Sunday, May 27, 2007

Some Non-Intuitive Economic History

Much has been made about the rise of child labor [during the Industrial Revolution] and too little about the fact that, for the first time, there was remunerative work available for people of all ages. As economist W. H. Hutt [my link] has shown, work in the factories for young people was far less grueling than it had been on the farm, which is one reason parents favored the factory. As for working hours, it is documented that when factories would reduce hours, the employees would leave to go to work for factories that made it possible for them to work longer hours and earn additional wages. The main effect of legislation that limited working hours for minors was to drive employment to smaller workshops that could more easily evade the law.

In the midst of all this change, many people seemed only to observe an increase in the number of the poor. In a paradoxical way, this too was a sign of social progress, since so many of these unfortunate people might have been dead in past ages. But the deaths of the past were unseen and forgotten, whereas current poverty was omnipresent. Meanwhile, as economic development expanded in the nineteenth century, there was a dramatic growth of a middle class that now had access to consumer goods once available only to kings—not to mention plenty of new goods being created by the engine of capitalism.


From Socialism, Free Enterprise, and the Common Good, a speech by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico at Hillsdale College. The entire text is worth reading.

1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus