May 14, 2013

George Will: Dickens' "Christmas Carol" is pro-Cheap Labor Lobby

George F. Will writes:
On immigration, Charles Dickens matters

Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is a gooey confection of seasonal sentiment. It also is an economic manifesto that Dickens hoped would hit with “twenty thousand times the force” of a political tract. It concerned a 19th-century debate that is pertinent to today’s argument about immigration. 
This week, a disagreement between two conservative think tanks erupted when the Heritage Foundation excoriated the immigration reform proposed by a bipartisan group of eight senators. Heritage’s analysis argued that making 11 million illegal immigrants eligible, more than a decade from now, for welfare state entitlements would have net costs (benefits received minus taxes paid) of $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years. 
Fifty-year projections about this or that are not worth the paper they should never have been printed on — think of what 1963 did not know about 2013.

Better question when it comes to immigration policy: "think of what 1965 did not know about 2013."
... The libertarian Cato Institutesaid that Heritage insufficiently acknowledged immigration’s contributions to economic growth (new businesses, replenishing the workforce as baby boomers retire, etc.). This dynamism, Cato argued, will propel immigrants’ upward mobility, reducing the number eligible for means-tested entitlements. 
Conservatives correctly criticize those who reject “dynamic scoring” of tax cuts. ...
Which brings us to Dickens’s revolt against Thomas Malthus’s pre-capitalist pessimism about the possibility of growth and abundance.

Okay, the notion that Dickens wrote the story of Scrooge to promote the Cheap Labor Lobby is pretty funny. To give Will some credit, it's a complicated subject. But, he's got it mostly backward. What increased Victorian English productivity was not an influx of labor from abroad, but a decrease of the supply of labor, due to emigration and to, finally, cracking down on child labor. Parliament debated setting a minimum age for little boys to sweep chimneys (from the inside) from 1788 onward.

As I wrote in VDARE in 2007:
Shaftesbury finally succeeded in passing effective legislation in 1875. 
And, of course, that winter everyone in Britain froze to death due to clogged chimneys. 
Oh, wait … sorry, that was in Bizarro Britain, where the reigning interpretations of economics actually applied. Rather like in Senator Kennedy's Abnormal America, where nobody will be able to afford to eat chicken without the Liberal Lion's amnesty and guest worker programs. 
In the real Britain, however, the master chimney sweeps quickly found other ways to clean chimneys. 
And, equally, Americans will not starve if they are deprived a continuous influx of uneducated foreigners. 
What we've learned since the early Victorian Era is that the world works in ways more responsive to intelligent effort than was imagined by Thomas Malthus: 
High wages can often spur technological advances that more than make up for their costs.

The key to economic prosperity is not low wages but high human capital. 
In contrast to Dickensian England, with its Scrooge-like obsession with cheap labor, Americans traditionally enjoyed high wages because the country was underpopulated relative to its natural resources. This inspired American entrepreneurs to invest in labor-saving innovations, which, in a virtuous cycle, allowed even higher wages to be paid. 
The most famous example: Henry Ford doubling his workers' salaries in 1914 after inventing the moving assembly line. 
In the long run, the cheap labor obsession debilitated the English economy. 
After the brilliant innovations of the early Industrial Revolution, the English textile industry tended to stagnate. Paul Johnson explains: 
"Factories paid higher wages than domestic industries; all the same, they were very low, chiefly because most of the factory hands were women and children. Low wages kept home consumer demand down; worse still, they removed the chief incentive to replace primitive machinery by the systematic adoption of new technology." 
And then there was the long run impact on Britain's economic culture: 
"State limitations of human exploitation came too late, and were too ineffective, to make the quest for productivity a virtue; the English did not discover it until the twentieth century, by which time the trade union movement had constructed powerful defenses against it." 
Victorian Scroogeonomics helped engender its own nemesis. It drove the British working class far to the left of the American working class, leading to both the nationalization of major industries in the 1940s and a hatred of productivity improvements among unions, exemplified in the 1959 Peter Sellers' movie I'm All Right, Jack. The effects on the U.K. economy were disastrous.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Quite ironic that Germany has the only productive industry in Europe.

Anonymous said...

The striking thing about our "intellectual elite" is the degree of mindless group-think they exhibit. Is there not one single person on the DC cocktail circuit who dares to have a contrary thought? Whether nominally on the "right" or the "left", they all agree with each other on 95% of significant issues. There's one sort of diversity they cannot tolerate, and that's intellectual diversity.

Anonymous said...

A shortage of labor leads to innovative technology. Check out two great innovations that never would have come about if we had a surplus of coolie labor.

1) Tiger-Stone

2) Bobcat

The Anti-Gnostic said...

