Debt, service, and the origins of capitalism


I’m actually gonna read some of this I
don’t usually read the papers that that I’m supposed to read up but I finished
writing this at about 4:00 a.m. last night and and I haven’t actually read it
yet I think it makes sense but I wanted to say something new having this whole
conference and it’s in order to regurgitate things so what I thought to
do it was to relate some of the themes that I explored in my earlier work on
debt with some of the more recent concerns I’ve had with the history of
labor and particularly wage labor I take cover rather briefly in the new book on
bullshit jobs and specifically talk about the commoditization of labor you
know we have this interesting situation nowadays were waged and to a lesser
extent salaried labor remain the predominant ways of organizing work them
almost everywhere in the world at this point but historically if you look at
the sort of broad historical sweep well such arrangements often existed in many
perhaps most times in places kind of unusable even considered anomalous and
most and you know while there has been a lot of very good research on the history
of such labor arrangements it’s actually really uncommon to see
anyone put the pieces together in a any sort of broad synthetic way I mean you
often see books on different forms of labor and in a certain region or labor
in the Indian Ocean labor and medieval Northern Europe but it’s surprising how
how rarely they make that many general points so I thought I would start by
taking up some of the ideas about commoditization of labor that kind of
came on me when I was pursuing the work on debt and and thus I want to start
with talking about bride wealth and bride price and that debate and what I
thought were one of the more what I thought was one of the
cooler points that I kind of came up with while I was researching that which
is an intervention in an anthropological debate about the nature of pride welcome
dowry and about the sort of power of debt to transform one into the other
transform what are essentially social social currencies that are used when
social currency is turned into commercial currencies so uh what are
social arrangements can turn it become commoditized in ways that must turn them
into the opposite of what they had previously been and but to go from there
and that’s largely about drama commoditization of women’s labor through
much of history through marriage systems to talking about wage labor itself so
there’s three parts there’s that going the role of debt in sort of dislodging
labor from the social nexus is in which it has been placed it seemed from
marriage systems but then seen from the perspective of of wage labor itself
which has a very very interesting history and in many times a place is
probably most seems to emerge above all from within institutions of slavery and
then finally to look at a case where wage labor actually didn’t emerge from
within institutions of slavery in Northern Europe and particularly England
and in that case to look at the role of debt and redefining English agricultural
industrial and commercial workers not as creditors but essentially as as debtors
to those they worked for now you start at the beginning
um so part one is bride wealth dowry and just played in bride price one of the
less remark arguments in debt although as I say one of props one of its more
ambitious interventions an anthropological theory I don’t think
anybody noticed business largely in the footnotes was a critique of Jack Goody’s
famous argument of the opposition between bride wealth and dowry I mean I
I would see it as much as an expansion and slight modification
of goodies argument rather than a concert in contradiction to it I’m
pretty sure goodie would see it as in contradiction with it in fact when
people raised some more points he argued against them so I seem to be on the
other side good goodies core argument I think everyone has come to accept which
is about the distinction between bride wealth and dowry and that actually the
whole anthropological debate on the subject can actually be traced back to a
political question in the 1930s the League of Nations was holding a series
of debates about whether the practice of what was then called bride-price
should be banned as a form of slavery you know is does pride price actually
mean people are selling women and as one might imagine anthropologists work sort
of called in as expert witnesses testified it evans-pritchard in
particular entered the argument make a strong case that even in societies where
people actually say things like yes I am buying a wife they don’t really mean it
such statements are not to be taken literally because even if payments only
move in one direction as they all as they didn’t necessarily you know there’s
some places there’s actually payments in both directions the important thing is
that things are moving around but that would would be the case off in Southeast
Asia in Africa it was often when things move just one way from the wife takers
to the wife wife givers no even so he argued there’s no sense of payment and
and there were a number of criteria that were listed as why this does not
resemble a payment this if you were to buy say a cow one was on that both
parties continued to have mutual rights and responsibilities and so did their
lineages and clans another was that if anything was actually being purchased in
the case of bridewealth and this is a period where they actually insisted that
we get rid of the word bride-price entirely the substitute probably well if
anything was really being purchased the argument was it was not the woman but
her fertility more specifically the right of the wife take
there’s lineage or clan to name any children of the Union as there
patrilineal descendants so in that sense woman no way resembled a slaves and
slaves are by definition entirely detached from their natal love of social
relations whether if I capture a purchase and of course they don’t have
any rights but only responsibilities and finally this is really the clinching
argument for a lot of people if you’re really buying a wife then you could sell
them right and in fact there’s pretty much no case in which someone who
obtains a wife by bridewealth can then just sort of arbitrarily pass her on to
others for a similar payment now as a result doesn’t you know provide wealth
payments were not banned anthropologists basically won the argument the
assumption was that bride wealth was not buying wife through an exchange of gifts
meant to create social relations or to transform them to establish a renew and
alliance between two different groups now Goody’s work on production and
reproduction probably wealth and dowry kind of takes off from that and in
particular good ii was fascinated in particular by the anomaly of ethiopia
the fact that you know when you talk about african systems of kinship and
marriage ethiopia seems to be the one place where almost all the rules that
make africa different than Eurasia don’t apply so no instead of bride Wall fell
and they do dowry and they have plow agriculture instead of hoe agriculture
there’s not any number of different ones I could go into having to do a cuisine
and everything else but his big point was that it all has to do with
technology and population density actually interesting it’s a purely
materialist argument at root which has been widely accepted even amongst
anthropologists who generally don’t go for that kind of thing but he basically
says is that where you have hoe agriculture others and plow agriculture
you have low population densities you don’t need heavy-duty technologies to
produce crops and therefore it’s less it’s not
land but labor that’s at a premium bridewealth seems to correspond to those
societies and and bride walls it’s not the fact that one is transferring a
property in order you know to the wife takers in order to gain a woman I mean
that is that does happen he says but actually you know payments can move back
and forth in different directions for different reasons it sets up a nexus but
it’s mainly about the allocation of Labor and it’s the key thing for him is
that bride wealth is passed back and forth by the generation above the couple
that’s getting married so it’s actually the lineages or the descent groups clans
whatever they might be that they’re part of who are rearranging things together
because in such a situation where land is real are easy to come by and where
women are doing most of the agricultural work or you’re either a lion’s share of
it or all of that as as they are in many African societies female labor is really
important and you know plans basically have a range of options starting from
trying to keep their daughters around but which is a matrilineal option in
fact in in such societies where you don’t have a bride bride wealth custom
you tend to have matrimony to ones where there’s various forms of bride service
and finally flat out bride wealth oh it and polygyny where you’re trying to
basically accumulate as many women as possible for your own clan so
essentially these are arrangements made between the elders of various descent
groups about the allocation of women’s ira cultural labor he argues now now is
completely different because you know it’s not just a reverse that dowry is
