voters never approved the euro — 4/06/17

Today’s encore selection — from War and Gold by Kwasi Kwarteng. European countries have high levels of trade with each other, so they needed currency exchange rates that are relatively stable. In the early twentieth century, having their currencies tied to gold provided that. After World War II, it was provided by the Bretton Woods agreement, which tied these major currencies to the dollar, which was in turn tied to gold. But after President Richard Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1971, the need reappeared and a number of European countries created a mechanism called the “snake,” which constrained fluctuations of currencies, and then the “exchange rate mechanism,” which did much the same thing. But the ultimate dream was to create a single currency — the euro — in one of the boldest monetary initiatives in history. For something so resolute and so laden with potential moral hazard, and for something that has in recent years contributed to so much European economic pain, it was surprisingly the creation of technocrats, and never taken to any country’s voters for their approval:
“The fiscal situation of the European countries which aspired to join the single currency [in 1997] did not inspire confidence. All through the late 1990s, the lack of preparedness of certain EU countries to join the euro was a subject of open debate. ‘There has, of course, been some sleight of hand,’ wrote Rupert Cornwell in the Independent in February 1998. ‘It remains mysterious quite how Italy, which for years regularly ran double-digit budget deficits, conveniently slashed last year’s to a mere 2.7 per cent of GDP.’ It was obvious, even before the euro was launched, that the single currency was an almost purely political project, which would be pursued without any real regard for the underlying economic reality. As the Frenchman Jacques Rueff had said, ‘Europe will make itself by money or not at all.’ The words of the Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres at the Madrid summit in December 1995 were even more grandiose and emphatic: ‘When Jesus resolved to found a church, he said to Peter, “You are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” You are the euro, and upon this new currency we will build our Europe.’

“There was never any idea that the people of Europe, the citizens of the individual states, would be consulted before this momentous step was taken. As [Otmar] Issing [the German economist who also served as a member of the European Central Bank’s first executive board], himself later admitted, it was ‘doubtless in Germany that resistance to EMU was the greatest’. The decision to ‘abandon the D-Mark required a great deal of political courage’, he remembered. In opinion polls conducted as late as the autumn of 1995, only 34 per cent of Germans were in favour of the single currency, while 45 per cent were against. Needless to say, these figures were reversed as the decade wore on and the single currency became more imminent. By the spring of 1999, some 55 per cent of Germans now supported the single currency while only 36 per cent continued their opposition.

“In the same poll from 1995, the Finns were shown to be the least in favour of the currency among the nations which eventually joined: 53 per cent of Finns were hostile to the currency, while only 33 per cent approved. It is important to grasp the extent to which Europe’s political elites were committed to the single currency. The reasons why numerous political figures and bankers became strong advocates of the euro differed. For the Germans, it was often as much a symbol of fiscal discipline as a badge of European unity. For Issing, the benefits of the euro were explicitly focused on the need for fiscal discipline. This was a view widely held in Germany and the Netherlands.
“The people of Europe, of course, had not been consulted before the single currency was officially launched on 1 January 1999. The euro was always conceived as an elite project, conjured up by technocrats, to be foisted upon a largely acquiescent and amorphous European public. There was as yet no European superstate, a fact which worried Germans, unsure of whether a monetary union was possible without a political union.”
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War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt

Publisher: PublicAffairs
Copyright 2014 Kwasi Kwarteng
Pages: 277-278

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stalin starves more than one million to their death — 3/10/17

Today’s selection — from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Joseph Stalin wanted to build his country and advance the cause of communism. Central to that was his desire to build industrial factories in cities. But to do that he needed to make a massive investment in large-scale machines, purchasing them in large part from more advanced countries. The only way to afford these machines was to sell surplus grain, which required collectivizing and squeezing a surplus from the primitive farming communities in the vast and fertile lands of the Ukraine. Over time, this effort led to the death of millions of Soviet citizens:
“[After an initial attempt at collectivization that failed,] Stalin maintained that the problem with collectivization was that it had been imple­mented with just a little too much enthusiasm. It had been a mistake, he now asserted, to force the peasants to join the collective farms. The latter now dis­appeared just as quickly as they had been created. In 1930, peasants in Ukraine harvested the winter wheat, and sowed the seeds for the autumn crops, just as if the land belonged to them. They could be forgiven for thinking that they had won.
“Stalin’s withdrawal was tactical. Given time to think, Stalin and the politburo found more effective means to subordinate the peasantry to the state. In the countryside the following year, Soviet policy preceded with much greater deftness. In 1931, collectivization would come because peasants would no longer see a choice. The lower cadres of the Ukrainian branch of the Soviet communist party were purged, to ensure that those working within the villages would be true to their purpose, and un­derstand what would await them if they were not. The independent farmer was taxed until the collective farm became the only refuge. As the collective farms slowly regrouped, they were granted indirect coercive power over neighboring independent farmers. They were allowed, for example, to vote to take the seed grain away from independent farmers. The seed grain, what is kept from one crop to plant the next, is indispensible to any working farm. The selection and preservation of the seed grain is the basis of agriculture. For most of human his­tory, eating the seed grain has been synonymous with utter desperation. An in­dividual who lost control of the seed grain to the collective lost the ability to live from his or her own labor.
Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933
“Deportations resumed, and collectivization proceeded. In late 1930 and early 1931, some 32,127 more households were deported from Soviet Ukraine, about the same number of people as had been removed during the first wave of de­portations a year before. Peasants thought that they would die either of exhaus­tion in the Gulag or of hunger close to home, and preferred the latter. Letters from exiled friends and family occasionally escaped the censor; one included the following advice: ‘No matter what, don’t come. We are dying here. Better to hide, better to die there, but no matter what, don’t come here,’ Ukrainian peas­ants who yielded to collectivization chose, as one party activist understood, ‘to face starvation at home rather than banishment to the unknown.’ Because col­lectivization came more slowly in 1931, family by family rather than whole vil­lages at once, it was harder to resist. There was no sudden attack to provoke a desperate defense. By the end of the year, the new approach had succeeded. About seventy percent of the farmland in Soviet Ukraine was now collectivized. The levels of March 1930 had been reached again, and this time durably. …
“By autumn 1931 the failure of the first collectivized harvest was obvious. The reasons were many: the weather was poor; pests were a problem; animal power was limited because peasants had sold or slaughtered livestock; the pro­duction of tractors was far less than anticipated; the best farmers had been de­ported; sowing and reaping were disrupted by collectivization; and peasants who had lost their land saw no reason to work very hard. …
“More than half of the (nonspoiled) harvest was removed from Soviet Ukraine in 1931. Many collective farms met their requisition targets only by handing over their seed grain. Stalin ordered on 5 December that collective farms that had not yet fulfilled their annual requirements must surrender their seed grain. Stalin perhaps believed that peasants were hiding food, and thought that the threat of taking the seed grain would motivate them to hand over what they had. But by this time many of them truly had nothing. By the end of 1931, many peasants were already going hungry. With no land of their own and with little ability to resist requisitions, they simply had no way to ensure that a sufficient number of calories reached their households. Then in early 1932 they had no seed grain with which to plant the fall crop. The Ukrainian party leadership asked for seed grain in March 1932, but by that time the planting was already delayed, meaning that the harvest that fall would be poor.
“In early 1932 people asked for help. Ukrainian communists requested that their superiors in the Ukrainian party ask Stalin to call in the Red Cross. … Ukrainian party members bypassed [General Secretary Stanislav] Kosior and wrote directly to Stalin, taking an angry tone: ‘How can we construct the socialist economy when we are all doomed to death by hunger?’
“The threat of mass starvation was utterly clear to Soviet Ukrainian authori­ties, and it became so to Stalin. Party activists and secret police officers filed countless reports of death by starvation. In June 1932 the head of the party in the Kharkiv region wrote to Kosior that starvation had been reported in every single district of his region. Kosior received a letter from a member of the Young Communists dated 18 June 1932, with a graphic description that was probably, by then, all too familiar: ‘Collective farm members go into the fields and disap­pear. After a few days their corpses are found and, entirely without emotion, as though this were normal, buried in graves. The next day one can already find the body of someone who had just been digging graves for others.’…
“That Stalin’s own policy of collectivization could cause mass starvation was also clear. By summer 1932, as Stalin knew, more than a million people had already starved to death in Soviet Kazakhstan. … Stalin, a master of personal politics, presented the Ukrainian famine in personal terms. His first impulse, and his lasting tendency, was to see the starvation of Ukrainian peasants as a betrayal by members of the Ukrainian communist party.”
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2010 by Timothy Snyder
Pages 32-35

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how george washington got votes

Today’s selection — from Drinking in America by Susan Cheever. Money, alcohol, and votes were regular companions at polling places in colonial and early America:

“George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved par­ties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drink­ing and voting for the American electorate the hard way. A rigorous military commander who drove his soldiers hard and expected much of them, he began to aspire to a government position after he did not get a command in the British military. While seeking a seat in the Vir­ginia Assembly in 1755, he was roundly defeated.
George Washington depicted during his French & Indian War days.

