Food Surplus, Artisan, Guilds, Industrial Revolution, Mechanized Looms and Luddites

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2013

History 101

As the Middle Class grew Artisans joined Guilds to Restrict Entry into their Trade

For most of our existence on this planet we were hunters and gatherers.  Like the animals in the wild.  Dependent on our environment for our food.  Which was often scarce.  Leaving our distant relatives with a chronic gnawing hunger in their bellies.  Sometimes the environment provided so little food that there wasn’t enough for everyone.  So a great many went hungry.  And a great many eventually died from that hunger.  Such was life for hunters and gatherers dependent on their environment for food.  Then we started thinking.  And figured out how to farm.

As farmers we took control of our environment.  Instead of eating only what the environment gave us we grew what we needed.  And grew even more to have a food surplus.  To get us through times when the environment did not provide a good growing season.  Having control over our food turned that chronic gnawing hunger into a rare and infrequent occurrence.  Which established us at the top of the food chain.  And made us master of the planet.  Where we shaped it to serve our needs.  Instead of living at its mercy.

With a stable food supply we were able to do something else.  Something other than grow food.  We could build things.  And an artisan class grew.  Potters.  Shoemakers.  Blacksmiths.  As time passed the artisan class grew.  Creating a middle class.  Markets where people met to trade their goods grew into cities.  The economy grew more complex.  The cities grew more crowded.  And the artisans became protective of their trades.  Joining guilds that restricted entry into their trade.  By maintaining a maximum number of artisans in each trade.  For though there was more food than ever the fear of hunger never went away.

In Medieval Europe Cloth Production was Second only to Food Production

Artisans joined guilds for one reason.  So they wouldn’t starve to death.  Basically.  By restricting entry into their trade they limited competition.  This allowed them to charge higher prices for their goods or services.  And that healthy income allowed them to buy all the food they desired.  Whereas if other artisans were allowed to set up shop in town they could offer their goods or services for less.  Forcing other artisans to lower their prices.  Which is good for the masses.  Allowing them to pay less for the artisans’ goods or services.  Helping them to push off hunger themselves.  But not good for the limited few who saw their wages fall with more artisans entering their trade.  Hence the guilds.

But artisans had more to fear than just people trying to take food off of their tables.  There was something else that was a far greater risk.  Technology.  Which led to increases in productivity.  That is, producing more with fewer people.  Replacing some highly-skilled artisans with lower-skilled and lower-paid people operating machines.  And without a job it was difficult to put food on the table.  With the specter of hunger haunting them some artisans did something about that new technology putting them out of a job.  They fought back against the machines.

Besides food there was another basic necessity the people needed.  Especially in England.  Where it got pretty cold during the winter.  To live in the northern climes you needed to wear clothes.  Or die of exposure.  In Medieval Europe food production was the number one occupation.  The number two occupation was cloth production.  To make the clothing people needed to wear to keep from dying of exposure.  Highly skilled weavers filled factories as they manually worked their looms.  Making the cloth that others would turn into clothing.

The most Infamous Neo-Luddite was the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski

Their meager production rate kept clothing prices high.  Then came the Industrial Revolution.  First they mechanized spinning.  Creating more thread than a weaver could ever use.  Then they mechanized weaving.  Turning that thread into cloth at an incredible rate.  Turning cloth-making from a skilled trade into an automated process.  Producing more with fewer people.  Lowering the price of clothing.  And reducing the need for skilled artisans.  Making the people happy.  For they could buy more clothing.  And still be able to afford enough food to ward off that gnawing hunger.  Everyone was happy except, of course, those artisans put out of a job thanks to those new machines.