it’s it’s the woman’s family that’s providing the wealth again sometimes
that’s not even the case what’s really going on with dowry he says is that
power ease premature inheritance and when you have a plough agriculture
that’s usually be very high population densities
land is at a premium and there’s various strategies to bring land together
thoughts of all Bridewell societies tend to be exact I miss dowry societies tend
to be in dogmas we tend to marry within the group you tend to try to form
marriage alliances which will keep property together and women well the are
not nearly as important as the dominant labor force and I recall agriculture
which means that in many ways they’re seen more as a mouth to feed he argues
then as you know the core of your agricultural labor force so so as a
result daughters are typically had to be provided of some kind of resources when
married off either land of their own or something else that would take the
burden of supporting her away away from the husband’s family all right now there
are a lot of cases which are kind of interior meaty area I actually was in a
society like that when I did my own fieldwork in Madagascar for example they
had both bride wealth and dowry and in fact it came from the same thing my
husband’s parents would pay a sum of money it’s called the booty wound ray or
rump of a shape it actually was a sum of money to the bride’s family and then the
bride’s parents would then immediately use that money to buy furniture bedding
pots and pans and other necessities for the new household which they would then
give to the bride oh goody this would just be a form of indirect dowry the
point is that the money ends up in a conjugal fund for the newly married
couple so anyway that’s the broad broad argument which you know isn’t in our
audience of anthropologists I thought I’d go over it and I can’t assume that
people know the details now and where the argument hits the shoals I think is
in its treatment of social class or really it’s non treatment of social
class Stanley tebya who co-wrote one of the key original tax bride wealth and
dowry with goodie in 1973 very soon began to raise objections to certain
aspects of this based on his own detailed knowledge of the South Asian
that’s nog Rafi where he pointed out that there’s a lot of urban societies in
Eurasia or or rural societies which are part of
larger urban civilizations where you have dowry at the top of the social
ladder and and something that looks a lot like bride wealth on the bottom as
he points out the you know the sort of magnificent seclusion of upper caste
women in India who haven’t often had to be provided of astronomical dowry is to
keep them you know kept in the style to which they were accustomed was only made
possible by the industrious labor of lower caste women who necessarily had to
have completely different marriage arrangements and as a quote quote from
tamiya it should be appreciated as good he failed to do in production and
reproduction that high caste male freedom from menial labor and the
conspicuous removal of high caste females from public view are only
possible because the system of rural production is predicated on the
availability and exploitation of the low caste agricultural labor both male and
female moreover women of these lower orders
enjoy much greater freedom of movement outside their homes bridewealth rather
than dowry payments are exactly done their marriages the success accenting
the greater economic value of their labor and divorce separation and
remarriage including remarriage of widows is frequently open to them so in
some ways they are more free on most other ways they are more oppressed um
good he actually rejected this argument insisting that what seemed to be bride
wealth here wasn’t really bribe although actually indirect dowry it ultimately
ends up in the conjugal fund of the family in question and there’s a heated
debate about this but I think actually tomba it doesn’t really go far enough
because at times anyway within these what he calls lower order circles
transactions really did come quite close to simply buying and selling women and
sometimes it actually did you know there was buying and selling wound because
slavery was practiced in fact these were precisely the women who would otherwise
be most likely to become sex workers debt peons or wage laborers so that that
is who are subject being commoditized in other ways this
allowed members of the elite to denounce the poor for buying and selling off
their daughters and justified ever-greater sequestering of upper caste
women who of course had to be protected from any possible association with such
lowly practices and what Tom bhaiyya is sort of alluding to here otherwise I say
he doesn’t take it as far as he might is a pattern that can be observed in almost
all the great grades and civilizations there’s a kind of a double push and pull
of a commoditization on the bottom and greater seclusion on the top the
greatest detailed evidence we have for merged transactions from anywhere is
from Bronze Age Mesopotamia starting them Sumer going on through old
babylonian material where in the earliest tax there seems to been
something like the what i observed in madagascar actually a gift by the
groom’s family to the bride’s which is ostensibly bride wealth was actually
used to provide for a lavish wedding feast and for silver jewelry which the
bride would then wear so basically she would like show up at the wedding sort
of dressed in money and she would have this as her fun to you know if he in
case of emergencies or if she wanted investment capital for business ventures
she just used that as the example implies in this early period women had a
great deal of economic and social autonomy over time however this is one
of the remarkable things about the middle-eastern texts as time goes on
that autonomy and freedom of women to take part in public or even private life
is this continually declines that freedom is steadily eroded wealthy women
were sequestered even veiled poorest women really were actually simply bought
and sold now one thing that I argue in the book is that in societies that don’t
have commercial markets but merely social currencies as I call them it’s
really only physical violence war if you viewed slave raids that can act as a
kind of wedge that dislodges women sometimes also children from the webs of
data mutual responsibilities in which they’re typically embedded allowing
you know what levy Stroh’s famously called the exchange of women that turned
into something that actually did resemble commodity exchange in societies
that do have commercial markets monetary dat which of course is packed up
ultimately by the threat of force can have the same effect and certainly that
appears to be what happened in the case of Sumer and Mesopotamia more generally
where you know at first there would have been no question of a man whose family
had paid the traditional summon grain and silver to acquire a wife then being
able to transfer her to someone else you know so you could say as they did in the
bride wealth argument he wasn’t actually a buying wife because he couldn’t sell
her right um however all of that changed the moment he took out a loan since in
the event of default you could lose your wife um in fact the normal practice was
first they go for your fields and vineyards if you have those they go for
your flocks after that you know it’s it you have children and ultimately one
spouse who were taken away a sureties now that of course means assigning a
monetary value to human beings which which in turn was made conceptually easy
easier by the existence of chattel slavery there wasn’t demographically
that important but I think was conceptually very important at that time
so what I suggested in the book was that this threat of alienating human beings
from their families and communities set off a series of other changes which had
disastrous consequences for the freedom of Mesopotamian women more generally
first of all using family members of surety for loans gradually became a
precedent for other forms of commoditization stall for instance
remarks that quoted in newsy the bride price was paid in domestic animals and
silver-mounted into a total value of forty shekels of silver there are some
evidence that it was equal to the price of a slave girl so you’re actually
paying the same thing in bride prices you would if you’re just buying someone
now this conference is not surprising since in that same city we have evidence
of rich men paying cut right bride price to impoverished families to acquire a
daughter who they could then adopt so you pay the
same price to adopt a daughter who you can then use pretty much as you like as
concubine nursemaid servant or simply marry her to one of your slaves another
quote the poorer of the girl’s parents the more marriage resembles a real sale
marriage arrangements in a city like New Zealand heed look like sales due to the
poverty of the girl’s parents and giving a dowry there was a luxury of the
wealthy so not only it is about is it dowry em and bride price you know dowry
for the rich and bright buys for the poor it’s actually the bride price
enough right well I’m in other cities adopted daughters adopted in quotes here
