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Class War For Idiots / April 5, 2012


“…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.”

—Arthur Young; 1771

Our popular economic wisdom says that capitalism equals freedom and free societies, right? Well, if you ever suspected that the logic is full of shit, then I’d recommend checking a book called The Invention of Capitalism, written by an economic historian named Michael Perelmen, who’s been exiled to Chico State, a redneck college in rural California, for his lack of freemarket friendliness. And Perelman has been putting his time in exile to damn good use, digging deep into the works and correspondence of Adam Smith and his contemporaries to write a history of the creation of capitalism that goes beyond superficial The Wealth of Nations fairy tale and straight to the source, allowing you to read the early capitalists, economists, philosophers, clergymen and statesmen in their own words. And it ain’t pretty.


One thing that the historical record makes obviously clear is that Adam Smith and his laissez-faire buddies were a bunch of closet-case statists, who needed brutal government policies to whip the English peasantry into a good capitalistic workforce willing to accept wage slavery.

Francis Hutcheson, from whom Adam Smith learned all about the virtue of natural liberty, wrote: “it is the one great design of civil laws to strengthen by political sanctions the several laws of nature. … The populace needs to be taught, and engaged by laws, into the best methods of managing their own affairs and exercising mechanic art.”

Yep, despite what you might have learned, the transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly. See, English peasants didn’t want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in shitty, dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of landowning capitalists. And for good reason, too. Using Adam Smith’s own estimates of factory wages being paid at the time in Scotland, a factory-peasant would have to toil for more than three days to buy a pair of commercially produced shoes. Or they could make their own traditional brogues using their own leather in a matter of hours, and spend the rest of the time getting wasted on ale. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?

But in order for capitalism to work, capitalists needed a pool of cheap, surplus labor. So what to do? Call in the National Guard!

Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

“The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes Perelman. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘‘primitive accumulation.’’

Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

This pamphlet from the time captures the general attitude towards successful, self-sufficient peasant farmers:

The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the peasant. . . . In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days, are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting; the aversion in- creases by indulgence. And at length the sale of a half-fed calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness.

While another pamphleteer wrote:

Nor can I conceive a greater curse upon a body of people, than to be thrown upon a spot of land, where the productions for subsistence and food were, in great measure, spontaneous, and the climate required or admitted little care for raiment or covering.

John Bellers, a Quaker “philanthropist” and economic thinker saw independent peasants as a hindrance to his plan of forcing poor people into prison-factories, where they would live, work and produce a profit of 45% for aristocratic owners:

“Our Forests and great Commons (make the Poor that are upon them too much like the Indians) being a hindrance to Industry, and are Nurseries of Idleness and Insolence.”

Daniel Defoe, the novelist and trader, noted that in the Scottish Highlands “people were extremely well furnished with provisions. … venison exceedingly plentiful, and at all seasons, young or old, which they kill with their guns whenever they find it.’’

To Thomas Pennant, a botanist, this self-sufficiency was ruining a perfectly good peasant population:

“The manners of the native Highlanders may be expressed in these words: indolent to a high degree, unless roused to war, or any animating amusement.”

If having a full belly and productive land was the problem, then the solution to whipping these lazy bums into shape was obvious: kick ’em off the land and let em starve.

Arthur Young, a popular writer and economic thinker respected by John Stuart Mill, wrote in 1771: “everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” Sir William Temple, a politician and Jonathan Swift’s boss, agreed, and suggested that food be taxed as much as possible to prevent the working class from a life of “sloth and debauchery.”

Temple also advocated putting four-year-old kids to work in the factories, writing ‘‘for by these means, we hope that the rising generation will be so habituated to constant employment that it would at length prove agreeable and entertaining to them.’’ Some thought that four was already too old. According to Perelmen, “John Locke, often seen as a philosopher of liberty, called for the commencement of work at the ripe age of three.” Child labor also excited Defoe, who was joyed at the prospect that “children after four or five years of age…could every one earn their own bread.’’ But that’s getting off topic…

Happy Faces of Productivity…

Even David Hume, that great humanist, hailed poverty and hunger as positive experiences for the lower classes, and even blamed the “poverty” of France on its good weather and fertile soil:

“‘Tis always observed, in years of scarcity, if it be not extreme, that the poor labour more, and really live better.”