What increased Victorian English productivity was not an influx of labor from abroad, but a decrease of the supply of labor, due to emigration and to, finally, cracking down on child labor.

IOW, more capital investment in labor which means more productivity and rising living standards. Robert Solow got a Nobel Memorial for pointing this out in 1987 but nobody talks much about Solow's model any more.

What we've learned since 1987 is that the Cowen-Caplan model of cheap, imported labor living in crowded cities outside the borders of Fairfax County is the ticket to prosperity, just like it is in Haiti, Liberia, India, Mexico and Bangladesh.

Dutch Boy said...

Socialism is the natural-born child of Capitalism.

Anonymous said...

"x matters." has gone to be my new most hated Americanism. The first half dozen times it was powerful yet folksy; the next 100 times it was a stock phrase; now it is thw written equivalent of fingernails lacerating the blackboard of my mind.

Anonymous said...

"What increased Victorian English productivity was not an influx of labor from abroad, but a decrease of the supply of labor, due to emigration and to, finally, cracking down on child labor."

Disregard my last comment - Jesus what?! Victorian English productivity increased because of advancements in science and technology, and the accumulation of capital, facilitated by market liberalism. You can't make immigration the central force behind every damn thing. Most historical events, especially before 1950 everywhere outside the US and Australia, simply had nothing to do with immigration.

I think you know this. I think you also think your readership is so bloody-minded and thick they want to hear it anyway. I'm going to give the blog a break for a little while.

Anonymous said...

O/T but the UK Guardianistas are no doubt about to lay into your Richwine feller:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/14/jason-richwine-heritage-foundation-racism

Should be a fun thread.

Anonymous said...

I've a feeling that historians of the future will regard Kimba Wood as a world historical figure along the lines of Archduke Ferdinand.

Wood was nominated for Attorney General in 1993, then forced to withdraw when it came out that she had an illegal alien nanny in her employ. This prompted the immensely powerful "nanny-hiring class" to put aside their other differences and come together in support of open borders. The death of America followed in short order.

Tolpuddle Martyr said...

Victorian Scroogeonomics helped engender its own nemesis. It drove the British working class far to the left of the American working class, leading to both the nationalization of major industries in the 1940s and a hatred of productivity improvements among unions, exemplified in the 1959 Peter Sellers' movie I'm All Right, Jack. The effects on the U.K. economy were disastrous.

Thats only part of the story though. During the Victorian era, Britain embraced free trade. Whereas Britain's main industrial rivals, The USA and Germany, used protectionist policies to nurture their young industries.

Also, there is the peculiarities of the British class system: a factory owner's son, ashamed of his manufacturing background, moves into finance, embraces free trade thereby destroying the conditions that created his wealth and pulling up the ladder behind him.

British management isn't great either. Nissan has a manufacturing plant in England which has consistently delivered world beating productivity.

Jeff W. said...

I seem to remember that Edmund Burke once said, "Everything is a kind of negotiation." I have never been able to find the quote.

In order to have high wages: 1) Workers have to be productive. Lazy, careless workers can never have high wages; 2) Workers have to stick up for themselves. Workers have to negotiate forcefully to get their fair share; 3) You need to limit labor supply.

Back in the "family wage" days, American informally supported a policy that a male breadwinner should get a wage sufficient to support a family. That helped workers get their fair share, and it also limited labor supply, as people thought it was wrong for a single men or woman to take away a job from a male breadwinner.

American workers are more productive than ever, but their wages are depressed by their failings on points 2 and 3. I have a strong sense that women and minorities are not as good as the dreaded white males at negotiating forcefully.

Henry Canaday said...

Congratulations on making it through the Will column with brain cells still functioning.

I thought it was a deftly incomprehensible and tush-covering effort. Will seemed to be warning his readers not to be stampeded into an overcautious approach to immigration (can one be stampeded into excess caution?) because, while immigration can bring dynamism (not to be confused with vibrancy), too many low-skilled immigrants might not help out either.

At one point, Will seemed to be arguing that the big difference between European and Mexican immigrants is that the seven-hour plane ride across the Atlantic is so traumatic that it impresses on European immigrants the necessity of adopting new habits in the new land, while the 200-mile jaunt across our southwestern desert border is so easy that Mexicans arrive insufficiently aware that they will have to shed old ways to succeed in America.

Ambivalence about mass illegal immigration is an improvement for Will. Until recently he has seemed confident that we can have an increasingly banana demography without turning into a Banana Republic because, well, perhaps plucky Clint Bolick will litigate the Supreme Court into restoring and preserving our limited-government Constitution.

RWF said...

