Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What CAN We Do When Things Go South?

Everyone is writing about the poor bloody white working class this week. Including me at the American Thinker, where I blame liberals, and Victor Davis Hanson, who writes about how his bright white students couldn't get into elite colleges. I argue that liberalism, with its welfare, anti-marriage, pro-abortion, anti-responsibility agenda, couldn't have been better designed to demoralize cultural groups and remove them from an "overpopulated" world.

So women, minorities and the exquisitely insultable student activists at the university are next.

All this is very poignant to me after reading Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation where he makes the argument that the working class very sensibly pushed for "social protection" from the brutal market system and its commodification of land, labor, and money.

Year Zero for Karl Polanyi is the Elizabethan Poor Law in which the government acted to protect the poor that had been hurled off the land by enclosures and the agricultural revolution.

Only I am reading Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies. It paints a rather deeper and more nuanced picture of life in Europe before the agricultural revolution.

In the first place, despite the attempt with primogeniture to keep aristocratic families dominant forever, even the best families never flourished for more than a century. Death, political shenanigans, and bad luck all acted to change the guard at the top. The same thing happened, to a lesser degree, lower down the social scale. And simply put, people without land or without a city occupation didn't marry and have children. They still hung around their family but they got exiled to Outer Slobbovia as swineherds or something. Karl Polanyi suggests the idea of a free-floating proletariat. But nobody lived in those days except in the context of a family.

Secondly, the Gieses write that already in the 15th century people were working for wages on the farm. It's difficult to be sure, but I get the impression that, for a lot of people, it was better to work for wages as an agricultural laborer, man or woman, than to have to deal with the risk and uncertainty of land ownership. This gives the lie to Polanyi's suggestion that wage labor was an invention of greedy capitalists in order to reduce labor to a market relation rather than the organic way in which people wrested their living from the soil. On the contrary, it seems more likely that then as now many, if not most, people liked the simplicity and risk avoidance of wage labor. You do your work and you get paid. Period.

Thirdly, I have come to understand the whole social protection idea as a recipe for disaster. The whole idea of modern social democratic politics is to shield the worker from the horrors of the naked marketplace, and provide a decent work and home environment for people that would otherwise be ruthlessly exploited. But the contrary argument is that this protection makes the worker singularly ill-prepared for any adversity. If you have spent your entire life just picking up a paycheck and letting your union leader do all the fighting, and let the government take care of your old age pension and healthcare, what happens if the music stops and the social protection system breaks down? What happens is that you suddenly discover that you don't have the minimum skills you need to survive in the turmoil of change.

The truth is that no matter what happens to you and me, the world carries on. The Gieses write about how that happened even in the aftermath of the Black Death in 1349 and thereafter. They quote from the heartbroken letters of people experiencing the death of all their loved ones. But then they look at manorial court records and discover that the abandoned farms and houses were pretty quickly taken up by relatives of the deceased. And life went on almost as if nothing had happened.

So here we are looking at the collapse of the good old white working class, wringing our hands about their pathologies and their early deaths. But the truth is that tomorrow nobody will care. Things may have gone south for the white working class, but the world carries on.

So if you want to wive and thrive in the world, you'd better not be tempted by any of that free stuff. The way to survival is to have survival skills, and make sure that you are one of the survivors.

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