Reverend Joseph Townsend believed that restricting food was the way to go:

“[Direct] legal constraint [to labor] . . . is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise, . . . whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry, it calls forth the most powerful exertions. . . . Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjugation to the most brutish, the most obstinate, and the most perverse.”

Patrick Colquhoun, a merchant who set up England’s first private “preventative police” force to prevent dock workers from supplementing their meager wages with stolen goods, provided what may be the most lucid explanation of how hunger and poverty correlate to productivity and wealth creation:

Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.

Colquhoun’s summary is so on the money, it has to be repeated. Because what was true for English peasants is still just as true for us:

“Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society…It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.”


Yasha Levine is a  founding editor of The eXiled. You can reach him at levine [at]

Want to know more recovered history? Read Yasha Levine’s investigation into the life of Harry Koch, the man who spawned Charles and David Koch, the two most powerful oligarchs of our time: The Birth of the Koch Clan: It All Started In a Little Texas Town Called Quanah


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Add your own

  • 1. mlrky  |  April 7th, 2012 at 4:36 pm


    i never heard exiled say whites are evil

    anyway fuck anarchy, anarchy is an excuse for people to lynch me for looking weird

  • 2. darthfader  |  April 7th, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    The death and suffering of Britain’s people as that nation industrialized over centuries – they’re the numbers that should be put up to compare Russia’s industrialization under Stalin in a matter of a couple decades.

    They’re comparable, and that’s why you never read about them in the literature beyond outsiders like Perelman.

  • 3. Anarchy Pony  |  April 7th, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    @51, wow, that sure is a sophisticated assessment, did you go to an ivy league school?

  • 4. Dimitri Ratz  |  April 8th, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Romanovs instituted universal education for all children and even 1914 US National Geographic (November issue?) testified to it’s success. Also the first women to go to Universities also Caesars Russia, pensions were instituted, and towns and cities had delegated town hall meetings as long established norms. Fuck you Mike C in your attempt to add rage sympathies dragging Tzar Nicolis, the exact genetic copy of President Medvedev, only with a cool beard, in your sick pedophile way to cheer girls shot. His young daughters were more of a man than you will ever be.

  • 5. Damn dirty red  |  April 8th, 2012 at 1:37 am

    Interesting article and direction for more reading material thanks again, but I was thinking since we kind of live in fucked up times that you should consider a more practical advice column. Such as how to find cheap housing and I mean cheap. Could come up with a new magazine for the downwardly mobile youth call it squalid living or something.

    Tips for leaving your parents basement and living on your own, have reviews for certain bridges to live under. etc etc etc more practical worldly skills that we sure as hell are going to need.

  • 6. Vernon Hamilton  |  April 8th, 2012 at 4:12 am

    “…the rest of the time getting wasted on ale.”
    Ale of their own making as well, not penny a pint swill from filthy industrial breweries.

  • 7. DeeboCools  |  April 8th, 2012 at 6:33 am

    @ 16, I never considered that. I figured environmental laws limit their ability to profiteer, but I never considered that it’s in their best interest to pollute the air and land to such an extent that it’s only fertile where they want it to be.

    That’s why the “occupy empty lots” and “guerilla gardening” that’s going on in the forgotten carcasses of old steel towns in the U.S. is more of a revolutionary act than it at first seems. We’re all so divorced from ‘living off the land,’ because, as this article illuminates, they want us to be.

  • 8. DeeboCools  |  April 8th, 2012 at 6:41 am

    @ 38. Another interesting point. The whole neo-liberal “race to the bottom” has an unintended consequence- economic competition. What’s weird is I’ve never bothered to entertain the “get off the grid” efforts, but now that I see it in a kind of revolutionary perspective I might.

  • 9. Mike C.  |  April 8th, 2012 at 8:54 am

    @54. Dimitri Ratz

    Somewhere in that convoluted sentence, there are some interesting claims.

    Another interesting claim is that he and his family engaged in callous self-indulgence, while ordering the wholesale execution of demonstrators.