Sorry to go on a slight tangent, but the comments under this article in the Guardian about the "racist bigot" Jason Richwine are quite illuminating.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/14/jason-richwine-heritage-foundation-racism
The PC consensus is losing it's grip.

FirkinRidiculous said...

Wondering about your views on macroeconomics, I asked whether you were an Austrian.

High wages can often spur technological advances that more than make up for their costs.

The key to economic prosperity is not low wages but high human capital.


After this, I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Someone should conduct a study on the possible benefits to the peasantry during the Middle Ages following incidence of plague due to an increased demand for their labor.

Conatus said...

In the fifties we all pulled together, got drafted(even Elvis showed up in line in his jockeys), mowed our own lawns, kept orderly neighborhoods. Then the Great Society came along with a new and more Utopian Elite. They wanted everything to be perfect. "If even one child..."
Along with passing the Civil Rights laws, apparently they also took the time to repeal the Law of Supply and Demand when it comes to Labor. Cheaper and more compliant labor does NOT drive down the wages of already existing workers. This is a new and heretofore undiscovered law of Economics that has only been found in mainstream press descriptions of 'jobs Americans won't do'
One of these reporters should get nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics

Corn said...

"What increased Victorian English productivity was not an influx of labor from abroad, but a decrease of the supply of labor, due to emigration"

Niall Ferguson noted (in The Pity of War I think) that from 1900 to 1914 2 million (!) Britons emigrated, mostly to the so-called white dominions and the USA.

Anonymous said...

Hayek the classical liberal mentions about a larger loomed in the factories that lead to less use of kids and more used of Irish immirgants, and its true the English were more anti-free enterprise since they did not have a chance to earn money by going west as Americans and leaving behind the factories.

Anonymous said...

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Boys to Shower with Girls in California Public Schools

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Anonymous said...

But working Texas construction is a good way to die while not making a good living. More construction workers die in Texas than in any other state, the WDP-UT study finds. With 10.7 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2010, construction workers in the lightly regulated Lone Star State died at twice the rate as those in California, with a rate of 5.2. That's compared with the U.S. rate of 8.8 in that same year.

Take the story of 48-year-old Angel Hurtado, an undocumented roofer who died at an Austin warehouse site that had fallen behind schedule. He plummeted 20 feet to a concrete floor, hitting his head on a girder as he fell

RonMexico said...

How did our cotton plantations and textile mills ever survive the abolition of slavery? Great vdare article about the chimney sweeps, Steve.

Anon87 said...

From the Ana Marie Cox article in the Guardian:

"For over a decade, anthropologists and biologists have backed away from the idea that race is a useful way to talk about human differences. As the American Anthropological Association put it 1998:

Evidence from the analysis of genetics indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial" groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them."


Then you read this: That potentially a large portion of DNA is "junk", wouldn't the small changes in our genes be even more important than less?

sunbeam said...

Anonymous wrote:

""What increased Victorian English productivity was not an influx of labor from abroad, but a decrease of the supply of labor, due to emigration and to, finally, cracking down on child labor."

Disregard my last comment - Jesus what?! Victorian English productivity increased because of advancements in science and technology, and the accumulation of capital, facilitated by market liberalism. You can't make immigration the central force behind every damn thing. Most historical events, especially before 1950 everywhere outside the US and Australia, simply had nothing to do with immigration.

I think you know this. I think you also think your readership is so bloody-minded and thick they want to hear it anyway. I'm going to give the blog a break for a little while."

Hey lighten up. You used the "bloody" word. That is a verbal code to indicate you are a limey/kiwi/aussie right?

Steve Sailer is an anglophile apparently, you might cause him to blow a fuse.

On the other hand I am not, and would gleefully sling poo at your head like any self-respecting naked chimp would.

I'm sure it will degenerate nicely, and be useless to boot. But I can't help it. Anytime I hear a limey talk, something in me wants to war. I just get a desire to school them.

That is American slang, BTW. You know the variant of the English (sadly still called that) language, that is the most widely spoken in the world?

I really think we should call it the "American" language. Since English has stolen so many words, what's the harm in calling it something derived from an Italian guy? You guys will always have Shakespeare though.

Drunk Idiot said...

@Ron Mexico wrote,

"How did our cotton plantations and textile mills ever survive the abolition of slavery? Great vdare article about the chimney sweeps, Steve."

Ron, glad you mentioned this. If conservatives who want to prevent the Dem/GOP elite combine from ramming amnesty through were smart, they'd start emphasizing the similarities between the GOP's current desire for dirt cheap immigrant labor and the old Confederate states'/slave owners' desire to keep slavery afloat (that was about cheap labor too).

