3 Feb 2015

Merchantilism and the Vilification of the Poor

This article "Merchantilism Six Centuries of Vilifying the Poor" strikes me as extraordinarily important in understanding the attitudes of Neoliberals. I hope I will be forgiven for quoting a big chunk of the author's text.
"Mercantilism states that a country will grow richer by increasing its net exports. To achieve this goal, the original mercantilist writers recommended that wages be kept at the subsistence level, not just to minimise the direct cost of labour, but also to maximise the pressure on workers to work. They believed that workers were lazy and had to be coerced to work... It was observed that as wages increased above the subsistence level workers tended to reduce their work hours and to lower their productivity... Subsistence wages not only helped to make the workforce more productive but also helped to maintain peace and order in society. Thomas Mun’s view, written in 1664, that “penury and want do make a people wise and industrious” summed up the prevailing attitude of his day." - David Spencer 
This highlighting of the attitudes towards the poor helps to make sense of the attitudes on display on our current government. To be poor is definitely equated with being lazy in their eyes. Never mind that they have relied on inherited wealth and privileged access to get where they are; never mind that the wealth of the UK's plutocrats all traces back to exploitation of the colonies and slavery; never mind that low paid jobs often leave the worker dependent on government handouts in order to afford their rent (effectively landlords are subsidised by the government to keep rents high). Never mind that working people's jobs keep getting made redundant and that the demand for manual skill is continuing to drop leaving poor people facing mindless drudgery.

One trick that the Victorians did not have was cheap food laden with fat, sugar and salt that means that the poor are often fat and unable to think clearly. Nor did they have the ability to manipulate sources of information in the way that the media do today. The constant sense of danger and outrage cultivated by "news" outlets helps to create a sense that we need the authorities to protect us, even when it is them that oppress us. No, we don't live under Stalin or the Stasi, but the velvet collar is still a collar.

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Keep is seemly & on-topic. Thanks.