“Two years later he ran again, but this time he delivered 144 gallons of rum, punch, cider, and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up. At 307 votes, he got a return on his investment of almost two votes per gallon. Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candi­date in hand to drink along with his constituency. Candidates showed off their generosity as well as their drinking capacity. Although voting while intoxicated was normal for the colonists, French traveler Ferdi­nand Bayard was horrified to notice, ‘Candidates offer drunkenness openly to anyone who is willing to give them his vote.’

“A few years later the writer George Prentice described a Kentucky election that lasted three days. ‘During that period whiskey and apple toddy flow through our cities and villages like the Euphrates through ancient Babylon.’ Later, after the Revolution, some of the Founding Fathers objected to the American way of voting. James Madison, who drank a pint of whiskey daily to aid his digestion, was also running for the Virginia Assembly in 1777. Madison decided that bribing the voters with alcohol was beneath his dignity and the dignity of the new nation. The influence of liquor at the polls was ‘inconsistent with the purity of moral and republican virtues,’ he announced. He lost.
Old courthouse in Philadelphia during the October 1, 1764 election
“Later, when he became Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, Madison’s ideas about democracy began to sharpen. A Virginia aris­tocrat who had grown up on a plantation, he did not believe in ‘excessive democracy’; democracy was too precious to waste on the common man. This belief, which may have begun with his horror at the way polling places were conducted, led him to favor a strong fed­eral government, and he eventually helped Alexander Hamilton­ — another man who was disturbed by drunkenness — draft The Federal­ist Papers.”

Drinking in America: Our Secret History

Author: Susan Cheever
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Copyright 2015 by Susan Cheever
Pages: 40-41

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ancient pensions

Today’s selection — from A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States by Robert L. Clark, Lee A. Craig, and Jack W. Wilson.  Public pensions, which have become a source of controversy in contemporary finance and politics, have been used since ancient times as a way to engender loyalty among military troops. The problems resulting from pensions were fully present in these earliest programs:

Imperial Roman legionaries in tight formation

“From the Roman Empire to the modern nation state, rulers and parlia­ments have found it expedient to provide pensions for the workers who carried out their policies and, thus, helped perpetuate their regimes. The history of these public sector pension plans is both colorful and instructive. More than two thousand years ago, the fall of the Roman republic and the rise of the empire were inextricably linked to the payment, or rather the nonpayment, of military pensions.

“During the American Revolution army pensions became such a sensitive issue that only the personal interven­tion of George Washington prevented a mutiny of Continental troops over their promised pension payments. In the nineteenth century the U.S. navy pension fund went bankrupt on no fewer than three occasions, only to be bailed out by Congress each time. The management of the navy pension fund involved misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance of a strikingly bold nature. These and other episodes … provide the reader with a chronology of these historic events and a series of policy lessons pertaining to current employer-based pension plans. …
“It is typically thought that employer-provided pensions in the United States are a relatively recent form of compensation having been introduced by employers late in the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth. This perception is correct concerning private pensions and most public pen­sions for civilian employees; however, pensions for disabled and retired military personnel predate the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
“Military pensions have a long history in Western civilization and have often been used as a key element to attract, retain, and motivate military personnel.”

A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States

Authors: Robert L. Clark, Lee A. Craig, and Jack W. Wilson
Copyright: 2003 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania
Pages: 1-2

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how we got the electoral college

Today’s encore selection — from The First Presidential Contest by Jeffrey Pasley. The Electoral College was perhaps the least successful element of the U.S. Constitution. (And not unexpectedly, modifications to the Electoral College process came quickly). The Founders did not want the public to directly elect the President, since previous experiments in direct elections at the state level had reinforced the conclusion that pure democracy was too dangerous. But the founders didn’t want Congress to elect the President either, because that would lead to “cabal faction & violence.” So the idea was adopted of having influential or “notable” community leaders that were not in Congress as Electors, with the people voting for these Electors because they believed they had good judgment. And these Electors were expected to use that good judgment to cast their votes rather than simply reflect the choice of the people:

