Waking from the Neolithic Opression

- Jeremy Hubble 2/23/92

In response to the bleak pessimism outlined in the works of Malthus and Ricardo, a new bread of 'economist' sprouted on the scene - the Utopian Socialists. Unlike their rational predecessors, these men were eccentric radicals. Not only did they advocate change, they took upon themselves the responsibility of executing it. They saw that the problems were not with the people, but with the unrelenting economic laws. Thus, they were "dreamers" that came up with many "weird" ideas that seemed perfectly rational to them.

The conditions facing Europe in the early 1800s were horrendous. Young children filled the ranks of the factories. Work days were almost endless. Abuse, both sexual and physical, were commonplace. Soon, the workers could take it no more. Mob violence became commonplace, resulting in the destruction of many factories. In most of the cases, the workers spoke of a certain Ned Ludd who was leading them. But, there was no Ludd. There was just a great discontent of the prisons called factories.

New Lanark, however, was saved from any worker uprising. The workers in this community enjoyed their work, and seldom felt discontent. They worked a relatively short day, children were sent to school instead of factories, and living conditions were almost luxurious. And, surprisingly, it was one of the most profitable establishments in Britain.

The success of New Lanark rested on the efforts of Robert Owen, an eccentric from the beginning. He was born into a poor Welch family, and apprenticed as a linen draper. By the age of eighteen, he had set up his own textile business. Shortly afterwards, he received a job as a manager of a large factory, after demanding a salary higher than any other applicants. (Justifying it saying, "I cannot be governed by what others seek.") He was a great success in his business, and pounced on the opportunity to by a set of mills for sale in New Lanark. (He also happened to be attracted to the daughter of the owner.) After ten years he had transformed it into a model community, and earned a handsome fortune for himself.

Owen saw New Lanark as 'lab' where we could test out some of his economic theories. One theory proven by New Lanark was that "mankind was no better than its environment." Other theories, such as his 'villages of cooperation' didn't pan out. He thought these well-planned villages would transform the poor into superior workers. Unfortunately he was unable to get the funding for a trial village, so he set about creating one of his own, New Harmony, Indiana. It flopped. He was not there to execute detailed plans, and the settlers greed overshadowed their desire for community goodwill. However, he was already occupied in other areas, especially labor. He set up the Grand National trade union, the first all-encompassing labor union in England. It, however, was a little before its time, and quickly fell apart. Perhaps Owen's greatest observation is one that is hardly economic: "Man is the creature of circumstances," and he himself creates the circumstances. Though most of his direct efforts failed, Owen did set the stage for the many other self-sustaining communities (similar to the Amish) that grew in number, then declined. Also, his passing notion of a consumer cooperative took root in society and became an overwhelming success.

Unlike Owen, who was born into poverty, Count Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon was born into the French aristocracy. His upbringing led him to be an obstinately self-indulgent youth. This might have remained with him for the remainder of his life had he not fought in the American Revolution and become infatuated with democracy. When he returned to France, he took part in the French revolution, made a fortune on the side, became involved in a giant education scheme, met many foreigners, and was thrown in jail. During his time in jail, he had a vision in which Charlemagne (his distant ancestor) said, "your successes as a philosopher will equal mine as a soldier and statesmen." After being released, he poured his soul into educational endeavors (even marrying to gain "firsthand acquaintance with family life"). In the process, he drove himself to poverty and tried to publish his books on philosophy (which, alas, never sold well). Distressed, he attempted suicide, but "only succeeded in loosing one eye." After living two more proud years, he finally died, leaving behind a sect of followers. A Saint-Simonian Church was formed with branches in France, Germany, and England. This 'industrial religion' was based on Saint-Simon's principal that "man must work." (He further went on to detail the uselessness of the aristocracy, and the queer paradox which resulted in wages being inversely proportional to work.) His followers went further and advocated an abolition of private property and a 'new morality' (which was in fact immorality.)

Saint-Simon and Owen seemed like a controlled conservatives when compared with Charles Fourier. Though most of his life, Fourier was enthralled by nothing other than cats and flowers. However, during the later part of his life he felt he alone was blessed with the knowledge to send the world into "immense happiness." He believed the earth had life of 80,000 years: 40,000 years of "ascending" vibrations and 40,000 years descending (and somehow 8,000 years of "bliss" were fit in between). As we ascended, new species would appear, six moons would fill the sky, and the sea would become lemonade. However, mankind still needed to change. He described a system of 2,985,984 phalansteries that would encircle the globe. In a phalanx, people would live in the conditions they desired. They would do the work they desired (the little children, would be happy doing the 'dirty work' of society.) And, because everyone was doing what he wanted to do, the phalanx would be very profitable. Fourier spent the end of his life patiently waiting for capitalists to come forth with money for him to carry out his plans, but none came. However, many people did pick up on his idea, and forty phalansteries were started in the new world. (But, alas, none had overwhelming success).

Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Owen were filled with great ideas to help the human species. They took on the bold task of attempting to change the entire system to subvert some 'evil' economic laws. They appeared similar in goal to the communists, but were different in one key respect. While the communists advocated violent uprisings of the lower classes, the Utopians appealed to the upper classes of society. However, they never received widespread report, until John Stuart Mill came along.

Mill was the son of James Mill, one of the "leading intellectuals of the early nineteenth century." The younger Mill was brought up without a break from his education. He learned Greek when he was three. By the age of thirteen, he "made a complete survey of all there was to be known in political economy." He never realized the social upbringing common to all others. After suffering from a "kind of nervous breakdown," he met Harriet Taylor, who just happened to be married. However, he persevered, and they were married shortly after Mr. Taylor died. Out of his leanings, Mill wrote Principals of Political Economy, a "total survey" of the field of economics. In addition to surveying the field, Mill produced one key insight: economic laws concern production, not distribution. Man can have anything produced taken from him, given to him, or transferred elsewhere in society. Society would "share the wealth" however it saw fit. This has been observed in today's society. Welfare programs take money away from those who work and give it to others, in some countries more than others. Farm products are selectively distributed by various means, and some are even left to rot in the field. However, there were major limitations in Mill's conclusion. Intervention in the production process invariably affects the distribution. Furthermore, as Marx would point out, production and distribution could not be cleanly separated some societies connected their production and modes of payment.

Mill, though he saw some advantages in the various forms of communism, failed to advocate them for fear of the suppression of eccentricity, and the abolition of private property. Even though the present system disproportionately paid its members, the flaws were more a result of the old feudal system than the new capitalistic system. He believed private property could be a keystone in society if it was just given a chance.

Furthermore, Mill, disagreed with the earlier economist on a key point: nil growth economies. He believed the economy was just a short hop away from a stationary state. Once the economy stopped growing, the society would examine its principals of liberty and justice. On this point, he was very wrong. However, on most of his other points he was correct. Indeed, his book went through a multitude of print runs verifying its acceptance by mankind. And like modern society, if you get enough people to believe what you say, it's right.