Britain was at War with Napoleon’s France in 1811.  During war the home economy typically suffers.  And machines replacing people didn’t help.  Highly skilled weavers either lost their jobs.  Or had to take steep pay cuts to compete with other unskilled laborers working the new mechanized looms.  Lower incomes made it difficult to buy food when prices were rising.  As they typically do during war.  Pushing some people to the breaking point.  And some people rebelled against the machines.  Smashing them.  And burning them.  These people were Luddites.  Their rebellion against technology was so great that at times more British Red Coats were in England putting down their rebellion than were fighting Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

But in the end the Luddites loss their struggle.  By 1817 the British had put down the rebellion.  And the Industrial Revolution carried on.  Making life better for the masses.  The modern economy flooding us with new must-have products at reasonable prices.  And creating scores of new jobs the Luddites never could have imagined.  Still, their anti-technology philosophy lives on.  Perhaps the most infamous neo-Luddite being Theodore Kaczynski.  The Unabomber.  Who fought against technology by planting or mailing bombs.  Killing three.  And hurting 23 others.  Who they finally found holed up in a primitive cabin in the Montana wilderness.  Where he rejected all technology.  Living without any of the creature comforts technology gives us.  Like electricity, fresh water or personal hygiene.  Being a Luddite to the extreme.


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A Liberal Opines on things Economic, Confirms why they Suck at Creating Jobs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 16th, 2011

Liberals don’t know Business or Jobs but they have their Big Keynesian Words

If you want to know why liberals are so bad at stimulating economic activity just read Paul Krugman’s Wages and Employment, Again (Wonkish) posted 1/16/2011 on The New York Times.  He pontificates with an erudite air of all-knowing condescension.  He’s smart.  And he wants to make sure you get this.  So he writes with big words and references big demand-side macroeconomic theories that he and his kind accept as undisputed fact.  Despite what the lessons of history say. 

Krugman is a Keynesian.  So, as a Keynesian, he knows nothing about business.  But, like a Keynesian, that doesn’t stop him from opining on the subject of business.

Here’s a fundamental truth (FT) about business.  FT 1:  If you make the cost of doing business high, you will reduce the amount of business a business does.  Here’s another.  FT 2:  If the people are NOT buying whatever they’re selling, this will also reduce the amount of business a business does.  A couple of key things a business needs here.  To have the cost of doing business kept low enough so they can sell at a price that makes them competitive in the market place.  And they need people to have jobs so they can buy their competitively priced goods or services they place into the market place.

Liberals never seem to get either of these points.

High Wages have never Stimulated Economic Activity

Keynesians believe if you give money to people that fixes everything.  When Krugman says:

…I’ve also argued a number of times that cutting wages now would probably make the slump worse, not better.

That’s Keynesian.  You cut wages and the people have less money spend.  So that’s why Keynesians are all about high wages.  Of course, they miss the other side of high wages.  High wages mean fewer jobs.  Because high wages limit the number of employees a business can hire and still sell at prices that are competitive in the market place.

High wages have never stimulated economic activity.  They just raise costs.  This let the Japanese take huge chunks of market share away from the Big Three.  And it’s bankrupting our big blue cities and states that are drowning in debt because of their public sector union contracts.  If Krugman was right, these cities would be booming in economic activity because of those fat public sector pay and benefits.  But they’re not.  The only thing those high wages are doing is bankrupting these cities and states.

Liberals never seem to get this point.  So they trade off economic activity for votes, blissfully unaware of the extent of economic damage they’re doing.  Or they’re aware and they just don’t care.

Easy Money begets Irrational Exuberance which begets Asset Bubbles which begets Recessions

Another favorite of the Keynesians is manipulating interest rates.

…a rise in the real money supply reduces interest rates, leading to a rise in demand.

Read ‘a rise in real money supply‘ as printing money.  The idea here is to make money cheap and plentiful so people will borrow it to buy things.  Like houses.  Like they did during Bill Clinton’s and George W Bush’s presidencies.  And, boy, did they.  Times were good.  Real good.  Only one problem.  Irrational exuberance.

Clinton and Bush thought they found the magical economic elixir.  Home ownership.  So they did everything in their power to extend homeownership.  Even to the people who couldn’t afford it.

Easy money.  Monetary policy that keeps money cheap and plentiful.  To entice people to borrow.  And they were.  Borrowing.  And buying houses.  So much so that they bid up the prices into a huge asset bubble.  Meanwhile, people who couldn’t afford to buy a house were buying houses, too.  The federal government pushed lenders to lend. Or face the consequences.  Be investigated for discriminatory lending.  Or, worse, suffer the public spectacle of having Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton publically calling them racist (a lot of the inner city poor were black).  So they came up with some creative ways to qualify unqualified people for mortgages.  We call them subprime mortgages.  And we know how those came back to bite us in the ass.

