the disabled and by implementing active labor market policies.

Ann Jones, writing in Salon, claims “American capitalism has failed us,” in part because we are “overworked.” Jones was a correspondent in Afghanistan. Returning to America, she imagined she saw similarities between Afghanistan and America: “It felt quite a lot like stepping back into that other violent, impoverished world, where anxiety runs high and people are quarrelsome.”

Jones longs for what she sees as a Scandinavian utopia, where they work “at producing things for the use of everyone—not the profit of a few.” What Jones refuses to understand is that Scandinavians say theirs is a capitalist economy.

Contrary to mythology, 19th-century factory jobs were great jobs; today’s jobs are even better. Writing in Reason, Arthur M. Diamond Jr. shares the testimony of an eight-year-old English girl who worked 14 hours a day on a farm: “It was like heaven to me when I was taken to the town of Leeds and put to work in a cotton factory.”

The move from the farm to a better life in the factory was true in America, too. In my FEE essay “Stephen Hawking’s Final Warning: Why His Worries Were Unwarranted,” I tell the story of Lucy Larcom, a 19th-century American poet who, at age 11, out of economic necessity, worked in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts:

In Lucy’s book, A New England Girlhood, she writes of her experience at the mill. In the mill, she encountered other poets, singers, and writers who, like her, were hungry for education and eagerly attended the Lyceum lectures of the day.

She couldn’t have imagined today’s America—a much higher standard of living with fewer mill workers and more people pursuing their dreams. Yet, she was keenly aware that her world was already changing. “Things that looked miraculous” to her parents were commonplace to her.

“Our attitude—the attitude of the time,” wrote Larcom, “was that of children climbing their dooryard fence, to watch an approaching show, and to conjecture what more remarkable spectacle could be following behind.”

“All was expectancy.” Larcom added, “Changes were coming. Things were going to happen, nobody could guess what.”

If you believe such testimony is merely anecdotal, Diamond relates that

Charles Dickens, famous for defending the poor in his bestselling novels of the mid-1800s, praised the clean, comfortable working conditions of former farm girls in a Boston textile factory.

Farm work was more exhausting and more dangerous. Those, like Lucy Larcom, seized the opportunity of a better life.

Diamond observes that entrepreneurial capitalism “has a long history of creating new, better jobs and also of nudging old jobs toward the challenging, meaningful peak of [Maslow’s] hierarchy of needs.” Diamond gives an excellent 19th-century example:

An early specific example of innovative dynamism improving jobs happened when kerosene replaced whale sperm oil for high-quality lighting. Collection of sperm oil required the collectors to spend days scraping spermaceti from the brain cavity of the decomposing carcass of a huge whale. Work in oil fields was far from perfect, but it was better than work in decomposing brain cavities.

Similarly, building and repairing refrigerators is better and higher-paying work than was the dangerous work of harvesting ice in brutal temperatures.

If progress continues, those living in the future, using the yardstick of their own time, might write of today’s “deplorable” working conditions and working hours. Such is progress. Capitalism has been the great engine of unimagined prosperity and unimagined improvements in worker conditions.

FEE



72 Comments on "The Myth That People Work Harder Under Capitalism"

  1. Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:38 am 

    Overwork is a very serious problem in the workplace and those who do this die from exhaustion, heart attacks etc. People have the right to know what kind of conditions they are working in, the right to refuse dangerous work and so on. Instead of reducing the pay, reduce the hours and improve the working conditions for ALL workers.

  2. Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:40 am 

    The CEOs (fat cats) should be put to work and their pay should be cut by 50% or more.

  3. Davy on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:45 am 

    Totally true. I dont have a job, and I am doing just fine. Thanks to capitalism, I can spend all my time, writing my excellent REAL GREEN essays for a grateful world on in the internet. The government helps pay for my cell-phone plan, my pantry is overflowing with canned beans and Miller-lite beer, and I myself, am well over 200 pounds of pure American progress and capitalism. Unlike all those shit-hole country’s that are too stupid to know how REAL FARMING works, and dont even have outhouses like we have here, the most advanced and powerful country in the universe.

    God bless America
    God bless Capitalism

  4. Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:46 am 

    Which is more important: basic necessities of life (food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine etc.) or short-term financial gain?

  5. Dave thompson on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:57 am 

    Things are good because of ff energy slaves hidden in all aspects of modern life. Capitalism has nothing to do with modern lifestyles and the ability to live well. Capitalism is a bottom up wealth transfer system of deception.

  6. Cloggie on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:01 pm 

    Difficult to argue with the article. Thanks to technology we now need to get rid of excess calories in workouts or sport fields and the likes:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_body_mass_index

    At 17:00 I arrived back at the hotel near Liverpool Street station after a day out, walking along the South Bank to the London Eye and Slone’s Square. Taking the metro to South Kensington and walking to the Science Museum. Spend two hours there and then walked back along Hyde Park and much of the EU demonstration route yesterday, Picadilly, having a video conversation with my brother, making fun about masonic buildings and conspiracy theories to finally arrive at the hotel.

    Upshot, according to my Fitbit gadget:

    23.000 steps
    3120 kcal.

    Sitting in a chair/lying in bed 24 hours, doing nothing costs me 2100 kcal (“base-load”). By tonight 24:00 my kcal tally will be ca. 3120 + 7 hours X 85 kcal = 3715 kcal. During a normal office day I achieve 3400 kcal, thanks to the fitness studio. One hour 10 kmh = 800 kcal. Lunchbreak walk another 400 kcal.

    My parents scored an average lifetime of 86. I have a good chance to top that. Thanks to food, information, technology, capitalism, very interesting work. Perhaps that the many doomers here should pay attention to their diet. How about some Dutch dairy products?

    #SayCheese!

  7. Cloggie on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:24 pm 

    How the system, that needs to be dismanteld, works:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7592041/How-Epstein-set-meeting-Petie-Mandelson-banker-prison-cell.html

    Epstein, Mandelsohn, Dimon… same tribe. Mandelsohn is responsible for the darkening of London. Epstein’s task is to compromise high-ranking gentiles. And Dimon exists to fund the operations of Mandelsohn and Epstein.

  8. JuanP garbage on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:52 pm 

    Richard is a long ago JuanP sock. Davy comments are JuanP ID theft

    Richard Guenette said Which is more important: basic necessities of life…

    Davy said Totally true. I dont have a job, and I am doing ju…

    Richard Guenette said The CEOs (fat cats) should be put to work and thei…

    Richard Guenette said Overwork is a very serious problem in the workplac…

    Davy Sock Puppet said JuanP

  9. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:55 pm 

    All overseas futures in the red.
    (from a US perspective)
    How long can the Fat Boy do this?
    He has been bankrupt 6 times.

  10. DavyD garbage on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 1:01 pm 

    Davydumbass garbage on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:52 pm

  11. Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 1:19 pm 

    juan, you mean to tell me you were insulted 18 months ago and have spent every single day since then trolling Davy? Wow, those are so hurt widdle feelings. Juan, you must get upset over anything. LOL.

  12. More Insane Davy Garbage on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 1:27 pm 

    Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 1:19 pm

  13. Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 2:34 pm 

    “More Insane Davy Garbage said Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 1:19 pm“

    Did that upset you pee brain?

  14. More Insane Davy Garbage on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 2:40 pm 

    Richard Guenette on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 2:34 pm

  15. makati1 on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:01 pm 

    Capitalism is why the US and the West is going down. Too many rich oligarchs, too few backbones in government. It’s ALL about $$$$ now.

    I would put the Stock Market Casino out of business today and ship all who’s personal wealth is above $1 million to the South Pole, naked, and see who survives. None, I hope. No one is worth more than that. And few have actually earned even that amount by working and sweating. No one should live off of another’s sweat and blood. No one!

    I bet they are glad I’m not able to do that, but I think the guillotines are already being set up by the serfs that they are bleeding dry. I hope so. see the articles on the current riots around the world. Go slaves!

  16. Davy on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:14 pm 

    “Capitalism is why the US and the West is going down. Too many rich oligarchs, too few backbones in government. It’s ALL about $$$$ now.”

    makato, same shit in Asia but worse. Asia won’t have to go down because it will never get to the top. It is already stalling.