were employed in industrial pursuits or set to work as prostitutes who provide
an income for their adopters and retirement daughter’s were sold or taken
as who were SATs older taken his debt sureties Roth ins actually exploited
became temple prostitutes or commercial sex workers and this in turn set off a
kind of puritanical reaction as men began to judge one another’s honor by
their ability to safeguard just the sexual purity of their women folk and
protect them from being taken away like this virginity is never actually
mentioned in the early Texan so it becomes an issue steadily in the midst
of all of this bride wealth even among wealthier families by the old babylonian
period came to be referred to as the price of a virgin and this was
increasingly meant literally because illegally illegal deflowering of a
virgin came to be considered a property crime against her father you could pay
an equivalent fine for compensation marriage came to be referred to as
taking possession of a woman the same word one would use for the seizure of
goods so this tendency to commoditize the bodies and services of poor women
led to the sequestering even of rich women who largely lost the ability to
separate even from abusive husbands and by the late bronze age would often not
go out unveiled I mean their ever lost saying they had to go veiled they’re
actually lost saying that poor women are or prostitutes couldn’t wear veils but
nonetheless there was a clear dynamic whereby the commoditization of some
women led to increasing sequestering of others and I think they’re almost all
the great Eurasian civilizations witnessed a similar dynamic but
roughly 2500 and 1500 Fit BC and 1500 AD the class war between men was
essentially fought out over the bodies of women and the daughters of both rich
and poor couldn’t daughters of both rich and poor continually lost ground as a
result to take just one well-documented example Chinese legends recorded Huang
Shi and elsewhere how to pronounce that report that coined money was first
invented by benevolent emperors to redeem poor children who had been sold
or taken away his debt pledges by the rich during times of famine so such
practices existed predatory lending breakup of families was seen as a social
issue in the state was seen as taking an interest in fighting it and in fact
while the landed classes provided their daughters of dour ease bride-price here
to continue to be practiced by the poor and it overlaps so strongly with slavery
that state bureaucrats who periodically tried to ban both a long of debt peonage
could hardly be blamed for concluding that all three were basically the same
thing one of the interesting things about Chinese slavery and this was even
more true of Korean slavery in Korea in certain periods they passed laws that
men could not be enslaved only women could be enslaved in China they never
went quite that far but very often but it was typical that slavery was seen as
something that happens to women and not to men now it’s interesting if you look
across Eurasia and make the point that and I called the sort of long Axial Age
chattel slavery was extremely common drove over the course of the Middle Ages
it’s largely eliminated at least as a factor in production and it’s
transformed you could say him to serfdom in the Christian West restricted largely
the household slavery in the Middle East or military slavery debt peonage and
other forms of caste domination in South Asia and in China it’s largely
restricted to women this is partly due to the peculiar nature of the Chinese
patrilineal system whereby men were actually members
of a lineage and have ultimately belonged to their ancestors and women
belong to the men as James Watson put it where to the household which was
dominated by the men it was therefore considered increasingly unacceptable to
sell sons as slaves even in case of extreme debt or poverty but perfectly
acceptable to sell daughters or even some places wives on the event of the
death of their husbands so you could sell the son to be adopted but you had
to make sure they ended up in a relatively advantageous situation but
there are actually markets in in daughters and many times in places which
the daughters could be bought pretty much for whatever you want the
daughter’s slave concubine wife or a prostitute depending on the buyers whim
it was not impossible says James Watson for a girl to be purchased as a daughter
in infancy exploited like a slave during adolescence and married off to one of
her buyers own sons in adulthood as I say there was constant attempts by the
government to suppress this kind of thing as indeed there still yes because
you know there’s periodic scandals about the sort of things still break out about
the sale of sale of girls often they were quite young and they seemed to
especially correspond to those periods which where commercial life was most
could be said to be most flourishing particularly the song and Ming dynasties
and which were also the periods where where women’s status and women’s freedom
generally as seen as declining something like that that dynamic along one him
commoditization of the poor in this very literal sense of poor women and and
seclusion in reaction to that of richer ones seems to be happening almost
everywhere and commercial DAP you know plays a key role in affecting
that I mean most of these people were ultimately sold because of the need to
pay dance now so thus wall for the land and classes marriage became
unsurprisingly largely but largely about control of land for the labouring
classes are made largely about the control of labour and women’s labor in
particular commercial debt played a key role in
affecting the transition between older marriage arrangements which largely had
to do of renegotiating relations between social groups and the incipient
commoditization of labor now considering the way the debate began of this League
of Nations our debate about whether bride wealth should be considered a form
of slavery and made illegal and European colonial dependencies perhaps not
entirely surprising that anthropologists have tended to be a little bit squeamish
about following such matters through to their logical conclusions as evidence by
Goody’s largely holding back from dealing with marriage arrangements among
the Eurasian poor at all he has this huge fat book and there’s almost nothing
about you know lower caste people in India poor people in Mesopotamia it’s
almost all elite examples it’s largely being marxist and feminist
anthropologists been willing to explore such territory systematically and in
fact one could very easily make the case that one reason kinship has sort of
disappeared as the primary sub-object of anthropology and I’ve always felt that
this is a bit of a scandal you know it used to be thirty forty years ago if
there’s like this special thing that anthropologists have it’s kinship you
know yeah we can do these diagrams that no one else can understand it’s sort of
our equivalent of equations for economists um you know it’s our thing or
special knowledge it’s like anthropology threw that away you know he talked to
him the average person trained in anthropology nowadays with a PhD they
probably never had a kinship course he’s talked about matrilateral prescriptive
marriage customs they just don’t know what you’re talking about um so how did
that happen and and I think that the answer to that is that you know starting
in the 70s and 80s no feminists made a very strong case
that you can’t talk about this stuff anymore except you know without taking
into consideration power and domination sexism pulser ii heterosexuality
you know the whole series of issues that hadn’t really been discussed that these
are really power systems and systems of exploitation so so the result was that
most male anthropologists just said okay we won’t talk about them at all anymore
you girls can go talk about them and as a result it’s sort of faded away rather
embarrassingly in my opinion all right so that’s one um
so debt is sort of the wedge which allows social relations to be turned
essentially commoditized in particularly women’s labor now I also want to talk
about the deep genealogy of wage labor that’s part two in this essay I want to
pursue the relation of debt and commoditization of labor by looking at
the history of the wage relation itself considering the dominance of the wage
system today it’s actually remarkably under-researched I mean there’s a lot of
studies of slavery and we’ll just compare how many studies of slavery
there are to how many studies of wage labor in antiquity or the Middle Ages
you realize okay it’s true slavery was actually a more important institution
but it’s just like you know 50 to 1 you know there’s enormous amounts of one and
and surprisingly little unli on the other I can’t think of a single
book-length study tell me nobody told me if I’m wrong about forms of wage
contract in the ancient or medieval worlds and insofar as information about
which contracts is to be found it’s largely inside the literature that’s
about slavery and that’s of course significant in itself since for most of
history the two institutions were in fact closely related this is well
documented in ancient Greece although I think often people draw the wrong
conclusions essentially Jonathan Friedman came to
the famous conclusion that ancient Greek slavery was really a form of capitalism
whereas I would rather make the argument that capitalism is really a
transformation of slavery but it is certainly certain that slaves and wage
laborers were essentially overlapping categories in in most of ancient Greek
history Freeborn Athenian Corinthian for that
matter of the 4th or 5th centuries BC didn’t consider you know being paid to
work for a government as in any way shameful right that’s because if it’s
one’s own government one is essentially working for oneself if one’s doing jury
duty or building a monument Athens wasn’t considered an abstraction
Athens it was a via Theni incent if I am an Athenian I’m working for the
Athenians I’m working for myself even hiring oneself as a mercenary Oh foreign
potentate was sort of an honorable thing to do
however hiring went solve out to a private citizen in the same community
was totally different and people really avoided that is you know it essentially
marks you as a slave as a result almost all early wage labor contracts that we
were aware of appear to have in fact been contracts for slave rental um these
arrangements could as Friedman pointed out be quite sophisticated involving the
allocation of money wages split between slave and owner to workers maintains and
workshops producing for the market in many ways they did approximate what
we’re used to thinking of as capitalist arrangements but they were an extension
of the institution of slavery itself now some of the world systems theorists have
generalized from this some chase done and halt in their book rise and demise
argue that capitalism and like most world systems analysts are defining
capitalism in broad le in terms as basically use the use of money to make
more money capitalism they say tends to develop within what they call autonomous
capitalist city-states on the semi peripheries of world systems the
examples they give her Dillman byblos tire seat on carthage melaka venice
florence genoa antwerp and the cities of the Hanseatic League even that point is
actually an extension of something that a point bro Dell had made that if
capitalism can only emerge of merchants and financiers are able to allow
themselves with governments then small mercantile states is where that’s most
likely to happen what’s interesting for my own purposes is that these are also
the kind of places where it’s a story when us historically most likely to
encounter the densest concentrations of chattel slaves even in periods where
child slavery had largely been eliminated elsewhere such as the Middle
Ages and and also particularly as a factor of
production so it’s those areas where you find sort of nascent capitalists or a
lying we’re taking over governments it does place where you see the most
chattel slaves but it’s also where you see something that resembles wage labour
emerging from within the institution of slavery in much the way as you saw
happen in ancient Greece I think the story ins a largely missed this because
now if you look at the exceptions to this they’re mostly in in in northern
Europe European mercantile city-states were somewhat anomalous in this regard
southern Europe actually still fits the pattern fairly well Italian city-states
like Venice Genoa Florence Pisa were not only centres of Commerce and finance as
we know they were precisely the part of medieval Europe where slavery classic
chattel slavery held on the longest it’s true it was contested in the 12th
century for example the slaves that had been employed making cloth by
monasteries in louvers in Venice were largely replaced by guild labor actually
this is across Italy after that Italian slaves were rarely employed for
producing for the market but that’s largely because that was around the time
that the use of servile labor for producing for the market shifted away
from Italy itself to what were essentially colonial possessions
particularly sugar plantations and Cretan cyprus in what many believe
provided the model that was later proved exported first of the canary islands and
then to the Caribbean I think all of this happened because in Europe much
unlike the rest of the mercantile mercantile city-states
elsewhere in the world at that time almost all of which were part of the
larger Islamic a Cuban if you want to call it that where Islam and Islamic law
was a sort of medium of trade or arbiter of trade and and enforce a strict
division between war and commerce in Europe
war and commerce was kind of mixed together in a way that um really didn’t
happen elsewhere talk about this a bit and the debt book which is why there’s
our exploitation of servile Abril for market purposes by I they’re funded by
directly by mercantile city-states tended to happen as part of like
military and colonial ventures whereas such things um in other places happen if
in the city-states themselves if you go back to the trading role of the Indian
Ocean during the same period you know one finds remark with remarkable
consistency labor arrangements similar to those of the ancient world where it’s
actually almost entirely slaves who are doing wage labor insofar as we observe
wage labor contracts they are actually slave rental um either because the
owners would rent their slaves out directly or because slaves um would
achieved a certain amount of autonomy would be allowed to find work on their
own and then be expected to turn over a share of the proceeds to their owners
and again going back to my own fieldwork in Madagascar which has sort of marginal
part of that larger Indian Ocean trading world um well the port cities were part
of it and I was in the highlands we just sort of plugged into that that was
actually the principal way of organizing labor in the 19th century um it began in
port cities like kama Tov and expanded to the highlands and you know by the
19th century even Quaker missionaries active in the abolition movement had to
like protest abolitionists at home that who complained that they were all
basically having all their work done by slaves or being carried around by slaves
on palanquin and whatnot they you know say look you know we would employ free
labor but it’s impossible because you know nobody who isn’t a slave is willing
to work for wages you know we pay these guys and in the 19th century the
transport industry throughout Madagascar was entirely dominated by slave porters
who formed effective unions and those porters in theory had turnover
percentage of their wages to the owners but in practice they often didn’t this
is one contemporary missionary source they found slaves enjoy considerable
freedom of action while theoretically without rights practically they enjoy a
good man as there are no made roads and no
wheeled vehicles in Madagascar travelers are carried in palanquins
and baggage is conveyed by men slaves are permitted by their masters to hired
themselves out of servants and laborers to carry baggage and messages to and
further from the coast to go on long journeys of travelers back to do
anything for which they can obtain wages sometimes the master receives a portion
of the wages earned sometimes he receives nothing at all but in that case
the slave is frequently to hire someone else to take his place and fulfill his
share of the personal service when required so you here you have slaves not
only hiring themselves but hiring other slaves so only slaves look for wages to
work for their own master and this you know provides a fascinating glimpse for
one way that slave labor labor could become commoditized another thing would
shock always fascinated me about Malagasy system I’ve never had a chance
to write about this but it will someday is is that they had partible inheritance
system and in madagascar which meant that slaves quickly came to be divided
up so you know if you have eight children each one gets one-eighth share
of the slaves so it’s not at all uncommon to see contracts for the sale
of one sixteenth of a slave or a slave to owns like three quarters of himself
like slowly buying himself back from his various owners what this actually meant
in terms of labor arrangements is really unclear from the sources there is
occasional references to division of days that slaves would have to like sort
of wander around from one place to another if their various owners lived in
different places but you know it’s easy to see how under such conditions and
slaves were tender in anyway you know systems of substitutions like that could
become commonplace and and and slavery was already broken in two units and
commoditized in various ways which may lent itself to further doing so through
through the payment of wages um anyway Malagasy slaves in the late 19th century
achieved an unusual level of autonomy but similar arrangements usually more
strictly enforced could be observed in a lot of other places as sue Healy
city-states are a good example most of our sources
are pretty late 19th century early 20th but they’re very consistent here the
main employers appear to have been HOD Romi’s small-scale entrepreneurs
originally from Yemen notorious for purchasing slaves so as to
hire them out as either craftsmen or dock workers then collecting a share of
the wages so it’s the same deal and precisely the same pattern appears in
most of the major cosmopolitan port cities of Southeast Asia where early
European sources almost always describe the bulk of the population as slaves
this as we’ll see might be exaggerated because most of them most of the
population of these port cities seem to have been made up of people in the
slightly more ambiguous condition of debt bondsman or personal dependents of
large magnates and rather than say war captives and it’s often they made a
distinction they were all sort of collapsed as slaves for but the real
slaves are the ones who were armed captured in war who had fewer rights and
lower status nonetheless legal documents make clear that wage labor contracts
were basically consisted of agreement to rent one servile dependence or four
servile dependents to rent themselves in this is Anthony Reid in none of these
trading cities in the 16th and 17th centuries can we identify a class of
independent urban artisans or laborers free to work for wages or not to work if
we compare wage rates given in European sources of the cost of the day’s rice we
find a very high labour cost so people were paid a lot but this is not a free
market wage paid to the worker but the cost of hiring bondsman from a master
this is a quote that read quotes it was their custom to rent slaves they pay the
slave a sum of money which he gives to his master and then they use that slave
that day for whatever work they wish the loss of Malacca similarly give many
examples of the legal implication of hiring or borrowing slaves but none of
any other type of labor contract some same thing in colonial Java there were
actually free wage laborers in colonial Java appears around Batavia in the early
colonial period but it’s almost exclusively confined to this sort of
semi criminal master list men from the countryside who are available for
seasonal agricultural labor during the colonial period people who were
otherwise abused by the authorities as derelicts and thugs the
bulk of wage labor however continue to be formed by slaves there as well so it
finally it hardly seems coincidental that plantation slavery which in
historical terms is one of the rarest forms of the institution tends to appear
precisely in the same context where one has mercantile city-states and the
emergence of wage labor from William slavery outside of the ink from the
ancient world one might point here to the slave plantations encouraged by the
Oman ease in 19th century East Africa the pepper plantations in sumatra
managed by merchants from Aceh Malacca still was only really unlucky on free
laborers who ended up working on plantations and here’s where debt comes
in this is very interesting in Southeast Asia at least and I suspect that is true
in a lot of places most wage labourers actually got themselves into that
situation sometimes intentionally by manipulating debt since debt peons both
maintain many of the rights of free people but were formally dependent on
some local notable who were typically see and and we’re typically seen as far
higher status than the sort of criminals and vagabonds were available for casual
hire if indeed anyone was the logic seems to have been this since working
under another’s orders particularly on an ongoing basis is by definition a
relation of dependency and non freedom only those informally dependent state
could really do it as a result it was not at all uncommon for someone
attracted you know to work in a bustling port city like Malacca Racha makasar to
take out a loan so as to render themselves dependent on some local
grandi who would then hire him out and collect a share of the proceeds so if
you want it like come to town and kind of sort of get get a piece of the action
you intentionally take out a loan to make yourself into a debt peon and then
the guy who let alone will becomes your agent um in fact he might even take the
money that he got on the loan and higher debt peons of his own or servants or by
people who are already slaves according to the Cambridge world history of
slavery debt was by far the most common form of
slavery slaves are both hired and traded on open markets and slaves themselves
could participate in such markets by purchasing slaves to themselves thereby
lessening their own labour obligations much like the Malagasy people are hiring
slaves to fill in for themselves of course debt bondsman could also be sold
off by their masters but there was a social obligation not to sell that bonds
people outside their own natal society so as you might imagine these things
could become really complicated very quickly with the same individuals acting
as both creditors and debtors masters and slaves employers and employees often
in the same transactions and at the same time much like the Malagasy slaves but debt was absolutely critical in in sort
of effecting the transformation from one status to another I think that the root
of all these complicated machinations however there’s a really simple paradox
and I think the fundamental contradiction in is the very idea of a
free contract in which two parties agree not to be in a relation of equality
anymore because you know any contractual arrangement assumes two parties at least
some kind of formal or legal equality exists for them to enter into a
contractual agreement to begin with but it how do you frame it if what they’re
agreeing to is not to be an operation of formal equality anymore and at least of
all the terms of the contract apply in that way in purely formal terms debt
contracts and wage labor contracts are actually very similar because they’re
both you know agreements between two ostensibly equal part part
parties to enter into relation of extreme inequality for a specific period
of time under certain specific conditions and I think it’s this
similarity which allowed that to be the conceptual wedge through which Labe wage
labor became socially morally and politically possible after all in most
societies the idea of temporary voluntary reduction to his status that
was only otherwise familiar in relations of either patriarchal Authority within
the household or outright chattel slavery
um an institution which was always at least on principle conceived to be
founded on right of conquest would have been either morally outrageous or simply
inconceivable one does not normally think to rent oneself out as either a
daughter or a slave it was the absolute quality of the moral power of dad and
this is the thing that always fascinated me when I was writing the book is how
the morality of debt seems to have this astounding capacity to to trump any
other type of morality so that people will accept things that they would have
never accept under any other circumstances if it’s what’s necessary
to pay ones debts made it that’s what made it so well suited to transform
labor itself into a tradable economy either through the manipulation of
marriage payments in the case of women’s labor or the case of wage contracts
which were mostly if not exclusively undertake but although not exclusively
undertaken by men okay so now part three wage labor it’s in in northern Europe or
free labor as we like to call it the notion of free wage labor creates of
anything an even greater conceptual challenge because in a purely technical
sense in fact the usual credit creditor-debtor relation is actually
reversed right and we don’t really think about it this way but like who owes who
unless you have a company store and you intentionally in debt your workers which
was often done but in the classic scenario where you sign on you got a
good job you do the work you got paid at the end of the week well you know most
of the time you’re doing the work you’re actually the creditor and the boss is
the debtor if he owes you money for your what you’ve already done the work and
he’s owing you money so you know if anybody’s the debtor it’s the boss right
but in fact you know during during that time you’re actually subordinated to the
will of your debtor now this creates a rather confusing situation which is one
reason we don’t even like to think about it that way
well what I like to argue is there was a certain amount of conceptual work had to
be done in order for a for it not to occur to us that actually the boss is
the debtor who owes something to do the worker and so I want to end by talking a
little bit that and how that happened and the very
interesting history of of what wage labor actually is in social legal and
political terms how it was that in Northern Europe one area which didn’t
have chattel slavery in the late Middle Ages are very little and debt peonage
was actually fairly limited was also the place where free labor came to be seen
as alienable and the bubble was considered normal for free men and women
to place themselves completely under another person’s authority and under
their orders in contemporary law that principle of subordination is sometimes
referred to as the principle of control or the phrase you see a lot is the the
open-ended duty of obedience that a hired labor arose to their employer and
it still provides a profound conceptual challenge for these very reasons
according to the sage handbook of industrial relations for example the
term contract of employment or in fact France contracted to revive only entered
general usage in the 1880s relate the main impetus for its adoption was an
argument by employers in larger enterprises that the general duty of
obedience should be read into all industrial hirings and the core of the
concept was a notion of subordination in which the open-ended duty of obedience
was traded off in return for the acceptance and absorption by the
enterprise of a range of social risks so this open-ended duty of obedience
implied that a hired worker was obliged to do whatever he was told to do by his
or her employer insofar as those orders didn’t involve either violating some
other existing law or some specific provisions of their contract and in
exchange the enterprise accepted responsibility for consequences of
decisions that the worker could no longer make for example if he got
injured in fact even this formulation was not really accepted in the
Anglophone world that this was a free contract until much later and such
really surprising um in in the United Kingdom employment disputes at least for
industrial and manual we’re not generally treated under
contract law until the rise of union power in the welfare state in the 1940s
before that they were largely treated under common law traditions governing
relations would need masters and servants which traced back to the Middle
Ages in the u.s. actually that’s still the case you’re still dealing with a
common-law tradition that goes it’s still masters and serving law basically
that governs labor relations so in fact the principle of open-ended obedience as
legal historians like Simon Deakin emphasized itself can be traced back to
the obedience that medieval servants owed to their masters which were again
tempered only by force of custom social expectations of reasonable treatment and
any particular arrangements among the parties that to a service contract that
might have been made however in the Middle Ages and well into the early
modern period the responsibilities involved in such arrangements were
assumed to be a lot more mutual most notably service contracts tended to be
yearly and during the year masters were expected not only to provide agreed on
wages bed and board for workers but to do so whether or not they actually found
any work for the guy to do this is very important so you know if you’re a master
craftsman you brag you get three apprentices and you know there’s a bad
market nobody wants to buy your gloves on you you know maybe you’re just
sitting around but you still have to pay the people you also had to take care of
them if they were sick or injured became pregnant whatever might happen the
importance of this medieval concept of service actually in the eventual
emergence of capitalist labor regimes I think cannot be underestimated
something I’ve been banging on about for years in various ways but I think it
really should be underlined here um you know even though it’s a it’s weirdly
neglected by a lot of economic historians not all but if you look at
all the sort of various Marxist transition debate straw guess starting
with Swezey job I guess was the first one and you know leading up at least the
Brenner debate which is all about whether capitalism starts as a top-down
or bottom up phenomena you know is it do
you have to look at Commerce and Finance and transformations are in which
gradually affected on the ground relations or did it happen from the
bottom up was it a transformation of rural collapse relations from below
you’d think that like in in that argument you’d serve endless discussions
of what the from below work arrangements actually were right no there’s almost
not you have these like statistical discussions and and the constantly
throwing around the word wages wage rates but it’s assumed that like what
the word wage means is self-evident which is very clearly not the case at
the same time detailed studies that have been made of you know what wages could
have meant and the late Middle Ages an early modern period so that it actually
could mean a lot of different things the often cited statistic that about a third
of the population of late medieval England was dependent on wages for at
least a large share of their livelihood and this appears to have been true but
what wages meant in that contact could be a lot of different things and if you
look at you know the details of the arrangements often people would be hired
to do a specific job and they would bring their their apprentices or their
servants or their kids along with them they would actually have their own
hirelings so you know it looks a lot more in many of these cases like
something you know the modern equivalent would be hiring a plumber or something
like that you know he’s not exactly a wage laborer who’s under your direction
they’re people with their own skills mysteries as they were called at the
time which you didn’t know how that what they were or even if you didn’t know
what they were they were formed their own teams and negotiated with you and
we’re essentially independent contractors we would now call them more
than anything else the ones who weren’t were servants or hired for certain
periods of time typically a year but there are also day laborers that’s
important but day laborers tended to avoid ongoing contracts and move around
from job to job preferring short term engagements but they were famous for
being hardcore negotiators in terms of terms
of conditions and employment and often to their great advantage in the distress
of moralists we’re constantly complaining that these guys were
overpaid especially disturbing tomorrow’s because they to some degree
overlapped with the mercury population of debt I said described as beggars
harlots cat purses hawkers peddlers fortune tellers minstrels and other such
masterless men and women of ill repute sort of like the ones in Java who did
the day labor sort of merged with the criminal classes and as a result they
could extract quite a bit so you have that you have the sort of independent
contractors men you have actual service contracts service contracts were
typically young people not always um you know manorial the states would have your
league servants or adults but all over Northern Europe at least since the
Middle Ages what’s been called the North European marriage patent pattern was
characterized by what’s been called life cycle service and the majority of
population male and female not just crafts people but peasants even Nobles
were expected to spend most of their adolescence laboring as a servant and
another family’s household typically in a household just slightly wealthier than
their own as an coos Maul writes about servants and husbandry master and
servant customarily sealed their agreement with the offering and taking
of a token payment the earnest hiring penny fastening penny or God’s penny
always like that phrase cons penny the contract implicitly bound the servant to
serve the master for a year and to obey his reasonable commands and it bound the
master to maintain the servant for the year and to pay the wages agreed upon
whether or not there was daily work for the servant and whether or not the
servant remained fit to work masters Authority was tempered by custom
word reasonable appears a lot in these things servants are expected to obey
reasonable orders in exchange for a reasonable wages so sort of communal
standards was held to settle to these matters in much the way that sort of Jim
Scott’s idea of a moral economy you know there was ongoing communal feeling about
what’s a reasonable about to have a reasonable lifestyle during
this time of course servants were literally considered members of the
Masters family since family was conceived not as a kinship unit so much
as a household unit of authority under the aegis of a single head of household
they’re also of course learning their future trades and how to comport
themselves as proper adults and finally trying to accumulate enough of a nest
egg so they could eventually marry and create their own farm shop or household
as a result did the bulk for the bulk of the medieval English population this is
I think critical and it really hasn’t been thought about enough wage labour
under the supervision of an employer was something one does for the first ten or
fifteen years of one’s working life and has little to do the way adults were
expected to treat one another remember most of these other wage laborers are
not really being supervised um I think one must be careful because the
concept of service was used in a lot of different ways you think about it’s a
very conceptually richer term it can and and it was already a very conceptually
rich term of a lot of different meetings already by the 12th and 13th centuries
I’ve spent a lot of time poring over the OED and looking at different you know
ways the word serve service servant were used basically all hierarchical
arrangements were imagined as forms of service starting with divine service of
course directed at God but continuing through feudal service which is the
basic framework of the political order vassals owed various carefully specified
services typically the provision of a certain number of service knights but
also non military sergeants in exchange for tenure peasants of poor so the
variety of services to their own Lords but the interesting thing about all