The problem with bubbles is that they burst.  And when they do, the life blows out of the economy like the air out of a popped balloon.  Deflationary spirals often follow.  And nasty, horrible and painfully long recessions.

Liberals never seem to get this point, either.  You’d think that they would as it has happened so often.

For Narcissists, it’s not the economy.  It’s their Egos, Stupid.

Krugman’s column really shows the problems with liberals.  They’re a bunch of narcissists.  Who love their superior minds.  They love to hear themselves talk.  And love to read what they write.  They write to impress.  And to stimulate themselves.  If you know what I mean.  Only those in his elite circle can understand what the hell he is writing about.  Not us.  The sloped-brow, knuckle-dragging, Neanderthals who didn’t go to the Ivy League schools.  We just work and live in the real world.  Raise our families.  And pay our taxes.

Liberals like to complicate things.  And to try to control the complex.  The economy will work fine on its own.  And when it does we experience some of the greatest economic expansions.   But when they tinker with their Ivy League knowledge, bad things typically happen.  Such as the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  Even the Great Depression.  All of which resulted from liberal tinkering.


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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #28: “Politicians love failure because no one ever asked government to fix something that was working.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 24th, 2010

GOVERNMENT FIXES PROBLEMS.  Or so they say.  And the people think.  When something isn’t right in the country, the people demand that government do something about it.  And politicians are more than happy to oblige.  It strokes their egos.  Increases their budgets.  Their staffs.  And they get to do what they like best.  Tell others what to do.  Well, that, and spend money.

Politicians are happiest when government grows.  Because when it does, there’s more stuff to do.  More people to manage.  Bigger offices to move into.  More people to hire.  And the more they hire, the more people are indebted to them.  Who love them.  Respect them.  Are in awe of them.  Which inflates their egos even more.  As if that was even possible.  And, of course, there’s more money to spend. 

As government grows, so does their job security.  I mean, there may come the day that the good people may not reelect them.  As devastating as that may be, they can be comforted in the fact that they will leave Washington far richer than they were upon entering Washington.  And there’ll always be a place for them in an ever expanding government.  A cabinet position.  An agency position.  Or, perhaps, they’ll be named a czar.  Of something.  In charge of a policy issue.  Away from the oversight powers of Congress.  Anything is possible.  As long as government grows.  And there is more money to spend.

And just why is that?  Why does government continue to grow?  Simple.  They don’t fix problems.  They’re always ‘fixing’ problems.  But they’re never fixed.  They’re always a work in progress.  Because a fixed problem doesn’t require their services any longer.

DON’T THINK SO?  Suppose the government gives you a federal job.  An important one.  You’re in charge of the Office of Getting People to Happily Accept the Banning of Smoking in Public Places.  They give you a big office.  A staff.  A budget.  And a title.  You feel pretty good.  Important.  You diligently go about your work.  You take polls.  You analyze data.  You place public service announcements.  You intensify your polling before and after local laws are implemented banning smoking in public places. 

You analyze your data.  You correlate satisfaction with dissatisfaction.  Pacification with irritability.  Your numbers look good.  As more and more localities ban smoking from most public spaces the more your numbers show that the satisfaction/dissatisfaction ratio is trending favorably.  The trending is flatter with pacification/irritability but the trending is still favorable.  You conclude that these new laws come in, on average, at 9.875.  And that’s very good on the scale you created to measure overall effectiveness and acceptance of new laws to influence social behavior.   You happily report your findings to your superior.

“What are you,” your superior asks, “stupid?  Trying to put yourself out of a job?  Are you trying to cut my budget?  Because that’s exactly what’s going to happen if you turn in a report like this.  Now here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to report that your findings indicate some improvements in some select demographics.  But overall there is still much work to do.  Then write up a proposal for additional work required and throw in a budget that increases your current budget by 12%.  For starters.  Then I’ll critique your findings and find your funding request insufficient because of a mistake you made in your analysis.  Have it on my desk by the end of the week.”

Sound ridiculous?  That’s probably because it is.  And probably all too true.  I mean, how many federal programs do politicians shut down because they were successful in achieving their objective?  I think few.  If any.  Because no one wants to put themselves out of a job.  Especially a federal job.  Because there’s no job like a federal job.  At least, not in the private sector.

