Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Glorious Revolution

There are very few definite and specific historical dates where social or economic trends, phase states if you will, undergo transition from one to the next. Usually, it takes years or decades for these so-called "tipping points" to play themselves fully out, and certainly with the chance of reversals or at least a bit of fuzziness to occur before something could concretely be considered settled.

Take the Industrial Revolution, which typically gets a start date at the beginning of the 19th century, but gets a "circa" as the steam engine and the mass-production model of manufacturing occurred long before then (specifically, for the steam engine, say, Savery's in 1698, and for specialization of labor and mass-production, probably stone handaxes around 160-180,000 BCE). Most people though, would say the Industrial Revolution was certainly noticeable at the beginning of the 19th century.

Capitalism? Kind of difficult because there have been many versions of it, but the free-enterprise market capital system probably goes back to the Dutch of the mid-1600s, and as far I'm concerned, gets its official start by the English (and thus passed down to us Americans) with the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

There were certainly markets and stock companies, and even state chartered corporations like the East India Company long before then, and one must credit these efforts, but the modern version that most people would recognize goes back to then, and was certainly argued over at the time.

Most people ignore the Glorious Revolution as mere regime change, a coup that took place when James  II was overthrown by William of Orange, late of the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic. But it was, in many respects, the first modern revolution, and certainly the first recognizably modern revolution. Two competing versions of state modernization were at war, the French centralized control absolute monarchy with emphasis on land ownership and control, and the Anglo-Dutch parliamentary system that favored manufacturing and value-added techniques. Taken in all, and for closest comparisons, I think of the post-Soviet coup as the best example, with James II playing the part of Gorbachev.

Consider, typically most political economic systems are categorized by:

  • Feudalism, or mercantilism, where an elite controls productive land, and thus the means of production (since, so long as people are cheaper and more spry and nimble than robots, food is the real energy, and the real gold)
  • State socialism in all its forms, whether modern Chinese blended autocracy, Soviet, etc. where the states controls and owns productive wealth
  • Free-enterprise capitalism, an informally structured system of small- and medium scaled competitive enterprises, and
  • Corporate capitalism, which can ranged from Fascism (state-controlled), to state-captured (the laissez-faire system of robber barons, corruption, and cronyism), and managed corporate capitlaism (balanced against either state managed regulation or labor unions)
We currently are living under a system of state captured corporate capitalism, and some of us remember when - during the Long Boom of 1945-1970 - we lived under the managed version.

But the corporate version of capitalism, I think, goes right back to the Glorious Revolution. And that period is an interesting time, the time of the fruition of science and open versions of knowledge sharing as well. The one thing we should recognized, is that the whole thing is an aberration, a great strangeness, a perverse deviation.

So, people will say, given the past forty years of stagnation, increased poverty, economic inequality, false prosperity, and deterioration here in the United States and elsewhere, that the system is broken.

Oh, no, my dears, the system is working perfectly well! The system is functioning exactly as intended!

If you happen to be on the shitty of the stick it just looks broken, but the system, created as such for the intended benefactors, is working fucking great!

You just remember the anomalous times, when prosperity was more evenly distributed. That's NOT the way corporate capitalism generally works, and it took highly unusual circumstances, for that aberration, that freak of nature, the Long Boom, to occur. It took a world shaking economic disaster, and then  a world war for it to happen. (Consider, WWII pumped up the economy with a stimulus at least six times the size of the Obama stimulus, and them's was 1941 dollars)!

For that matter, it took a freakish set of circumstances for the Glorious Revolution to get a foothold. Like what? Well, like the Atlantic trade, the conquest of the New World. 

(Well, okay, you got to throw the Black Death in there as well, because without that, the value of labor is never appreciated).

But consider, short of the entire Western Hemisphere never existing (an odds-astronomically unlikely scenario), the next best thing is the indigenous inhabitants get half a chance.

Ever read the book Guns, Germs, And Steel by Jared Diamond? I did, and found it compelling in the early 90s when it came out, but now, in retrospect, I consider it a shoddy piece of  scholarship. It more rightly should have been called Germs, Germs, and Germs to explain what happened in the New World.

I once thought about an alternate history divergence... which I cannot fucking find in a search of my essays. It involved two traders who disappeared into the Atlantic some 150 years before Columbus. And the divergence idea was, that their ship made ground in North America, and disgusting disease ridden European people's of the time being what they are, caused the unleashing of all the plagues and maladies upon the continent that occurred some one hundred and fifty years later with Columbus. Damn me, but I cannot think of the name of the traders, but the idea would be the enormous genocide that occurred under the Spaniards in the 15-16th century has happened already. So that by the time the Spaniards do arrive, the native American populations have bounced back in numbers, and they are relatively immune to smallpox and influenza, and all the other nasties that an uncouth and unwashed Europe would visit upon them.

Bottom line, Europe may trade with the natives, but there is no way they get a toehold on the continents of North or South America. So, what happens?

No Empire of Spain. No massive population growth in Europe because no potatoes to grow in the poor soil of Northern Europe. No upsurge in the power of Northern Europe. No Dutch  Republic. No manufactories in England, because no Dutch expertise exported there. No modern revolution. Medieval Europe remains medieval. The Muslim version of capitalism, which relied more upon reputation and less on rapine, possibly takes hold.

No American colonies. No United States. No slave trade. No sugar economy. And on and on.

Point being, the version of capitalism that we have today relies entirely upon the discovery of the New World, and the fortunate circumstance, chance , contingency, and luck will never, ever be recognized by all those smug little assholes on Wall St.

(I kind of lost the thread of where I was going with this, but that's not unusual lately).

No comments:

Post a Comment