  17. makati1 on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:41 pm 

    Davy, again denial is your method of rebutting the truth. By “stalling”, do you mean 6% GDP growth instead of 6 1/2% this year? The US would die for even a REAL 2%. Too bad you cannot support your bullshit with real facts. But then, reality is a bitch, isn’t it goatherd? LOL

  18. Davy on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:45 pm 

    Fake growth numbers makato, you know that because you always talk about fake GDP numbers. People are now talking about China in the real growth range of 3% or less. India may be worse. Get a grip old man, you moved to the wrong part of the world. I guess being broke and relying on ss drove you to make a poor decision.

  19. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 1:04 pm 

    Were back up and running I guess??

  20. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 1:56 pm 

    Oops, sorry y’all. I meant to say we’re.

    How come I’m such a dumbass all the time?

    I can’t help myself.

  21. Agnostic on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 2:33 pm 

    People should work less hours and be paid more money (to keep up with the rising cost of living).

  22. JuanP socks & Davy ID theft on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 2:58 pm 

    Well stupid is still here and with a new sock

    Agnostic said People should work less hours and be paid more mon…

    Davy said Oops, sorry y’all. I meant to say we’re. How come…

    Agnostic said It is too late to fix the economy. Sustainable dev…

    Agnostic said The only thing that belongs in the dustbin of hist…

    Richard Guenette said Good Davy, when you accept failure you are on the…

  23. Anonymouse on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 5:18 pm 

    Who is this ‘we’, dumbass? I’ll give you a hint, its not ‘you’, not by any measure. And besides, the only thing ‘running’ around here, is the digital diarrhea flowing out of your virtual ass.

    Try sticking a plug in it, if you could.

  24. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 5:26 pm 

    “Who is this ‘we’, dumbass”

    The royal we dumbass, didn’t you learn that in Canadian class? BTW, where are all your anti-American Canadians these days, fucknut?

  25. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:33 pm 

    Davy, fake numbers or not, the West is dying and it is obvious in the decay of everything in the Western countries and their wannabees. The YUGE DEBT there is now growing at a fantastic speed. The Fed is back to printing money to try to keep it from all crashing and burning to the 3rd world bottom. Zero/negative interest rates for”savers” is in the near future. So is the crash.

    Asia is moving forward and it can be seen by the continual improvement and growth that is obvious to those who live here and are not dependent on the USMSM propaganda/brainwashing view of the world. If the East were not growing, and therefore a threat to the dying empire, why would the US be so afraid of it?

    You can deny, but it doesn’t change the facts.

  26. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:34 pm 

    Oops, sorry for getting all triggered and losing my widdle temper again everyone. It’s been REAL Lonely not having y’all to quarrel with these last couple of days.

    I no, I need to get a life.

  27. Hey, stupid on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:36 pm 

    JuanP ID theft

    Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:34 pm Oops, sorry for getting all triggered

  28. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:36 pm 

    Go to bed makato. Old man.

  29. The Board on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:37 pm 

    Get a life Davy. Insane old man.

  30. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:40 pm 

    “Asia is moving forward”

    Asia is imploding in slow motion. Get real makato, this obvious to anyone educated….oh and Asia has “YUGE DEBT” to with zombie corporations starved of dollars.

  31. Hey stupid on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:41 pm 

    juanP ID theft and nonsense

    The Board said Get a life Davy. Insane old man.

    Davy said Go to bed makato. Old man.

  32. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:43 pm 

    It’s hay stupid. Hey stupid.

    dumbass

  33. Richard Guenette on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:44 pm 

    JuanP go back to your 3rd world shit-hole where you belong you skin tag.

  34. Richard Guenette on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:46 pm 

    Quit stealing everyone else’s handles Davy.

    Scumbag

  35. Richard Guenette on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:46 pm 

    JuanP is a creep

  36. JuanP on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:48 pm 

    Go Trump! Anyone but Hillary! My wife and I are considering volunteering for the Trump campaign to fight the narcissistic, psychopathic bitch.
    I think I could use my antisocial, psychopathic, sociopathic skills to convince people to vote for Trump. I can be very convincing when I want and I am excellent at manipulating people.