Paleocons could even start saying that Joe Biden was right when he told a mostly black audience that the GOP wanted to "put y'all back in chains" ... but since the Dems won't let the GOP bring back slavery, the Rethuglicans will just import immigrants instead.

The Mainstream Media might even let the message get through, since paleocons would be pushing a Dem shibboleth: that the GOP is a bunch of racist neo-Confederates who want to bring back slavery.

Making such an argument could even open the door for anti-amnesty conservatives to wrestle the moral high ground away from the pro-amnesty folks (who always argue that passing immigration reform is morally superior to doing nothing), instead of just letting Dems, GOP hacks and plutocrats get away with labeling anyone who opposes amnesty racist.

Imagine how circuits would fry in the heads of lefties if such a counter-narrative were to gain traction.


RonMexico said...

Drunk Idiot, I feel you, bro! As a history major / educator I've done a decent amount of reading about post-Civil War economics. Great readings about how the Planter class wanted to import Chinese labor so they could hire them for less than the "negroes" who had all those carpetbagger ideas about free labor and honest wages. I recall that Frederick Douglass, Booker T., and WEB DuBois were all adamant opponents of immigrant labor. I don't understand why true conservatives don't throw all this in these modern traitorous bastards faces.

Matthew said...

I used to read George Will with glee. Loved him. On other matters he can be (or was) eloquent and brilliant. On immigration he's a babbling buffoon, writing (I suspect) with an eye towards whatever money the Koch Brothers are funneling him, or towards Consuela, his maid, and Jorge, his landscaper, whom his declining newspaper royalties won't allow him to replace with legals.

A few years ago Will infamously proclaimed that deporting 12 million illegal immigrants would require 200,000 buses. I wanted to ask him if maybe we could, ya know, use each bus more than once or, just maybe, deport them via the US airline industry, which handles 700 million passengers a year. Will should know a bit about the airline industry - he's written several columns about it over the years.

Will writes: "the second half of the 19th century saw 'one of the most radical discoveries of all time,' the recognition that mankind’s 'circumstances were not predetermined, immutable, or utterly impervious to human intervention.'"

Well. What is it it about Mexico or India or Nigeria that makes mankind's circumstances impervious to intervention there? God knows they have internet in Nigeria and India, and I'm guessing that they have cell phones in Mexico, given that it's home to the world's richest cell phone monopolist.

Anonymous said...

Don't completely dismiss world-wide British emigration as a factor in British standard of living, well-being, etc..

"In 19th-century Scotland, emigration was the result of both force and persuasion. Until about 1855, ... Scotland lost between 10% and 47% of the natural population increase every decade."

"... again in 1921–1930, when those leaving (550,000) actually exceeded the entire natural increase and constituted one-fifth of the total working population."



That is, they were booting people out of the country, not bringing them in. Which they could do because of all that new fangled tech, not to mention all those handy destinations on which the sun never set...

Dr Van Nostrand said...

I hate to be the fly in this Anglophile Anonymous ointment but let us not overlook the trade wars with India where Indians were forced to buy British products but Indians were not only disallowed to sell their wares to a closed British market but their traditional industries were systematically dismantled.
I know I know the howls of the Raj apologists that they had been replaced with other industries in due time but by then the damage was done to India and glory to Britannia!

How can we forget the massive capital flight consisting of looted treasuries of various defeated kings?

Edmund Burke had prosecuted Warren Hastings for this very thing.
Of course the impeachment proceedings were wrecked by Burkes propensity for theater and grandstanding.

Both Adam Smith and Edmund Burke were both moral men who were against the British conquest of India.

Victorian Productivity my a$$

Anonymous said...

George Will has got it totally, completely ass-backwards.

The point is that in this highly-competitive super-abundant labor filled world, the only *hope* for any nation that wishes to *maintain* high living standards for its citizens, (unless they are freaks blessed with low population and mass mineral deposits), is to specialize in high productivity capital intensive industries which rely upon technical sophistication and a technically sophisticated workforce to actually produce them.
Why, pray, do you think that Germany is the only mass population European nation that is actually solvent?
Poor Jason Richwine's only point is that importing a mass population that has historically - and by every measurement that is unbiased, open ,fair and free - has shown itself to distinctly lack any prowess for devising and maintaining complex technological systems militates against building a hi-tech, high productivity society.
There is absolutely no shortage of warm bodies in this world. In fact they have never been cheaper or more abundant. What is rare, however, are the masterminds who can transform grains of sand into devices capable of doing the work of ten thousand grunts.

Anonymous said...

The logic is simple. If there is an unlimited supply of cheap labor there is less need for technological innovation. If there is a labor shortage then there is more need for technological innovation.

As the only real growth in prosperity comes from technological innovation this is important.