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text 2019-04-11 07:56
Two DNFs in One Week
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate - Naomi Klein
Silent Spring - Rachel Carson,Linda Lear,Edward O. Wilson

So both books on the science reading list, which means I am seriously striking out with this list. Both were listened to on audiobook, and those narrators did nothing but add to the misery of listening to the writing of these books.

 

Naomi Klein can't write a damn narrative to save her life but she can nag and nag for up to 80+ minutes at a given time. There was some good info given in between the nag sessions, but the first chapter was over 80 minutes and was just the prologue. She is too damn long-winded and can't seem to end a point. And from what it sounded like when I listened to the narrator, Klein must use a WHOLE LOT of EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!

 

Rachel Carson's writing is way too flowery, so the science gets lost. There is little to no narrative, just scene after scene describing the landscape and then a dystopian nightmare of dead insects and birds due to chemical spraying. It was just repetitive. The narrator read the book as if she was reading a lullaby or cozy mystery, with little to no variation in her tone. It was a great way to fall asleep....but I don't need help falling asleep.

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text 2019-03-29 11:14
Friday Reads - March 29, 2019
The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years - Sonia Shah
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate - Naomi Klein

This is the first weekend in the last two months I don't have anything scheduled. So a reading binge in very much overdue. Yesterday, I started The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years by Sonia Shah for my science reading list. I plan to finish that one and at least start on Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, clearing up the last of my library loans. I have This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein on audio to listen while writing the nine book reviews left standing. I don't know why, but I am still not at all interested in reading fiction. 

 

Next week is devoted to finishing anything and everything so I have a clean slate for next weekend's Dewey read-a-thon. 

 

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review 2018-04-03 17:40
The intellectual world of Adam Smith
Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life - Nicholas Phillipson

Though his name looms large as the founder of modern economic theory, Adam Smith himself is in many ways a mysterious and unknowable figure. For all of his impact upon Western thought, Smith left little beyond the two books that were his great intellectual legacy.  Not even the date of his birth is known with certainty, while his correspondence consists mainly of letters from friends plaintively wondering why he never wrote back. Nicholas Phillipson doesn’t shirk from the challenge of writing a biography of the man from such a scarcity of information, but in filling the blanks he provides something more by giving his readers a broader portrait of Adam Smith's intellectual world, one that sites Smith firmly within the context of the Scottish Enlightenment.

 

Phillipson begins by charting the formative influences that shaped Smith’s intellectual development in his early years.  Foremost among them was his schoolmaster in Kirkcaldy and two professors at the University of Glasgow, Robert Simson and Francis Hutcheson.  Yet it was the writings of Smith’s close friend David Hume which proved the most fertile inspiration for Smith’s masterpieces.  Phillipson shows how Smith drew upon Hume’s ideas as inspiration for a comprehensive “Science of Man”, which be began to articulate with his first book.  Its publication in 1759 was greeted with acclaim, elevating Smith to the first rank of intellectual figures.  A period as tutor of the young Duke of Buccleuch gave him both the opportunity to meet some of the leading figures of the Enlightenment in Europe as well as an income that freed him from his onerous academic duties. This allowed Smith upon his return to concentrate on writing his most famous book, , a revolutionary text that was nonetheless intended to be only one part of his much larger project – a project that was left incomplete by the time of his death in 1790.

 

With his persuasive reinterpretation and readable style, Phillipson has produced what is likely to be the best study of Smith's life and times for decades to come.  His account challenges the traditional image of Smith as an absent‑minded academic and turns him instead into a dynamic teacher who was a part of the vibrant intellectual world of the 18th century.  The book’s main flaw – an absence of any real examination of Smith’s personality and daily life – is understandable given the limits of his material, but it does limit his achievement by failing to give a fully rounded portrait of the philosopher as a person.  Nevertheless, this book is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand Smith ideas and their development within the context of the era, ideas that still are used to inform the world in which we live today.

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review 2018-01-08 00:00
The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View
The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View - Ellen Meiksins Wood This is quite a succinct book and very well argued. Its point is to refute claims that capitalism is both natural and inevitable, because ...if capitalism is the natural culmination of history, then surmounting it is unimaginable... Thinking about future alternatives to capitalism requires us to think about alternative conceptions of its past. [p15]

The ‘collapse of Communism’ in the late 1980s and 1990s seemed to confirm what many people have long believed: that capitalism is the natural condition of humanity, that it conforms to the laws of nature and basic human inclinations, and that any deviation from those natural laws and inclinations can only come to grief. [p8] ...the conviction that there is and can be no alternative is very deeply rooted, especially in Western culture. ... It is as if capitalism has always been the destination of historical movement and, more than that, the movement of history itself has from the beginning been driven by capitalist ‘laws of motion’.[p8]

The first part of the book critiques established accounts of the history of Capitalism and finds them generally unsatisfactory. It is no less dissatisfied with Marxist theory, which is vulnerable to the same criticisms, but finds that Marx himself, after taking a false track in his early writing – the Communist Manifesto and German Ideologies – found a better approach in his analysis of ‘primitive accumulation’ in Vol 1 of his Capital. This of course bequeathed mixed messages which start to be clarified in the work of Robert Brenner, notably with an important article, ‘Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe’, published in the journal Past and Present in 1976, and in a book published in 1993.

... In England, an exceptionally large proportion of land was owned by landlords and worked by tenants whose conditions of tenure increasingly took the form of economic leases, with rents not fixed by law or custom but responsive to market conditions. It could even be said that there existed a market in leases. ... The conditions of tenure were such that growing numbers of tenants were subjected to market imperatives – not the opportunity to produce for the market and to grow from petty producers into capitalists but the need to specialize for the market and to produce competitively – simply in order to guarantee access to the means of subsistence. [p62]

The English ruling class was distinctive in its growing dependence on the productivity of tenants, rather than on exerting coercive power to squeeze more surplus out of them. In other words, English property relations had what Brenner calls their own distinctive ‘rules for reproduction’. Both direct producers and landlords came to depend on the market in historically unprecedented ways just to secure the conditions of their own self-reproduction. These rules produced their own distinctive laws of motion.[p62] ... Brenner goes further than previous Marxist accounts in explaining the specificity of capitalism, especially in his argument that the distinctive dynamics of capitalism come into play when producers become market-dependent, and therefore subject to the imperatives of competition, which happens even without their complete separation from the means of production, when their access to the means of subsistence becomes dependent on the market.

Non Capitalist Commerce

“The dominant principle of trade everywhere was not surplus value derived from production but ‘profit on alienation’, ‘buying cheap and selling dear.’ [p87]

The Dutch typically relied, for their successes in international trade, on extra-economic superiority in negotiating separate markets, rather than on competitive production in a single market: on dominance in shipping and command of trade routes, on monopolies and trading privileges, on an elaborate network of far-flung trading posts and settlements, on the development of sophisticated financial practices and instruments. These ‘extra-economic’ advantages often relied heavily on military force. The rising Dutch Republic devoted much of its massive tax revenues to military expenditures, which accounted for more of the state’s expenses than did any other activity. The Dutch engaged in some notorious military exercises for purely commercial advantage, not only aggressive trade wars but also such ventures as the seizure in 1602 of a Portuguese ship with an enormously valuable cargo of unprecedented proportions, apparently large enough to affect the future course of Dutch development; or the ‘Amboina massacre’ of English merchants in the Moluccas.[p100]

English Capitalism

English agriculture, then, was already in the sixteenth century marked by a unique combination of conditions, at least in certain regions, that would gradually set the economic direction of the whole economy. The result was a highly productive agrarian sector, in which landlords and tenants alike became preoccupied with what they called ‘improvement’, the enhancement of the land’s productivity for profit [p112] But improvement meant something more than new or better methods and techniques of farming. Improvement meant, even more fundamentally, new forms and conceptions of property... It certainly meant the elimination of old customs and practices that interfered with the most productive use of land ... Peasants have since time immemorial employed various means of regulating land use in the interests of the village community. They have restricted certain practices and granted certain rights, not in order to enhance the wealth of landlords or states but in order to preserve the peasant community itself, perhaps to conserve the land or to distribute its fruits more equitably, and often to provide for the community’s less fortunate members. Even private ownership of property has been typically conditioned by such customary practices, giving non-owners certain use rights to property owned by someone else. [p117]

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, there was growing pressure to extinguish customary rights that interfered with capitalist accumulation. This could mean various things: disputing communal rights to common lands by claiming exclusive private ownership; eliminating various use rights on private land; or challenging the customary tenures that gave many smallholders rights of possession without unambiguous legal title. In all these cases, traditional conceptions of property had to be replaced by new, capitalist conceptions of property – not only as ‘private’ but as exclusive. Other individuals and the community had to be excluded by eliminating village regulation and restrictions on land use (something that did not, for example, happen in France in anything like the same ways and degrees), especially by extinguishing customary use rights.[p118]

enclosure meant not simply a physical fencing of land but the extinction of common and customary use rights on which many people depended for their livelihood[p118] ... Contemporary commentators held enclosure, more than any other single factor, responsible for the growing plague of vagabonds, those dispossessed ‘masterless men’ who wandered the countryside and threatened social order. The most famous of these commentators, Thomas More, though himself an encloser, described the practice as ‘sheep devouring men.’ [p119] ... once the landed classes had succeeded in shaping the state to their own changing requirements – a success more or less finally consolidated in 1688, in the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ – there was no further state interference, and a new kind of enclosure movement emerged in the eighteenth century, the so-called ‘Parliamentary enclosures’. In this kind of enclosure, the extinction of troublesome property rights that interfered with some landlord’s powers of accumulation took place by acts of Parliament. Nothing more neatly testifies to the triumph of agrarian capitalism. p119]

these propertyless wage labourers, dependent on the market for all their material needs, determined the nature of production not only by their own productive activity but also by their powers of consumption.... [p150] Without that dispossessed non-agrarian workforce, there would have been no mass consumer market for the cheap everyday goods – such as food and textiles – that drove the process of industrialization in England. It is worth emphasizing that this large market derived its special character not only from its unusual size but also from its limitations, the relative poverty of consumers demanding cheap goods for everyday use. It had more in common with later mass consumer markets than with the luxury trade of ‘classical’ commerce.[p153]

Industrialization was, then, the result not the cause of market society, and capitalist laws of motion were the cause not the result of mass proletarianization. But that, of course, was not the end of capitalist development. Proletarianization, which meant the complete commodification of labour-power, would confer new and more far-reaching coercive powers on the market by creating a working class that was completely market-dependent and completely vulnerable to market disciplines, with no mediations and no alternative resources [p155]

On Imperialism

...once British capitalism, especially in its industrial form, was well established, it was able to impose capitalist imperatives on other economies with different social property relations. But no amount of colonial wealth would have had these effects without the imperatives generated by England’s domestic property relations. If wealth from the colonies and the slave trade contributed to Britain’s industrial revolution, it was because the British economy had already for a long time been structured by capitalist social property relations. By contrast, the truly enormous wealth accumulated by Spain and Portugal had no such effect because they were unambiguously non-capitalist economies. [p160]

The Irish model, then, represented a pattern of imperial settlement different from other European empires, a form of colonial domination that replaced existing property relations with new ones driven by market imperatives. [p166]... the model pioneered in Ireland was eclipsed by other forms. Still, there are ways in which that model presaged the future form of capitalist imperialism, and some of its principles have survived to this day. Dispossession and extinction of traditional property rights, of one kind or another, have, of course, been a continuing practice; but most of all, capitalism has developed to its utmost limit the practice of economic compulsion, as distinct from direct political and military coercion, not only as a mode of class rule but also as a form of imperial domination. [p167]

On Capitalist Ideology

Locke’s whole argument on property turns on the notion of ‘improvement’... The theme running throughout his discussion is that the earth is there to be made productive and profitable, and that this is why private property, which emanates from labour, trumps common possession. ... Locke’s point, which not coincidentally drips with colonialist contempt, is that unimproved land is waste, so that any man who takes it out of common ownership and appropriates it to himself – he who removes land from the common and encloses it – in order to improve it has given something to humanity, not taken it away... [p121] Locke writes that ‘the Grass my Horse has bit; the Turfs my Servant has cut; and the Ore I have digg’d in any place where I have a right to them in common with others, become my Property …’ (II.28). [p122]

We can now look back at the arguments of John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts (who had roots in England’s Irish settlements and had intended to make his life in Ireland). Justifying the intended plantation of New England in 1629, he makes an argument about the Indians that foreshadows Locke on property in general. The Indians have not been using their lands according to God’s will, he insists, ‘for the Natives in New England they inclose noe land neither have they any setled habitation nor any tame cattle to improve the land by’. So, as long as the colonists leave them enough for their own (obviously limited) use, the rest can lawfully be taken from them. [p170]

Eighty years before Locke’s Second Treatise of Government was published, Sir John Davies is making essentially the same argument for the colonial settlement of Ireland that Locke would later make for the dispossession of American Indians, and the same kind of argument that was made for enclosure in England and the extinction of the customary rights of English commoners. Here, too, the core of the argument is ‘improvement’, the increase in exchange value derived from improving productivity. Here, too, the issue is not simply occupancy or even fruitful use but relative value. The similarities down to the last detail are truly uncanny: the talk about ‘waste’, the numerical calculation of the value of improved as against unimproved land, the suggestion that the improving settlers are not taking anything away but adding something. [p171]

It seems to have been in England that it was first suggested – notably by Thomas More, as early as 1516, in his Utopia – that the seizure of vacant land could be justified even without the consent of the local sovereign, though it was Locke who gave this principle a systematic theorization... For both John Davies and John Locke, in their various ways, the critical issue is not simply occupancy but relative value. The Irish farmer or the Indian hunter-gatherer, indeed, the Indian cultivator, may occupy and work the land, but he has failed to add sufficient exchange value to it by means of improvement. In effect, the English had redefined vacancy by redefining waste. [p174]

On the nation state

The unique productivity engendered by capitalism, especially in its industrial form, gave Britain new advantages not only in its old commercial rivalries with other European states but also in their military conflicts. So, from the late eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth, Britain’s major European rivals were under pressure to develop their economies in ways that could meet this new challenge. The state itself became a major player. This was true most notably in Germany, with its state-led industrialization. [p187]

While no one would deny the global reach of capital, there is little evidence that today’s ‘global’ capital is less in need of national states than were earlier capitalist interests. Global capital, no less than ‘national’ capital, relies on nation states to maintain local conditions favourable to accumulation as well as to help it navigate the global economy. It might, then, be more accurate to say that ‘globalization’ is characterized less by the decline of the nation state than by a growing contradiction between the global scope of capital and its persistent need for more local and national forms of ‘extra-economic’ support, a growing disparity between its economic reach and its political grasp. [p189]

...capitalism, in some ways more than any other social form, needs politically organized and legally defined stability, regularity, and predictability in its social arrangements. ...To stabilize its constitutive social relations – between capital and labour or capital and other capitals – capitalism is especially reliant on legally defined and politically authorized regularities. [p191]... Capitalist transactions also require an elaborate infrastructure that its own profit-maximizing imperatives are ill equipped to provide... A system like this, where the economy has been ‘disembedded’ from other social relations, will also have a distinctive need for politically organized social provision, even just to keep people alive through times when they cannot sell their labour-power, and to ensure a ‘reserve army’ of workers. [p191]

At the same time, as long as global capital continues to depend on the support of local states, both in the imperial powers and in subordinate economies, the state will be an essential terrain of opposition, and the growing distance between global capital and its political supports will open up new spaces for resistance. [p194]

On modernity and appeals to the Enlightenment

Much of the Enlightenment project belongs to a distinctly non-capitalist – not just pre-capitalist – society. Many features of the Enlightenment, in other words, are rooted in non-capitalist social property relations. They belong to a social form that is not just a transitional point on the way to capitalism but an alternative route out of feudalism. In particular, the French Enlightenment belongs to the absolutist state in France... What were the characteristic cultural and ideological expressions of English capitalism in the same period? Not Cartesian rationalism and rational planning but the ‘invisible hand’ of classical political economy and the philosophy of British empiricism. Not the formal garden of Versailles but the irregular, apparently unplanned, ‘natural’ landscape garden. and the English legal system based on the common law is to this day less ‘rational’ than the Napoleonic code that followed the French Revolution, or other continental systems based on Roman law. [p201]

...there certainly was, in England, an interest in science and technology shared with its European neighbours. Nor should it need saying that the French Enlightenment itself owed much to Bacon, Locke, and Newton. But the characteristic ideology that set England apart from other European cultures was above all the ideology of ‘improvement’: not the Enlightenment idea of the improvement of humanity but the improvement of property, the ethic – and indeed the science – of profit, the commitment to increasing the productivity of labour, the production of exchange value, and the practice of enclosure and dispossession.
[p201]

Conclusion

There is, in general, a great disparity between the productive capacities of capitalism and the quality of life it delivers. The ethic of ‘improvement’ in its original sense, in which production is inseparable from profit, is also the ethic of exploitation, poverty, and homelessness... Irresponsible land use and environmental destruction are also consequences of the ethic of productivity for profit... The history of agrarian capitalism, and everything that followed from it, should make it clear that wherever market imperatives regulate the economy and govern social reproduction, there will be no escape from exploitation. There can, in other words, be no such thing as a truly ‘social’ or democratic market, let alone a ‘market socialism.’ [p208]

As capitalism spreads more widely and penetrates more deeply into every aspect of social life and the natural environment, its contradictions are increasingly escaping all our efforts to control them. The hope of achieving a humane, truly democratic, and ecologically sustainable capitalism is becoming transparently unrealistic. But although that alternative is unavailable, there remains the real alternative of socialism. [p212]
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review 2018-01-08 00:00
The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View
The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View - Ellen Meiksins Wood This is quite a succinct book and very well argued. Its point is to refute claims that capitalism is both natural and inevitable, because ...if capitalism is the natural culmination of history, then surmounting it is unimaginable... Thinking about future alternatives to capitalism requires us to think about alternative conceptions of its past. [p15]

The ‘collapse of Communism’ in the late 1980s and 1990s seemed to confirm what many people have long believed: that capitalism is the natural condition of humanity, that it conforms to the laws of nature and basic human inclinations, and that any deviation from those natural laws and inclinations can only come to grief. [p8] ...the conviction that there is and can be no alternative is very deeply rooted, especially in Western culture. ... It is as if capitalism has always been the destination of historical movement and, more than that, the movement of history itself has from the beginning been driven by capitalist ‘laws of motion’.[p8]

The first part of the book critiques established accounts of the history of Capitalism and finds them generally unsatisfactory. It is no less dissatisfied with Marxist theory, which is vulnerable to the same criticisms, but finds that Marx himself, after taking a false track in his early writing – the Communist Manifesto and German Ideologies – found a better approach in his analysis of ‘primitive accumulation’ in Vol 1 of his Capital. This of course bequeathed mixed messages which start to be clarified in the work of Robert Brenner, notably with an important article, ‘Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe’, published in the journal Past and Present in 1976, and in a book published in 1993.

... In England, an exceptionally large proportion of land was owned by landlords and worked by tenants whose conditions of tenure increasingly took the form of economic leases, with rents not fixed by law or custom but responsive to market conditions. It could even be said that there existed a market in leases. ... The conditions of tenure were such that growing numbers of tenants were subjected to market imperatives – not the opportunity to produce for the market and to grow from petty producers into capitalists but the need to specialize for the market and to produce competitively – simply in order to guarantee access to the means of subsistence. [p62]

The English ruling class was distinctive in its growing dependence on the productivity of tenants, rather than on exerting coercive power to squeeze more surplus out of them. In other words, English property relations had what Brenner calls their own distinctive ‘rules for reproduction’. Both direct producers and landlords came to depend on the market in historically unprecedented ways just to secure the conditions of their own self-reproduction. These rules produced their own distinctive laws of motion.[p62] ... Brenner goes further than previous Marxist accounts in explaining the specificity of capitalism, especially in his argument that the distinctive dynamics of capitalism come into play when producers become market-dependent, and therefore subject to the imperatives of competition, which happens even without their complete separation from the means of production, when their access to the means of subsistence becomes dependent on the market.

Non Capitalist Commerce

“The dominant principle of trade everywhere was not surplus value derived from production but ‘profit on alienation’, ‘buying cheap and selling dear.’ [p87]

The Dutch typically relied, for their successes in international trade, on extra-economic superiority in negotiating separate markets, rather than on competitive production in a single market: on dominance in shipping and command of trade routes, on monopolies and trading privileges, on an elaborate network of far-flung trading posts and settlements, on the development of sophisticated financial practices and instruments. These ‘extra-economic’ advantages often relied heavily on military force. The rising Dutch Republic devoted much of its massive tax revenues to military expenditures, which accounted for more of the state’s expenses than did any other activity. The Dutch engaged in some notorious military exercises for purely commercial advantage, not only aggressive trade wars but also such ventures as the seizure in 1602 of a Portuguese ship with an enormously valuable cargo of unprecedented proportions, apparently large enough to affect the future course of Dutch development; or the ‘Amboina massacre’ of English merchants in the Moluccas.[p100]

English Capitalism

English agriculture, then, was already in the sixteenth century marked by a unique combination of conditions, at least in certain regions, that would gradually set the economic direction of the whole economy. The result was a highly productive agrarian sector, in which landlords and tenants alike became preoccupied with what they called ‘improvement’, the enhancement of the land’s productivity for profit [p112] But improvement meant something more than new or better methods and techniques of farming. Improvement meant, even more fundamentally, new forms and conceptions of property... It certainly meant the elimination of old customs and practices that interfered with the most productive use of land ... Peasants have since time immemorial employed various means of regulating land use in the interests of the village community. They have restricted certain practices and granted certain rights, not in order to enhance the wealth of landlords or states but in order to preserve the peasant community itself, perhaps to conserve the land or to distribute its fruits more equitably, and often to provide for the community’s less fortunate members. Even private ownership of property has been typically conditioned by such customary practices, giving non-owners certain use rights to property owned by someone else. [p117]

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, there was growing pressure to extinguish customary rights that interfered with capitalist accumulation. This could mean various things: disputing communal rights to common lands by claiming exclusive private ownership; eliminating various use rights on private land; or challenging the customary tenures that gave many smallholders rights of possession without unambiguous legal title. In all these cases, traditional conceptions of property had to be replaced by new, capitalist conceptions of property – not only as ‘private’ but as exclusive. Other individuals and the community had to be excluded by eliminating village regulation and restrictions on land use (something that did not, for example, happen in France in anything like the same ways and degrees), especially by extinguishing customary use rights.[p118]

enclosure meant not simply a physical fencing of land but the extinction of common and customary use rights on which many people depended for their livelihood[p118] ... Contemporary commentators held enclosure, more than any other single factor, responsible for the growing plague of vagabonds, those dispossessed ‘masterless men’ who wandered the countryside and threatened social order. The most famous of these commentators, Thomas More, though himself an encloser, described the practice as ‘sheep devouring men.’ [p119] ... once the landed classes had succeeded in shaping the state to their own changing requirements – a success more or less finally consolidated in 1688, in the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ – there was no further state interference, and a new kind of enclosure movement emerged in the eighteenth century, the so-called ‘Parliamentary enclosures’. In this kind of enclosure, the extinction of troublesome property rights that interfered with some landlord’s powers of accumulation took place by acts of Parliament. Nothing more neatly testifies to the triumph of agrarian capitalism. p119]

these propertyless wage labourers, dependent on the market for all their material needs, determined the nature of production not only by their own productive activity but also by their powers of consumption.... [p150] Without that dispossessed non-agrarian workforce, there would have been no mass consumer market for the cheap everyday goods – such as food and textiles – that drove the process of industrialization in England. It is worth emphasizing that this large market derived its special character not only from its unusual size but also from its limitations, the relative poverty of consumers demanding cheap goods for everyday use. It had more in common with later mass consumer markets than with the luxury trade of ‘classical’ commerce.[p153]

Industrialization was, then, the result not the cause of market society, and capitalist laws of motion were the cause not the result of mass proletarianization. But that, of course, was not the end of capitalist development. Proletarianization, which meant the complete commodification of labour-power, would confer new and more far-reaching coercive powers on the market by creating a working class that was completely market-dependent and completely vulnerable to market disciplines, with no mediations and no alternative resources [p155]

On Imperialism

...once British capitalism, especially in its industrial form, was well established, it was able to impose capitalist imperatives on other economies with different social property relations. But no amount of colonial wealth would have had these effects without the imperatives generated by England’s domestic property relations. If wealth from the colonies and the slave trade contributed to Britain’s industrial revolution, it was because the British economy had already for a long time been structured by capitalist social property relations. By contrast, the truly enormous wealth accumulated by Spain and Portugal had no such effect because they were unambiguously non-capitalist economies. [p160]

The Irish model, then, represented a pattern of imperial settlement different from other European empires, a form of colonial domination that replaced existing property relations with new ones driven by market imperatives. [p166]... the model pioneered in Ireland was eclipsed by other forms. Still, there are ways in which that model presaged the future form of capitalist imperialism, and some of its principles have survived to this day. Dispossession and extinction of traditional property rights, of one kind or another, have, of course, been a continuing practice; but most of all, capitalism has developed to its utmost limit the practice of economic compulsion, as distinct from direct political and military coercion, not only as a mode of class rule but also as a form of imperial domination. [p167]

On Capitalist Ideology

Locke’s whole argument on property turns on the notion of ‘improvement’... The theme running throughout his discussion is that the earth is there to be made productive and profitable, and that this is why private property, which emanates from labour, trumps common possession. ... Locke’s point, which not coincidentally drips with colonialist contempt, is that unimproved land is waste, so that any man who takes it out of common ownership and appropriates it to himself – he who removes land from the common and encloses it – in order to improve it has given something to humanity, not taken it away... [p121] Locke writes that ‘the Grass my Horse has bit; the Turfs my Servant has cut; and the Ore I have digg’d in any place where I have a right to them in common with others, become my Property …’ (II.28). [p122]

We can now look back at the arguments of John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts (who had roots in England’s Irish settlements and had intended to make his life in Ireland). Justifying the intended plantation of New England in 1629, he makes an argument about the Indians that foreshadows Locke on property in general. The Indians have not been using their lands according to God’s will, he insists, ‘for the Natives in New England they inclose noe land neither have they any setled habitation nor any tame cattle to improve the land by’. So, as long as the colonists leave them enough for their own (obviously limited) use, the rest can lawfully be taken from them. [p170]

Eighty years before Locke’s Second Treatise of Government was published, Sir John Davies is making essentially the same argument for the colonial settlement of Ireland that Locke would later make for the dispossession of American Indians, and the same kind of argument that was made for enclosure in England and the extinction of the customary rights of English commoners. Here, too, the core of the argument is ‘improvement’, the increase in exchange value derived from improving productivity. Here, too, the issue is not simply occupancy or even fruitful use but relative value. The similarities down to the last detail are truly uncanny: the talk about ‘waste’, the numerical calculation of the value of improved as against unimproved land, the suggestion that the improving settlers are not taking anything away but adding something. [p171]

It seems to have been in England that it was first suggested – notably by Thomas More, as early as 1516, in his Utopia – that the seizure of vacant land could be justified even without the consent of the local sovereign, though it was Locke who gave this principle a systematic theorization... For both John Davies and John Locke, in their various ways, the critical issue is not simply occupancy but relative value. The Irish farmer or the Indian hunter-gatherer, indeed, the Indian cultivator, may occupy and work the land, but he has failed to add sufficient exchange value to it by means of improvement. In effect, the English had redefined vacancy by redefining waste. [p174]

On the nation state

The unique productivity engendered by capitalism, especially in its industrial form, gave Britain new advantages not only in its old commercial rivalries with other European states but also in their military conflicts. So, from the late eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth, Britain’s major European rivals were under pressure to develop their economies in ways that could meet this new challenge. The state itself became a major player. This was true most notably in Germany, with its state-led industrialization. [p187]

While no one would deny the global reach of capital, there is little evidence that today’s ‘global’ capital is less in need of national states than were earlier capitalist interests. Global capital, no less than ‘national’ capital, relies on nation states to maintain local conditions favourable to accumulation as well as to help it navigate the global economy. It might, then, be more accurate to say that ‘globalization’ is characterized less by the decline of the nation state than by a growing contradiction between the global scope of capital and its persistent need for more local and national forms of ‘extra-economic’ support, a growing disparity between its economic reach and its political grasp. [p189]

...capitalism, in some ways more than any other social form, needs politically organized and legally defined stability, regularity, and predictability in its social arrangements. ...To stabilize its constitutive social relations – between capital and labour or capital and other capitals – capitalism is especially reliant on legally defined and politically authorized regularities. [p191]... Capitalist transactions also require an elaborate infrastructure that its own profit-maximizing imperatives are ill equipped to provide... A system like this, where the economy has been ‘disembedded’ from other social relations, will also have a distinctive need for politically organized social provision, even just to keep people alive through times when they cannot sell their labour-power, and to ensure a ‘reserve army’ of workers. [p191]

At the same time, as long as global capital continues to depend on the support of local states, both in the imperial powers and in subordinate economies, the state will be an essential terrain of opposition, and the growing distance between global capital and its political supports will open up new spaces for resistance. [p194]

On modernity and appeals to the Enlightenment

Much of the Enlightenment project belongs to a distinctly non-capitalist – not just pre-capitalist – society. Many features of the Enlightenment, in other words, are rooted in non-capitalist social property relations. They belong to a social form that is not just a transitional point on the way to capitalism but an alternative route out of feudalism. In particular, the French Enlightenment belongs to the absolutist state in France... What were the characteristic cultural and ideological expressions of English capitalism in the same period? Not Cartesian rationalism and rational planning but the ‘invisible hand’ of classical political economy and the philosophy of British empiricism. Not the formal garden of Versailles but the irregular, apparently unplanned, ‘natural’ landscape garden. and the English legal system based on the common law is to this day less ‘rational’ than the Napoleonic code that followed the French Revolution, or other continental systems based on Roman law. [p201]

...there certainly was, in England, an interest in science and technology shared with its European neighbours. Nor should it need saying that the French Enlightenment itself owed much to Bacon, Locke, and Newton. But the characteristic ideology that set England apart from other European cultures was above all the ideology of ‘improvement’: not the Enlightenment idea of the improvement of humanity but the improvement of property, the ethic – and indeed the science – of profit, the commitment to increasing the productivity of labour, the production of exchange value, and the practice of enclosure and dispossession.
[p201]

Conclusion

There is, in general, a great disparity between the productive capacities of capitalism and the quality of life it delivers. The ethic of ‘improvement’ in its original sense, in which production is inseparable from profit, is also the ethic of exploitation, poverty, and homelessness... Irresponsible land use and environmental destruction are also consequences of the ethic of productivity for profit... The history of agrarian capitalism, and everything that followed from it, should make it clear that wherever market imperatives regulate the economy and govern social reproduction, there will be no escape from exploitation. There can, in other words, be no such thing as a truly ‘social’ or democratic market, let alone a ‘market socialism.’ [p208]

As capitalism spreads more widely and penetrates more deeply into every aspect of social life and the natural environment, its contradictions are increasingly escaping all our efforts to control them. The hope of achieving a humane, truly democratic, and ecologically sustainable capitalism is becoming transparently unrealistic. But although that alternative is unavailable, there remains the real alternative of socialism. [p212]
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