IN THE PRIVATE sector, your work has to have value.  When people are voluntarily paying for goods or services, you can’t have fat payrolls and fat budgets to produce goods and services no one wants.  You can only do that when government pays.  And by government I mean you and me.  With our taxes.  Which we have little choice but to pay.  For we are forced to under penalty of law.  Which can be pretty persuasive in making you pay for stuff you don’t want.  For we wouldn’t normally give away our hard-earned pay for the ridiculous wastes of resources known as government work.  To make the lives of federal workers better than ours.  And speaking of federal workers, what’s that joke?  Question:  What is federal work?  Answer:  Work for the unemployable.  There’s a lot of truth in that.  For a lot of these people couldn’t make it in the private sector.  And if they had to, they would only do so with the utmost bitter resentment.  They’d resent the longer hours.  The huge cut in pay.  The huge cut in benefits.  And the accountability.

You see, in the private sector, failure has consequences.  People get fired.  If a business is losing money because of silly projects they’re pursuing, the board of directors will fire the corporate officers.  If it’s a small business, the owner may lose his or her life savings.  And their house (which is often mortgaged up to the hilt to support their business).  There will be change after failure.  And it will be painful to many.  Unfeeling.  Cold.  But necessary.  But it’s different in government. 

When politicians fail, they reward themselves.  When their policies fail, the politicians simply say they need more time to make those policies work.  And more money.  That’s always the answer.  And they get away with it.  More money.  Keep throwing money at the problem.  No matter what a train wreck their programs turn out to be.  Or what the unintended consequences are.

POLITICIANS LIKE TO tinker.  Often in things they shouldn’t.  Because when they do, bad things often happen.  Those unintended consequences.  For when it comes down to it, they’re not very smart.  They could have graduated from their Ivy League schools at the top of their class, but they often know squat about the things they’re meddling in.  Most of them are lawyers.  And what does a lawyer know about economics?  Foreign policy?  National security?  Bupkis.  But it never stops them. 

And it doesn’t even matter.  Because their motives were honorable.  They acted with the best of intentions.  At least, that’s what they say.  As do their supporters.  And when everything goes to hell in a handbasket, they don’t mind.  Just more problems for government to fix.  More programs.  More staff.  And more money to spend.

Of course, we ultimately pay the price for their actions.  Whether it’s recession, depression or a more dangerous world to live in.  Which is often the case.  More times than not.

EVER WONDER WHY everything is a crisis?  Because a crisis needs urgent action.  By politicians in Washington.  And that urgent action is typically vast new government programs with an exploding federal bureaucracy.  Along with explosive federal spending.  And because it’s a crisis, there’s no time to lose.  If we don’t take immediate action the consequences could be dire.  There’s no time for debate.  For opposition.  To read a bill.  No.  We have to act and we have to act NOW.  Before this crisis gets any worse.

And when things do get worse after we take all that urgent action, you know what they’ll say?  That they were wrong?  Yeah, right.  In some fantasy world maybe.  No.  Instead, they’ll say just imagine how bad things would have been if they didn’t act like they did.  That we should be thankful things are only as bad as they are, for they could have been a whole lot worse if government didn’t act.  Why, they’ll be patting themselves on the back.  While you suffer more.

Hard to fight that logic.  I mean, they can say anything.  If their action takes unemployment to record levels, they can say unemployment would have been twice as high if they didn’t do what they did.  Twice as high would be worse.  But how do they know it would have been twice as high?  How can they prove it?  Well, they don’t have to.  Because you can’t disprove it.  And those who gamble know that a tie goes to the house.  So they’re right.  Because you can’t prove otherwise.  So they act accordingly.  And their supporters go along.  And the answer to the new problems that are worse than the original problems?  You guessed it.  More of the same.  More government programs.  More government spending.  At least, that’s what the historical record shows.

POLITICIANS LOVE FAILURE.  They thrive on it.  It gives them life.  Success, on the other hand, destroys them.  Removes their raison d’être.  Their reason for being.  A prospering nation, after all, doesn’t need government to fix anything.  And that’s no good.  Especially if that’s the business you’re in.  Fixing things.  Fixers need to fix.  But it needs to remain a work in progress.  So there’s still fixing to do.  Always.  And forever.   

And they’ll never let a good crisis go to waste.


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