fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
From now I shall use a new word. The kind of people who argue against a minimum wage are neither conservative (how DARE they?) nor libertarian. They are starvationists. Remember the word: STARVATIONISTS.
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(Note: I rushed to complete this and publish it because, as I am about to leave, I risked losing it.)

I have been skimming - not really reading - some seventeenth-century English history. One half-remembered feature drew my attention: in England in the sixteen hundred there used to be regular riots, because, even in times of public hunger, large amounts of wheat were exported from the country.

That the people rioted is hardly surprising. These were not beggars, but artisans, employed men, even farm labourers, and their wives; and in times when they knew they could not eat and must watch their children starve, they saw wagon trains loaded with good grain, leaving their counties, making their way to the coast. What was going on?

What was happening was something that many people today will not be able to imagine: the buyers in England were unable to compete with those of the Conntinent - and thus to pay for their own grain - because they had no money. That is not to say that they were poor: they were simply very imperfectly inserted in the money economy. They were industrious workers; but a good deal of what they did wass for barter. Worse still, their main contact with the money economy was the payment of rents, taxes and fines. The money they received went out of their hands again. A man might even have a considerable amount of what would ordinarily be called wealth - own his farm and land outright - and still not only be unable to accumulate capital, but barely be able to conceive of it.

In some parts of the world, this is a recent memory - or still going on today. When my mother was a baby, her parents were considerable landowners in the most fertile area of Italy's deep South, Puglia. And she once told me that there never was any problem with anything that could be grown from the farm - mounds of grain, hills of beautiful oranges - but when it was a matter of buying a pair of shoes - drama!! The whole cycle of life tended to go on with small amounts of money, if any.

I say this because it is important to place our situation as westerners in context. The free availability of money is not natural, but something of a privilege. It is a result of the accumulation of centuries of production reckoned into money, and of the access to structures - in particular, banks and insurance companies - that systematize that access. And it gives us possibilities that our fathers never dreamed of; in particular, to budget for our future. Hesiod's farmer, hard-working and hard-headed though he is, cannot see beyond the next harvest; of old age, he only knows that it is odious and defenceless, and certainly looks forward to going on working for his bread until he is physically incapable. We, on the other hand, can plan ahead.

Loooking around me, in this wasteland of debt public and debt private, in which both nations and individuals have lived their lives according to the amount of money they could borrow, I simply find myself wondering whether a clearer understanding of the privilege of being fully within the money economy - even where you are poor - could not have kept us from quite so many follies.

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