  • 10. Anarchy Pony  |  April 8th, 2012 at 9:00 am

    @57, exactly. They want dependence on the system, and people unable to survive without it or outside of it, so people have no desire to revolt or at least no alternative. That’s another reason they love private property so much, and want every square inch of the planet owned by some one or some entity, that is hopefully playing on their team. Independence is freedom.

  • 11. RanDomino  |  April 8th, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    @60 Also, as the article partially discussed, privatizing everything makes it easier to split people away from their land through legal means in addition to illegal and quasi-legal ones. For example partitioning the village (aka Eijido in Mayan areas, Mir in Russian areas, etc) land so that a single plot of land is owned by a single person allows for that person’s land to be confiscated by a moneylender if they get put it up as collateral and (for example) the harvest fails, or they just blow all their money getting drunk, etc.

  • 12. Rama  |  April 9th, 2012 at 1:30 am

    Have you read John Taylor Gatto’s “The Underground History of American Education”?(available free online)

    He reveals something similar to the early capitalists in the motives and purpose of the originators of the American forced public education system. But instead of seeing poverty as a necessity, they created forced schooling with the intent on creating people used to being forced to spend long hours doing boring routine work in order to condition the common rabble for later working as wage slaves. Also they wanted to instill patriotism and obedience to the state as virtues, e.g. pledge of allegiance, and also socialize people to get used to being part of an hierarchy of command, much like the Boy Scouts were originally intended to get Great Britain’s boys ready for military service. There’s all kinds of fascinating stuff in Gatto’s book you should read if you haven’t already.

  • 13. Dimitri Ratz  |  April 9th, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Nicholas II is a Saint. Even the Communist opposition in Russia cleared him of atrocities committed during WWI. He gave refuge to bums from Siberia to his palaces despite wide disapproval of public opinion, and allegations of his wife being in same house as those men, women. Attacking Russians while totally ignorant on the matter is not an integral part of any American political movement even thou it seems like that. Fuck off.

  • 14. az  |  April 9th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I guess those pamphleteers of the c18th are much like the establishment bloggers/”journalists” that the eXile uncovers as shills, except at least more honest in their aims.

  • 15. super390  |  April 9th, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    #38 is describing what Occupy could be doing next: training its adherents to find means of survival that will reduce the corporations’ leverage over them.

    CNC machines for everybody!

  • 16. Anon  |  April 10th, 2012 at 12:53 am

    @45 (admin edit of my post rofl)

    Yes, the “American School” of economics thanks to imo the greatest American, Alexander “Motherfucker” Hamilton, made America the power it is today; Japan and Korea followed a similar formula. I wasn’t claiming it didn’t. If Japan stuck to its comparative advantage it’d still be making t-shirts.

    What I was saying, if you read the post, was that Adam Smith was not the cutthroat saint of free market capitalism people make him out to be, and he wasn’t some libertard “fuck the parasites” cocksucker. He thought his system would make life better for everyone, especially the “labouring poor”, and we have utilised aspects of it to achieve just that. Smith wasn’t a businessman or capitalist btw; he was a tutor, university lecturer and moral philosopher. He wasn’t selling out like a libertard whore (exiles stuff on Hayek case in point). All I wanted to say -_-

  • 17. Myrmecodon  |  April 10th, 2012 at 4:56 am

    “I was thinking since we kind of live in fucked up times that you should consider a more practical advice column. Such as how to find cheap housing and I mean cheap. Could come up with a new magazine for the downwardly mobile youth call it squalid living or something.”

    Just live in the black/Mexican ghetto. Cheap as hell, all the diversity you need.

  • 18. Kyle  |  April 10th, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Sad. Exiled vomit brings economically primitive bottom-trollers like me around, who think what they have to say is fresh and relevant and edgy. There’s a reason why this site has fallen off, and it’s because the site has become anything but relevant of anything or to anybody. Check me out, I’m gonna show how this site has “fallen off” by appropriating an edgy political novel known as “Animal Farm.” You might have heard of it, check it out.

    I can just imagine Mark Ames and the rest of this pathetic cast out of Animal Farm lining up at the trough for their daily dose of education. Here comes Karl Marx with his hefty pitcher of Kool-Aid, but he doesn’t pour it into the trough, no no no, the lowly animals at Exiled wouldn’t dare drink from the cup of their Almighty; Marx drinks it, his body processes it, then pisses into the trough. And Mark Ames and Snowball and Napoleon bend over the trough, oink-oinking for their truth.

    Ok, I’m tata. Got a bunch of other commies to out!

  • 19. Jesse  |  April 10th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    @66 Anon:
    You don’t know what the fuck Adam Smith was thinking, ever. What we do know is that he was subsidized by capitalist fucks while he was writing books praising capitalist fucks. And we know that Smith, the patron saint of free trade took a job as a customs house agent.

  • 20. Kyle  |  April 10th, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Sad but not surprising that the almighty AEC couldn’t improve my retard-o-comment even more…I’m sure the AEC would have something interesting and dissenting to say if he spent even one second more on my needs, as opposed to letting me blather on about the socialist love-fest that usually typifies the comment section. Be improved and be thankfull … that’s the motto of every bottom-troll who inhabits the Exiled comment section.

    I suck it, lemmings.

  • 21. Mike C.  |  April 10th, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    @ 63. Dimitri Ratz

    Sir, I tip my hat to you. You have persisted well beyond my interest in supporting a passing analogy. Nicholas II was truly a farter of rainbows.

  • 22. Zhu Bajie  |  April 11th, 2012 at 4:27 am

    “Nicholas II is a Saint.”

    Lots of strange people have been saints, Dimitri! Still, one of my friends swore that N. II healed his hemmorroids, so maybe he does have the ear of the Almighty….

  • 23. Petkov  |  April 11th, 2012 at 5:27 am

    But but but you sound like a dirty Commie, man! Exactly what Marx and Lenin would be saying!
    Wasn’t Communism discredited when The Soviet Union and its satellites fell?

    Yet today we got the BRIC countries the majority of which are run by Communists leaders whipping the ass of US and Europe Oh, the sweet irony!

  • 24. superdude  |  April 12th, 2012 at 6:08 am

    I object to referring to Chico State as a “redneck college in rural California.” Yes it’s part of the Cal State system, which means the emphasis is on teaching rather than research as at the UCs, but it’s still a four-year university at which most academics would be happy to find themselves employed. US News ranks it 33rd in the Western region.

  • 25. PWL  |  April 12th, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Thus showing that capitalism has satanic origins, so to speak: Small-souled men forcing others to suffer and slave so the small-souled can realize the only god they really believe in: Profit.

    AN yet they’ve got us buying into the myth that free-market capitalism is the most wonderfulest thing ever-God-inspired in fact. And their still keeping us wage slaves today.

    One hopes there is a Hell for these people…

  • 26. Anon  |  April 12th, 2012 at 11:21 pm


    he wasn’t subsidised by anyone, dude. he was a professor, then he tutored the kid Charles Townshend (for payment of course), and later worked for a bit as “commissioner of customs in Scotland” which is a fucking government post. so: lecturer, tutor, public servant.

    you read like a fucking libertard, blatantly throwing around accusations without anything to back it up

  • 27. Anon  |  April 12th, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    and in case you didn’t know, most professors back then tutored on the side because lecturing didn’t pay shit

  • 28. YorkshireRose  |  April 13th, 2012 at 4:02 am


    Which is why I have gone to great trouble to try to rack my brain around the least appropriately named think tank in existence, namely “Adam Smith Institute”, which is merely full of shills and apologists for the worst of economic injustices. They must have a direct line to Cameron and one to Blair/Brown too, telling them to privatise everything, presumably misquoting the big Jock himself.
    I think they are actually taking the piss by coming to the conclusions they do, which is a shame, as Smith reads very well. He would have most definitely hit the roof had he seen what Engels did in the 1840s

  • 29. Jesse  |  April 13th, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    @77 Anon

    Tutoring on the side? LMFAO. Smith spent two years as a full time tutor for the young Duke of Buccleuch. The whole fucking time they were gadding about Europe. The Duke’s stepfather who paid the bills was Charles Townsend of the infamous “Townsend Acts” that taxed all sort of things in the American colonies. Reaction to which led to the Boston Tea Party among other unpleasantries. Dude, read up on your brown nosing hero. Do a Wikipedia if nothing else. It’s not that hard.

