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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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #10: “Conservatives like the Rule of Law whereas Liberals prefer militant, radical change.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 20th, 2010

CONSERVATIVES LIKE THE way things were.  They like things that have proven track records.  Liberals, on the other hand, don’t.  If it’s the old way then it’s the wrong way.  For no matter what history has proven, they want to tinker.  They want to change things.  Stir the pot.  Mix it up.  Raise a little hell.

A lot of people don’t really understand what a conservative is.  They think Big Business.  They think rich fat cats.  They think of people who step into their horse-drawn carriage on the back of a poor person down on his hands and knees.  They think racist.  They think segregationist.  They think warmonger.  They think militant anti-government reactionary.  They think Nazi.  And they think wrong.

A conservative practices conservatism.  And Merriam-Webster OnLine defines conservatism as:

a: disposition in politics to preserve what is established b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change; specifically : such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (as retirement income or health-care coverage)

Conservatism, then, reflects the principles of the Founding Fathers.  After the Revolution, of course.

OUR FOUNDING FATHERS were not conservatives when they broke from Great Britain.  They were liberals.  Progressive.  Looking for a new way that was different from the established, conservative ways of Great Britain.  They were the culmination of the enlightenment.  Of a new way.  Where rank did not matter.  Where who your father was didn’t matter.  All that mattered was you.  And what you did.

Before they became conservatives, then, they were radical liberals.  They took up arms against the government.  There were many reasons for this.  The Stamp Act.  The Intolerable Acts.  The Quebec Act.  These and other issues raised tensions between the mother country and her colony.

The colonists fell into two camps: the Patriots (Whigs) and Loyalists (Tories).  The Loyalists were the conservatives.  They wanted to keep British America British.  The Patriots were the radical liberals.  They wanted independence.  And, of course, there were a lot of undecided that fell in between.

As the American-British breech widened, many wanted to remain British.  They wanted reconciliation.  Even Benjamin Franklin.  In fact, he was seeking a royal appointment in the colonies.  He was a conservative.  He fit the Merriam-Webster OnLine definition.  But he would eventually change.  As many others did.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS who made this country were conservatives.  They were conservatives before the break from Great Britain.  They became liberal progressives during the Revolution.  Then became conservative again.  The Constitution created a government so conservatively British that Thomas Jefferson would attack the Washington and Adams administration vehemently, even though he was a member of those administrations.

The lesson here is this.  Conservatives live under the Rule of Law.  They like to do things the way their parents did.  Liberals, on the other hand, don’t.  They want to break from the established way of doing things.  And they have no problem with breaking the law to do so.  Or overthrowing a government.

WHEN IN COLLEGE, liberals didn’t spend a lot of time in history or economics classes.  Had they, they would have learned the lessons of history.  And probably have become conservatives.  But radical liberal professors can influence young, influential minds spending their first time away from home.

Most parents raise their children conservatively.  They teach them right from wrong.  To obey the law.  They give them curfews.  They meet the boys dating their daughters.  They tell them to ‘say no to drugs’.  And tell them not to drink until they are legally old enough to do so.

But when kids go to college, things change.  Their kids break the law (there’s underage drinking and drug use).  Yes, they were doing some of this before college, but before college, it was more difficult to do.  Because of their parents.  Their parents aren’t at college, though.  So some of these kids stray.  They become liberal.  Part in protest against their parents.  Part because it’s more fun to be a liberal in college.

Of course, when these kids become parents, they tend to move towards conservatism.  Something about being a parent.  In fact, they become their parents.  It’s what having kids does.

FOR MANY BEING a liberal is a period in their life.  For some, though, it’s a journey from which there is no returning.

In the sixties, during the Vietnam War, conservatives obeyed the law and served when called.  It was liberals who burnt their draft cards and went to Canada.  It was liberals who were militant, anti-war protesters.  It was liberals who made up the Weather Underground who wanted to overthrow the U.S. government and establish a proletarian dictatorship.

Eco-terrorists are liberals.  The Unabomber mailed bombs to protest industrial society.  EarthFirst! began the practice of spiking trees (which damages saws and maims lumberjacks).  The Earth Liberation Front burns down new housing developments and SUV dealerships.  Greenpeace commits piracy on the high seas.

ONE OF THE DEFINING differences between liberals and conservatives is how they act in respect to the Rule of Law.  Conservatives are law-abiding.  Liberals are too.  Unless they don’t like a law. 

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