those forms of service is the exact nature of feudal and memorial services
tended to be really really carefully specif specified they weren’t really
open-ended they’re often like you know exactly custom set them down to the
exact detail in other words feudal arrangements tended to be the very
opposite of this kind of open-ended duty of obedience character characteristic of
lifestyle servants and later of employees and commercial or industrial
enterprises but the fact that even highborn families were
expected to send their teenage sons and daughters to serve at court so that even
the powerful all had some experience of domestic servants must have ensured that
that’s what remained the paradigm for all other forms of service the word was
used really broadly but the sort of the sort of conceptual center of it was
domestic servants and this is why you know common usage at the time again a
calling on the OED includes if you look at the verb to serve and medieval
examples to be a servant to perform the duties of a servant to attend upon to
render habitual obedience to to become the extension of another’s will or
purposes but also to wait upon a person at table hence to set food before or to
help a person to food there’s a million different variations of serving as in
giving food to the latter of which is already by at least 1362 extended to to
attend to the request of a customer in a shop so to serve a customer actually
comes before say serving one’s country becoming a public service serving and
the Armed Forces which is all rather it comes later the absolutist state so the
paradigm attak active services serving food and and you know you look at the
history of the word waiter is actually really telling there it’s one common
term for a domestic servant but among particularly among the elite serve
circles you have ladies and waiting gentlemen waiters not only waited at
their Lord or lady’s table but really waiting for their inheritance so they
didn’t have to do it anymore to acquire the means to marry and become
the master or a mistress of their own household and get servants of their own
so I think what’s important here is that it brings together three key features
that I think are intrinsic to the notion of service as it existed at the time
which is still kind of lingering in the background of the term used now when we
use the terms like goods and services right first of all that it involved an
open-ended duty of obedience second that it was educational in the least in the
sense of being formative of character and third that it was conceived in terms
of what we would now call carry labor right the servant well attended to
the physical needs visitor master of mistress of fed him or her who in turn
was expected to care for the servant as required as they would any other member
of their family so the transition from a system like that to one marked by
permanent wage labor has began to happen with the breakdown of the guild system
in the 16th and 17th centuries meant that a very large number of servants
particularly apprentices in journeyman suddenly found themselves in a position
where they could never become masters and thus found themselves trapped in
permanent social adolescence this had a number of really profound social effects
some some of which I’ve written about elsewhere for example I point out there
it’s I’m almost certainly no coincidence I think that it’s exactly the period
where employment could no longer be conceived as a process of character
formation education leading to one’s eventual full moral person that one gets
a household of one’s own this is exactly the time when the employing classes know
who have essentially shot the proletariat out of such social adulthood
suddenly develop an intense interest in the moral reformation of the poor so
they’re basically trying to do the same thing through other means I mean you
look at medieval texts middle-class people really couldn’t care less about
the world you know behavior of the poor but suddenly it becomes an obsession
right right around the period with us old service system breaks down legal
historians I have gradually been able to reconstruct how the terms and conditions
were transformed in the centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution
government played a key role here and it’s actually and now very much
analogous to what happened with debt in the depth book I observed and I was
basically following the research here of craig mull drew in most english
communities in the late Middle Ages cash was very rarely deployed in everyday
transactions villagers in towns look alike preferred to rely on complex
credit systems which meant that it’s sort of considered normal for everybody
to be at least a little bit in debt to everybody else that was sort of seen as
the lifeblood of sociability and an ass there’s a material or material no aspect
of community itself or of communal love and at the same time
starting in Lisa Elizabethan times more and more members of the emerging middle
classes began to turn to the courts to enforce stats and people used to lodge
the debts in the courts but they wouldn’t actually go to the courts to
enforce them one reason for that was simply because the law was really harsh
in fact I truly persistent creditor could have debtors imprisoned or even
executed and starting in the late 16th and early 17th century a lot of people
started doing that which had those crazy paradoxical effect of something that had
been considered the very substance of sociality itself we suddenly have
actively criminalized now around that same time local courts also became
really interested in regulating labor which there had been some interest in fo
the government in the wake of the Black Death but it only and you don’t really
starts kicking in then with a statute of artifice resistance but as deacon points
up for example the initial impulse to do so had to do with the peculiar nature of
English welfare system at the time the settlement act centrally insisted that
elderly incapacitated Labor’s anyone in need of relief had to go to their own
parish um they couldn’t you know demand relief in
someone else’s parish exceptions were granted only for those who could
demonstrate they dunder take in yearly contracts as servants in the parish in
which they currently resided now obviously that meant that it was up to
the courts to decide who had a real contract and who didn’t which is
interesting because previous to that is as Cosmo and others have pointed out and
Cooper or the whole domain of service which was you know basically the entire
adolescent population we’re essentially off the books in terms of as far as the
government was concerned they had almost nothing to do with there was some
occasional interference in in apprentices contracts and things like
that but basically they don’t even know who these people were suddenly you know
we welfare legislation being what it was
government local courts and magistrates had to decide who was really employed
the conditions of employment were put under the microscope in effect and this
was happening at the same time as the famous enclosure movements and all this
sort of endless Marxist scholars have documented Cottagers are being driven
from their natal natal villages the existing fluting summons I mean criminal
population casual laborers sort of swollen by those guys were seeing
suppressed by ever harsher vagrancy laws which are essentially trying to force as
many people as possible into these one-year household servant contracts at
the same time since welfare responsibilities were being shifted to
the parish the service relation came to be defined in much more one-sided
fashion as being defined around the Masters unconditional Authority and
here’s a quote in this way the settlement laws helped to initiate the
open-ended duty of obedience which later came to characterize the contract of
service although a servant could not be made to work quote unreasonable hours of
the night and he is punished if he profanes of Sabbath day it was with it
was determined that a rate of control and authority at least so far as it
relates to the general discipline and government of the servant must reside in
the master at all times during the continuance of the service is one of the
criterias per who actually was a servant and actually lived where so this was the
primary criterion for judging whether a relationship of employment existed it
meant that this that element of unconditional obedience you know became
both extremely important and enforced by the state and this increased
dramatically over time by the 18th century when households in workplaces
increasingly separated and owners of mills mines and somewhere enterprises
began employing large numbers of wage laborers working regular hours
you know they that was the criteria and they chose for who’s really working for
who control authority at the same time though magistrates were being granted
ever more powers to intervene in different types of employer-employee
relationships you know under the statute of artificers was large
it was pretty limited and courts have been given the right to set up maximum
wages and regulate relations between masters and servants in husbandry since
Elizabethan times but it was really just right before the Industrial Revolution