“We must [now] delve into the work­ings of America’s murkiest political institution, the indirect system of presidential elections now known as the Electoral College. If ever there were a constitutionally defined role for America’s local ‘notables,’ the Electoral College was it.
James Wilson

“The national ‘college’ never met, acting instead as a filtering mechanism to concentrate the large pool of names that bubbled up from be­low. The guiding logic was that the country was too big, and even most of its locally prominent men too parochial, to ever coalesce around a single candidate other than General George Washington. Most would vote for someone from their own state or region, argued Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, generating a list too large and miscellaneous to be use­ful. At the same time, it was considered too dangerous to have a sin­gle body like Congress choose the chief magistrate all on its own: that could lead to ‘cabal faction & violence’ as in the elective monarchy of Poland, where nobles and foreign governments battled it out to name a new king.

“So Article II, Section I of the Constitution provided for each state legislature to designate, by whatever method it chose, a number of electors equal to the size of its congressional delegation (the number of House members plus two for each state’s equal number of senators). Each state’s electors were then to gather simultaneously, in their own state, to prevent said cabals. Each elector would then vote for two men, including at least one man who was not from the elector’s home state. Next the electors were to send their certified lists to Congress, where the votes would be compiled and the two top vote getters named president and vice president if they were selected by a majority of the electors. If not, then Congress would make the decision, according to complex rules that need not detain us here, choosing from the top five candidates the electors had voted for. At no point in any step of the process was anyone bound to vote a certain way (except for Congress choosing from the top five), and no provision was made, as we have seen, for running mates or party tickets. Instead, individual electors were to exercise their independent judgment of individual candidates.
“The format was a compromise hammered out in the last weeks of the Federal Convention in 1787 by the Committee on Postponed Parts, a working group made up of one member from each state delegation. The major issue the Electoral College settled was the summer-long dispute over how and by whom the new office of president would be filled. Given that one of the chief impulses behind the movement for a new Constitu­tion was the creation of a government insulated from the excessive de­mocracy and localism of the state governments, popular election of the president was a nonstarter at the Convention. A few of the large-state delegates made self-interested pitches for it, but most rejected the idea as impractical if not downright dangerous.
“George Mason of Virginia argued that ‘it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colours to a blind man. The extent of the Country renders it impossible that the people can have the requisite capacity to judge of the respec­tive pretensions of the Candidates.’ The other major option, selection of the president by Congress, had more proponents than nationwide democracy, but it reminded too many of what Americans considered the corrupt British parliamentary system with its unseparated powers (the prime minister controlling Parliament and the executive functions of government). A legislative election would also be a playground for conspirators and party-builders. Said Gouverneur Morris, ‘It will be the work of intrigue, of cabal, and of faction: it will be like the election of a pope by a conclave of cardinals.’
John Dickinson
“The idea of a secondary popular election, with the people choosing the choosers, was originally suggested by nationalist James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who was trying to preserve some advantage for the large states but also some element of democracy in the presidential selection process. Wilson did not do this because he was any great lover of the common man — common Philadelphians had tried to kill him in the ‘Fort Wilson’ riots in 1779 because of his alleged softness toward Loy­alists.
“Wilson’s attitude was more of a healthy fear; he had learned the hard way that in a free country, the common people needed to at least feel that their views were respected. Wilson’s suggestion was ignored until John Dickinson of Delaware, arriving late to the deliberations of the Committee on Postponed Parts, challenged his colleagues over the legitimacy problems that a completely unelected president would face. Shocked that the Convention was still leaning toward a president se­lected by Congress, Dickinson wrote, ‘I observed, that the Powers which we had agreed to vest in the President, were so many and so great, that I did not think, the people would be willing to deposit them with him, un­less they themselves would be more immediately concerned in his Elec­tion.’ In response, James Madison immediately sketched out a version of Wilson’s idea on a piece of paper, and the Electoral College was born.
“On paper, the Electoral College served well as a way to steer theo­retically between the large and small states and between oligarchy and democracy. What the Framers never discussed was how the thing was supposed to work in practice, or why it would be effective in meeting their goal of a chief magistrate who felt like the people’s choice without being beholden to parties, parochial interests, or popular opinion. Ex­cesses of democracy were still a far bigger worry for most of the Fram­ers, who filled the Constitution with firebreaks against the potential depredations of the mob.”
The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy

Author: Jeffrey L. Pasley
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
2013 by the University Press of Kansas
Pages: 309-312

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the cold reality of child labor

Today’s selection — from Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert. Little 10-year-old Ellen Hootten testified to the working conditions in British cotton mills during an 1833 investigation by the British government:

“Like Brecht’s haulers and builders, few cotton workers have entered our history books. Most left not even a trace; too often they were illiterate, and almost always their waking hours were occupied with holding body and soul together, leaving little time to write letters or diaries, as their social betters did, and thus few ways for us to piece their lives together. One of the saddest sights to this day is St. Michael’s Flags in Manchester, a small park where allegedly forty thousand people, most of them cot­ton workers, lie buried in unmarked graves, one on top of the other, ‘an almost industrial process of burying the dead.’ Ellen Hootton was one of these rare exceptions. Unlike millions of others, she entered the histori­cal record when in June 1833 she was called before His Majesty’s Factory Inquiry Commission, which was charged with investigating child labor in British textile mills. Though only ten when she appeared before the committee and frightened, she was already a seasoned worker, a two-year veteran of the cotton mill. Ellen had drawn public attention because a group of middle-class Manchester activists concerned with labor condi­tions in the factories sprouting in and around their city had sought to use her case to highlight the abuse of children. They asserted that she was a child slave, forced to work not just in metaphorical chains, but in real ones, penalized by a brutal overseer.
“The commission, determined to show that the girl was a ‘notorious liar’ who could not be trusted, questioned Ellen, her mother, Mary, and her overseer William Swanton, as well as factory manager John Finch. Yet despite their efforts to whitewash the case, the accusations proved to be essentially true: Ellen was the only child of Mary Hootton, a single mother, who was herself a handloom weaver barely able to make a living. Until she turned seven, Ellen had received some child support from her father, also a weaver, but once that expired her mother brought her down to a nearby factory to add to the family’s meager income. After as many as five months of unpaid labor (it was said that she had to learn the trade first), she became one of the many children working at Eccles’ Spinning Mill. When asked about her workday, Ellen said it began at five-thirty in the morning and ended at eight in the evening, with two breaks, one for breakfast and one for lunch. The overseer, Mr. Swanton, explained that Ellen worked in a room with twenty-five others, three adults, the rest children. She was, in her own words, a ‘piecer at throstles’ — a tedious job that entailed repairing and reknotting broken threads as they were pulled onto the bobbin of the mule. With constant breakage, often sev­eral times a minute, she only had a few seconds to finish her task.
Men, women, and young children worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire, England
“It was all but impossible to keep up with the speed of the machine as it moved back and forth, so she sometimes had ‘her ends down’  — that is, she had not attached the loose and broken ends of the thread fast enough. Such errors were costly. Ellen reported being beaten by Swanton ‘twice a week’ until her ‘head was sore with his hands.’ Swanton denied the frequency of the beatings, but admitted using ‘a scrap’ discipline the girl. Her mother, who called her daughter ‘a naughty, stupid girl,’ testi­fied that she approved of such corporal punishment, and had even asked Swanton to be more severe to put an end to her habit of running away. Life was hard for Mary Hootton, she desperately needed the girl’s wages, and she begged Swanton repeatedly to keep on the girl, despite all the troubles. As Mary said, ‘I cries many a times.’
“The beatings, however, were not the worst treatment Ellen experi­enced at Swanton’s hands. One day, when she arrived late to work, Swan­ton penalized her even more severely: He hung an iron weight around her neck (there was no agreement about whether it weighed sixteen or twenty pounds) and made her walk up and down the factory floor. The other children heckled her, and as a result, ‘she fell down several times while fighting with the other hands. She fought them with the stick.’ Even today, nearly two hundred years lacer, the pain of the girl’s life, from the tedium of her work to the violence of her abuse, is hard to fathom. …
“Like Ellen Hootton, thousands and, by the 1850s, millions of workers streamed into the world’s newly built factories to operate the machines that produced cotton thread and cloth. The ability to mobilize so many women, children, and men to work in factories was awe-inspiring. Many a contemporary was overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds or even thou­sands of workers walking to and from their places of toil. Every morn­ing before sunrise, thousands of workers walked down narrow paths in the Vosges to the factories in the valley, crawled out of dormitory beds just up the hill from Quarry Bank Mill, left their struggling farms above the Llobregat River, and made their way through crowded Manchester streets toone of the dozens of mills lining its putrid canals. At night they returned to sparse dormitories where they slept several to a bed, or to cold and drafty cottages, or to densely populated and poorly constructed working-class neighborhoods in Barcelona, Chemnitz, or Lowell.
“The world had seen extreme poverty and labor exploitation for cen­turies, but it had never seen a sea of humanity organizing every aspect of their lives around the rhythms of machine production. For at least twelve hours a day, six days a week, women, children, and men fed machines, operated machines, repaired machines, and supervised machines.”