  37. Not Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:50 pm 

    “Asia is imploding in slow motion”

    We all know Asia is rising and continues to grow in leaps and bounds. The west is collapsing. That makes me real happy cus that’s what I’ve been planning for fer all these years.

    GO TRUMP!

  38. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:51 pm 

    I’m with you juan.

    GO TRUMP!

  39. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:51 pm 

    “Asia is imploding in slow motion”

    We all know Asia is rising and continues to grow in leaps and bounds. The west is collapsing. That makes me real happy cus that’s what I’ve been planning for fer all these years.

    GO TRUMP!

  40. Richard Guenette on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:53 pm 

    I’m with you juan.

    GO TRUMP!

  41. JuanP on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:54 pm 

    I was just telling my wife yesterday that I would very willingly give my arms, legs, tongue, eyes, ears, nuts, and dick to experience life like normal people do for just one hour to know what it feels like. I have been a seriously depressed realist since I have a memory. My first memory of my life is of leaning against a tree alone in my kindergarten’s playground looking at all the other kids playing, thinking how stupid their behavior was, and wondering why I wasn’t like them. I basically don’t interact with normal people anymore. They have nothing to offer me and I don’t want to give them anything.

  42. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 6:57 pm 

    Good fer you juan. Hard to not agree with that.

    That’s the reason I builded myselve a doomstead.

  43. Richard Guenette on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 7:10 pm 

    JuanP you are a weirdo. Your wife needs her head examined to be with you.

  44. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 7:27 pm 

    “Asia is imploding in slow motion”

    If you are trying to impersonate me, Davy, you need to use correct English and not copy something I was using months ago, but dropped, like “GO TRUMP!”

    Your redneck English (cus, fer) is a dead giveaway, and if it is JuanP posing as you, he should stick with impersonating you.

  45. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 7:39 pm 

    Davy, I live in Asia and you have never been closer than the Chinese junk sold at Walmart.

    I have seen no reason to change my decision to live here and watch the US implode. You can deny all you want but you have no proof that my assertions are not correct. Come and visit, if you dare, but you will not as it would shatter your delusions about the world outside the redneck Ozarks.

    BTW: Did you notice that all of the typhoons this year are missing The Philippines and hitting mostly Japan? They are forming farther north than usual. Climate change? We shall see.

  46. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 7:56 pm 

    “BTW: Did you notice that all of the typhoons this year are missing The Philippines and hitting mostly Japan? They are forming farther north than usual. Climate change? We shall see”

    Lol, makato thinks climate change is going to mean no more super typhoons. Good luck with that makato!

  47. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 8:05 pm 

    Davy, You like to put stupid words in other people’s mouths while only shit comes out of yours.

    I never said that there would be no more typhoons hit the Philippines. I made the observation that they have not this year. it could be the effects of climate change and the oceans being warmer farther north. Most here now form about 1,000 miles north of their usual locations. Maybe you know someone on Guam that can verify my observations? They have had the luck of being in the path of most of them. This one passed over a few days ago.

    https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/isobaric/850hPa/orthographic=-217.92,21.05,1109

  48. Anonymouse on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 8:13 pm 

    Exceptionalturd, I bet you spent that two days going stark raving mad, being forced to take a break from being the absolute worst sock and stalk prick-face we all know you to be. You must have been climbing the walls, terrorizing the surviving animals still trapped on that horror-movie ‘farm’ of yours. And from the pent up aggression, stupidity, and sheer pettiness of your digital diarrhea on display just in these comments alone, that is clearly the case.

    Next time, I hope the site is down for 4 days or maybe a week. More than enough time for you to swallow a self-inflicted shot-gun shell to the face, or maybe you’ll wander into the nearest town and some trigger happy uS cop will take care of the davyskum problem for us, once and for all.

  49. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 8:43 pm 

    Davy, would you like to make an intelligent, referenced rebuttal to my comment that you so conveniently ignored?

    “If the East were not growing, and therefore a threat to the dying empire, why would the US be so afraid of it?”

  50. Davy on Tue, 22nd Oct 2019 9:54 pm 

    Were not afraid of the East makato, cus were acceptional.

    dumbass

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