  • 30. Anon  |  April 14th, 2012 at 9:26 pm


    So what are you claiming? That Smith was Townsend’s shill? Provide evidence to back it up, or shut the fuck up.

    Townsend “taxed all sort of things in the American colonies.” Wow, he really sounds like a supply-sidin, low taxin’ free market capitalist! A quick google search reveals Smith’s views on the colonies:

    Smith wanted “full union, full and equal representation of the erstwhile
    colonies in Parliament, free trade within the Union, equal taxation along with… equal
    representation and the prospect that… the capital would be removed from London to some
    new Constantinople in the West” (Galbraith, 1974, p 69). Smith was a huge fan of America, and the founding fathers were greatly inspired by him. I’m not an American and even I know this.

  • 31. Jesse  |  April 17th, 2012 at 6:21 am


    To understand the social context in which Adam Smith lived is to understand that his success is definitive evidence that his actions pleased the capitalist class. There was no other path of advancement open to him.

  • 32.  |  April 17th, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    To call Adam Smith laissez-faire is ignorant.

  • 33. gyges  |  May 3rd, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I doubt that anyone will get as far down as comment 83; nevertheless, if they do … If you come across a book that tells us about the history of rent, I’d be interested in reading about it.

    As far as I can make out, rent evolved from tribute. A gang turned up at your house, village, town or city and declared that they’d kill you and burn your property to the ground if you didn’t pay them tribute.

    Over time this changed to someone claiming ownership of land and charging the people who lived there, to live there, without giving equity in return.

    Even Margaret Thatcher took account of the equity that renters had built during her council house sales.

  • 34. Ainaq  |  July 9th, 2012 at 1:09 am

    Economy begin resource naturally available ..Plants(leaves,fruits),water,air,fish,animal which were hunted freely by man/woman for foods.Limitation was the distance from place of shelter (caves,later hut,house) than people begin to fight for area of hunting,then group organized to form tribe to control territory of hunting.
    Innovation begin agriculture and animal husbandry…more innovative man begin to specialized making tools,weapons,processing for preservation and transporting to form butter trades.
    These specialized job inherited farm,workshop,caravan etc according to scale of specialization. those who do not have inheritance become workers to those who had . This capitalism begin. Slavery began when inter territory workers force migration exploited by specialized workers agent. Slave are minimum wage at that time( food,shelter for workers and family who inherited as workforce too: guranteed employment) but as economic and industry improve to new innovation and new opportunity better wages were available… Then slavery were look upon as unfair.
    During industrialised era need more labour than available than force labour to women (before that not workers) and children…It is just economic evolution .Now wages just enough for food,transport and shelter not necessarily better than slave but inter territorial exchange rate creat a condition where people from suplus labour area( 3 World) could support their distance family. For example EU 100 or USD200 (13 meals)could support an extended family in rural Bungladesh for a month or 1 week for Malaysia.

  • 35. Griffin  |  June 27th, 2013 at 9:25 am

    The term “Red Neck” as in “a redneck college in rural California” is a derogatory classist slur used to divide the middle class and the poor. Urban and rural, as in the folks that were forcibly moved into cities to work for wages, and those that were left to starve while feeding those lumbering masses.

    There is also nothing to say that it’s a bad thing to be teaching poor students, or teaching students in a rural area. There is less prestige, I’m sure, just as there’s less prestige working in a coffee shop or a restaurant, but people can find dignity out of anything if they have trouble it’s not to blame them for being unhappy, but our economic system for putting us in those positions.

  • 36. nampa1  |  July 22nd, 2014 at 9:04 am

    After re reading these comments, the absurdity of young men wrapping their self-worth in long-dead shill, non-revolutionary since the Corn Laws 1830s, is absurd. Some people really do have a slave mentality. Michael Keating from Family Ties was a joke, not a preferred way to live…

  • 37. sdfsdf  |  March 4th, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Chico is a party school more than a redneck one.

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