that it was extended to everyone else with the masters and servants law of
1747 in a series of other laws that followed in the decade or two afterwards
so that same supervisory function was extended to artificers handicraftsmen
miners Colliers Killman Pitman Glassman Potter’s and other laborers employed
frees any certain time or in any other manner which not only that’s extended
the principle of open-ended obedience to skilled craftsmen who had previously
been more of the you know dependent contractors but allowed the courts
intervene on the employers behalf by imposing fines and even up to three
months imprisonment on any workers found to have absconded from their yearly
contractual responsibilities so suddenly these people who had been hired you know
because they had certain skills that you didn’t have on a part-time basis that
were being forced by courts to take on these year-long contracts where the
employer no longer really had any responsibilities to them but they were
expected to have an absolute right of obedience to their employer now what
does this all have to do with that here I can only make a series of suggestions
but I think it’s really interesting and significant that well what effect of
punitive government interference in these master-servant laws was to nullify
the advantage gained by workers from the fact that they were as I pointed out you
know creditors their employees rather than the other way around you look at
that God’s penny you know it was presented to the servant as it just sign
a contract it’s now called a material consideration in the same way that you
know even if you have a contract for you know pay someone money you have to give
them like you know one piece so that you can say money changed hands there’s a
real contract well that goes back to this which was a sort of pledge where
you give them God’s penny or an earnest and as a promise of future payment but
that’s exactly the same thing that a debtor does to a creditor
it was the same thing you give cons penny so essentially employers a masters
would actually pose themselves as not as the creditors but as the servants I mean
as sorry as the debtors to their servants um in least in that formal way
now this might not have had a lot of practical implications but about certain
moral ones and it did and it probably had something to do with why it was that
servants weren’t such relatively advantageous situations that people are
constantly complaining in the late Middle Ages that essentially they were
in like a really advantageous negotiating position we’re constantly
getting overpaid and coddled and sparking endless and apparently only
unevenly successful government attempts to hold down wages government
intervention in the 17th and 18th century particularly aim to destroy both
the moral and economic basis of working-class power at the same time as
it also aimed to reinforce the absolute right of employers to dispose of workers
as they wished for instance a key 18th century ruling held that if he workers
fired for any act of disobedience or quit before the agreed on date he
forfeited the right to collect any wages owed for work he might already have done
and it’s really important because it would often took them ages to pay people
and um you’d be waiting and waiting sometimes six months to a year so so
they would forfeit anything the moment like the judge agreed that you did
something you were that disrespected your absolute you know obligation to
obey orders in other words so the employers Authority was held to trump
the employees status as a creditor such precedents were maintained and even
augmented when the masters and servants law was replaced in Victorian times by
the employers and workmen Act of 1875 which continued to give the courts the
rights to intervene in the terms of employment contracts in a way that
almost entirely unprecedented in any other form of contractual law she’s a I
don’t know if anyone’s heard Carole paid Munro to book called the sexual contract
where she points out that marriage and employment contracts are we similarly
weird because any other form of contract you can get the two parties and
negotiate the contract to basically make up the terms and marriage is extremely
significant considering we’ve been looking at marriage transactions and and
employment transactions these those are the two forms of contract where you
can’t do that you know you can’t say I these two people want to marry those
three people I mean even if they want to they can’t you know almost everything
about the marriage contract is already set out and can’t be changed by the
people actually making the contract it’s completely different than a commercial
contract rates so so similarly employment contract you know there’s no
way that like a government would come and impose fines and law or lock up
somebody who was a business partner who like somebody complained it violated the
contract it might make them pay pay something but they wouldn’t you know
impose punitive sanctions they did that all the time to employ employment
contracts and the nature of what could be done or there’s a whole part of the
duty you couldn’t negotiate that away the duty of obedience I was already
there similar to the marriage contract so and in fact they would regularly
impose fines on workers for insubordination
which would cancel out any debts of unpaid wages that the employer might
have owed them workers who insisted on attempting to withdraw from or
negotiating contracts were not only stripped of what they’d already earned
but could be threatened with debtors prison so in that way it was a reversal
of the debt relation which actually made this kind of generalize relation of
subordination which lies in the heart of what we call free labor possible so Dan
then these are only provisional notes for what could be and I ever have the
time much more ambitious and systematic
project of research I’d like to very much pursue this someday but I think
it’s enough to reveal a persistent link between debt and the commoditization of
Labor European case unfree labor in the colonies became the basis for the
creation of fortunes that were to become the main object of the first stock
exchanges in financial markets while back at home the rise of free labor as
it was termed they term only used to refer to three wage labor it was made
possible largely by a legal regime that effectively that effectively redefined
creditors as debtors as in the case of the transformation of
local credit systems that occurred around the same time this squared a
great deal of government intervention and to what had previously been
considered market transactions but markets which if left to their own
devices led to outcomes almost precisely the opposite of what modern-day market
enthusiasts imagined they would have produced modern labor law which assumes
a free contract between employer and employee is really very recent um it
allows for such things as negotiated job descriptions periods of notice on that
sort of thing is really actually not a product of industrial or commercial
workers at all since they fell under the master-servant laws it’s actually comes
out of clerical or administrative workers who didn’t fall under master
servants laws so it’s really the clerks who worked for the bosses who started
demanding to have some rights as part of a labor contract you could call this the
bob cratchit effect if you like because they were yeah you couldn’t find them
for breach of contract and gradually with unionization yeah Industrial
Workers started demanding the same thing although that process was really only
completed in the UK after World War two and in the u.s. wasn’t really completed
at all the achievement a full contractual status for industrial
arrangements was not only historically quite recent
it was also historically quite brief being followed by the rise of what’s
tellingly called the service economy which appears to be driving the
commoditization of labor up to including that of thought and feeling in
unprecedented directions and I’ll end on that

9 thoughts on “Debt, service, and the origins of capitalism

  • it would be great to see people get behind the 21 hour work week – we need to slow down, reconnect with nature each other, self and community, – to have time to care to learn, create and share – crazy world in which we live where people are now having pay others to care for their own pets – what's next paying other people to go on holiday for us – we're outsourcing care to people to the bottom of society to poor people often struggling to get by with much suffering in their own lives and we wonder why 'care homes' have such a bad rep and many are afraid of them including me – they seem more like holding bays for death while psychiatrists blindly experiment with bombarding people with psychiatric drugs

  • Devil putting Children of God in Debt!!!! God want you to be free of
    debts!!! Let us burn all debts of Children of God on a Holy Altar

  • evil putting American in Debts, and want them to stay there!!!, Let us
    burn all Debts on Holy Altar of God!!!!! include students loan!!!) and
    medical bills!!! Only USA Citizens are bankrupt due to medical bills
    (about 1,000,000 Americans per year)

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