> Capitalism was invented for a "purpose" by more-or-less by the same
> people who gave us the 18th century (first) Industrial Revolution.
> While corporations and usury had been around for a while, that
> purpose was (roughly speaking) "industrialization." Today the
> Chinese call their system "state-capitalism," which given that they
> are still industrializing makes a lot of sense.
> Industrialization raises living standards, increases population
> density, improves health, lengthens life expectancy and generally
> "helps" EVERYONE -- right? Just look at Angus Madisson's charts
> and graphs.
Here in Scotland where the steam engine and automatic loom weaving
things were invented and maybe where these ideas of capitalism and
industrialisation that you're talking about come from, these
developments came at a very great cost.
All of a sudden the mountainous landscape with poor quality soil that
was barely good enough for subsistence farming became useful - we
could graze sheep on it, and now that we had these fancy looms, we
needed more wool. Now just to get rid of those pesky unprofitable
crofters. So the country was purposefully depopulated, people exiled
either to North America or to cities like Glasgow.
This wasn't quite enough because some of this land was held in common,
so we invented property laws that said if your title was in the
registry in Edinburgh uncontested for some years, you owned it. Not
many peasants knew about this until it was too late and even so the
long journey to the capital to look for a piece of paper wasn't easily
And when they concentrated in the cities, their teeth started falling
out. Yes, it's true. See they went from a diet consisting in large
part of oats to one consisting in large part of things like jam that
were now readily available, and I guess our knowledge of nutrition
back then wasn't what it is now.
The slums in Edinburgh, in the old town, along the cowgate were at
that time hideous places to live. Disease-ridden and filthy. No
matter, the lairds had enough cash to drain the Nor' loch and build a
New Toun from scratch in the early 19th century with grand imposing
avenues and solid georgian buildings.
It took a very long time for any increase in life expectancy to
materialise. There would first have been a significant decrease. And
when the situation improved it was partly due to better knowledge of
medicine and nutrition. The other part is, given the time lag, those
worst off were already dead or elsewhere so its obvious that average
life expectancy would rise once the people dragging it down are gone.
To the extent that all this was mixed up with the politics of the day,
resentment was directed at the government in London and there were
some unsuccessful armed insurrections which lead to brutal repression
and a campaign of cultural genocide from which the country has never
To sell this, Sir Walter Scott, one of the greatest propagandists who
ever lived, invented the image of the Highlander as the noble savage
and together with Rabbie Burns founded the scottish tourist industry
for a visit by King George to inaugurate the New Toun.
> So, does "capitalism" still have a broad social *purpose* once a
> significant level of industrialization has already been achieved?
I have a Harris tweed jacket that I like very much and wear almost
every day. I like to take the train. Did the history that brought
those things to me have to be a tale of depopulation, exile, disease,
famine, cultural genocide and concentration of wealth? I can't see any
reason why it had to happen that way.
> Might the same "anti-privilege" politics that you champion be a
> result of having already achieved "post-industrial" status --
> personally and culturally?
200 years on, there is no longer much industry here to speak of. What
happens here is banking and tourism. There's an almost dead
shipbuilding industry and recently some resource extraction with the
North Sea oil. It's not a bad place to live, definitely
"post-industrial". I'm not an economist, but I suspect it is largely
financed by similar stories of industrialisation and wealth extraction
simply being replayed further afield, reaping the benefits of being
"first to market".