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Author: Sven Beckert
Publisher: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright 2014 by Sven Beckert
Pages: 176-179
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benevolence only makes things worse — 10/27/15

Today’s selection — from Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by Edward J. Renehan Jr.  The miraculous gains of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s brought untold new wealth to western societies, but simultaneously brought a new type of poverty and disruption among workers — equally unprecedented in its scale.

“The first few decades of the nineteenth century were a largely cynical and callous time in American history — a period of institutionalized harshness. It was in 1817 that a group of prominent New York merchants and professionals (many once having been the principal supports of such institutions as the New York Hospital and other worthy causes) officially and publicly began to rethink their charitable habits. Such previously generous philanthropists as DeWitt Clinton (now governor of the state), Thomas Eddy, and John Griscom took their cue in this from British reformers. In so doing, they succumbed to the rhetoric of several hard-nosed British social thinkers, most notably Thomas Robert Malthus, Jeremy Bentham, and the Scottish conservative Patrick Colquhoun.

“Twenty years earlier, all three of those gentleman had been instrumental in the founding of the London Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. Despite the burden of its long-winded name, the London Society did not distribute charity but specialized in cutting off funds for social welfare. Malthus, Bentham, and Colquhoun believed that a distinct line must be drawn between the ‘deserving poor’ (those facing hard times as a result of unfortunate histories) and ‘undeserving paupers,’ namely, the drunk, the lazy, and the whorish members of society for whom aid was considered a reprehensible act of facilitation. Another key underpinning the London Society’s logic was the presumption (for lack of a more accurate term) that paupers outnumbered the deserving poor by a factor of about nine to one. In reform meetings and from church pulpits, politicians and clerics repeatedly cited this astonishing though unverifiable statistic, which soon became accepted as fact. In time, the public mind became convinced that a mere 10 percent of London’s poor were the crippled and the orphaned, while 90 percent were degenerates. For every one person in London’s slums who genuinely needed aid, popular wisdom said there were nine who required something else entirely: intolerance, punishment, and correction. As a corollary to this line of thinking, logic dictated that 90 percent of the charitable aid previously offered was superfluous. In turn, wallets closed.

A group of children at Crumpsall Workhouse_ 1895_97

“For decades the London Society remained influential in the development and spread of such institutions as workhouses and debtors prisons. It was also influential, through its example, in New York and other American cities. By the end of 1817, Clinton, Eddy, and Griscom, joined by hundreds of other New Yorkers, had formed a clone organization on the banks of the Hudson: the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism (SPP).

“Several months before the founding of the SPP, New York’s Humane Society forlornly announced the startling result of recent research: no less than 15,000 men, women, and children — the equivalent of one-seventh of the city’s population — had been ‘supported by public or private bounty and munificence’ the previous winter. Historians Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace have eloquently described the SPP’s point of view, expressed in response to the above data. In the London Society’s grand tradition, the SPP said it believed that ‘willy-nilly benevolence’ only made things worse. ‘Giving alms to the undeserving poor not only undermined their independence but also drove up taxes and sapped the prosperity of the entire community.’ Thus, ‘for their good as well as everyone else’s … the SPP recommended that all paupers in the city be cut off from all public assistance forthwith.’ Soon the Humane Society itself announced its intention to disband in the wake of its realization that the very act of giving charity had ‘a direct tendency to beget, among [the citizenry] habits of imprudence, indolence, dissipation and consequent pauperism.’

” ‘Tough love’ was in. Cruelty equaled kindness. Frugality equaled generosity. And all three were not only cheap, but easy.”

Author: Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2007 by Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Pages 48-49
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.