We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

For the first time ever, labourers were able to purchase cheap goods for themselves. The first factories focused on mass production of cheap goods for the poor. Shoes, for example, were produced for the proletariat – the rich bought made-to-measure shoes. This was different from France, where the government’s mercantilist product standards, designed to uphold quality, ensured that nothing was produced for the poor at all. In France, mercantilism continued to be state policy for much longer than in England. This is the reason why industrialisation took fifty more years to arrive on France’s shores.

- This is a typical “I did not know that” moment from J. P. Floru‘s excellent new book Heavens on Earth: How To Create Mass Prosperity, from the chapter about the British industrial revolution.

Well, I myself did not know it. If you did know this particular thing about shoes, you will still probably find a hundred other such titbits in this book that you did not know. In an equal-but-opposite way, this made me think of how we can now buy excellent yet vastly-cheaper-than-before spectacles on the internet, that being a case of a made-to-measure product becoming available to all at a mass production price.

Besides the world-changing success story that was British industrialisation, Floru writes about: the USA and West Germany just after WW2, Hong Kong, China, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The miseries of despotism are not glossed over, but the inevitable failure of statist economic policies and the almost automatic benefits of free market policies, provided only that you can make them stick, are made unmistakably clear.

I hope, Real Soon Now, to be supplying a longer posting here about this fine book, along the lines of the five star reactions to it here. Short version: it is a fine book.

32 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • mose jefferson

    But Brian, my schoolteachers taught me the Dickensian version of the industrial revolution, wherin the people were all made poorer by the evil factory owners, until the rise of the benevolent unions.

    Oh dear, I’ve gone and been sarcastic again.

  • RRS

    Somehow I doubt that Brian is not aware of the Continental System and of its role in the failure of French hegemony under Napoleon.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    Indeed. Business empires have been built and fortunes made supplying goods to the common person.

    With his Model T, Henry Ford created a car even a person of modest means could afford. Not only did he make his fortune as a result, he also ushered in the era of mass production. Meanwhile, in the Information Age, Bill Gates made his fortune offering computers that, again, people of modest means could afford.

    Perversely, this is probably one of the reasons why our liberal elites hate free-market capitalism. By making the previously unaffordable available to just about everyone, it helps eliminate the distinctions between the elites and the masses.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    mose jefferson
    March 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm
    [T]he Dickensian version of the industrial revolution…

    I’ve always felt that Dickens treated his characters with the same arrogance that the bien-pensant of the day ascribed to mill owners. I mean, create a character who spontaneously combusts from drink (a one-step plan!), just to free up a room and truckle to the teetotal?

    Or consider the derisive portrayal of Mrs. Jellyby; so much of Dicken’s ‘humor’ is jeering….

    So maybe the industrialists were victims of Dickensian projection; in addition to the usual proportion of them being rat bastards, of course.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Ah, but we’ll reach the shoe event horizon much quicker than France.

  • Actually, the derisive portrayal of Mrs. Jellyby is one of the many reasons I loved Bleak House. Even though Dickens would never have been even close to being measured by any libertarian standard, I love his writing, precisely because he usually jeered at people – or rather at actions – I would have jeered as well.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’ve never been able to make time for Dickens. The man was an ass, and I can never get past that when trying to read his writing.

    In particular his treatment of John Rae was atrocious. Dickens helped orchestrate a media crucifixion for Rae for the terrible crime of telling the truth of what became of the Franklin expedition.

    In many respects Dickens represents the very worst of what the power of the media and the written word can achieve. They can be used to spread falsehood as well as truth. His myths regarding what life was like for working class Britons are still appealed to by statists to this very day. On a personal level he also doesn’t sound like a particularly nice human being.

    The proverb says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. I’m really not convinced I want to consume what Dickens had in his heart.

  • Duly noted, JV. I’ll look up John Rae.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Dickens should get credit for writing denunciations of American slavery (in American Notes and elsewhere) that, despite the endless harping on about it by the politically correct, can bring alive the outrage of it even today.

  • lucklucky

    Credit? Dickens himself favored slavery.

  • I’ve read that the practice of making clothes in a range of standard sizes was developed by the Union in the American Civil War to provide uniforms more efficiently. Up to that point, people had to find somebody to make their clothes specifically for them, or make them themselves.

  • Paul Marks

    The difference between French and English government was noted (for example) by Chief Justice Sir John Fortescue – in his 15th century book originally known as “Of The Difference Between An Absolute And Limited Monarchy” (the titles that later ages gave the book “The Governance of England” and “In PRasie of the Laws of England” are not helpful).

    Fortescue noted that a King of England did not have the power of a King of France.

    His judges could not (legally) order the torture of people, nor could they order executions and so on (without the consent of a jury).

    And taxes and economic regulations could not be imposed in England without the consent of Parliament.

    And this was in an age where “Statutes” were very rare – Parliament being under the influence of Fedual landholding families who were very wary of granting the state too much power (in case it was used on them) – a state of affairs that continued till 1832. And (unlike France) the nobilty were not except from most taxes (a state of affairs the French nobility had been given – in return for giving up their political power to limit the French Kings) and the same laws governed the lords and the free peasants (there were very few serfs in England in the late 15th century). Certainly lords could have better legal advice (and could bribe judges and juries) – but they have to have a concern over the nature of law (because it might be applied to them).

    Unlike, for example, Sicily – where the local version of the Great Charter (the Great Charter of 1215) gave lords protection from the ordinary law (which was used ruthlessly against nonlords).

    Ironically Fortescue himself was what later ages would call a “mercantalist” in his economic opinions – and favoured the very economic policies that the French Kings followed (and were to follow more) and which the English system made difficult to introduce to anything like the same extent.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Download Fortescue’s book The difference between an absolute and limited monarchy; as it more particularly regards the English constitution in pdf or other formats at

    http://ebooksread.com/authors-eng/john-fortescue/the-difference-between-an-absolute-and-limited-monarchy-as-it-more-particularly-ala.shtml

    (I’m not quite sure if this is the book Paul means — somewhere, I ran across a version whose title ended at the semicolon of this book.)

    ebooksread.com also has links to the following books (as well as to a couple by a different John Fortescue), at

    http://ebooksread.com/authors-eng/john-fortescue.shtml

    The governance of England: otherwise called The difference between an absolute and a limited monarchy

    The works of Sir John Fortescue, Knight, Chief Justice of England and Lord Chancellor to King Henry the Sixth (Volume 1)

    The works of Sir John Fortescue, Knight, Chief Justice of England and Lord Chancellor to King Henry the Sixth (Volume 2)

    Or just enter “Fortescue” in the Search box on any of the pages; but be warned, there are several Fortescues listed and you may turn up more than just the above. Or not, of course.

    The Foot of All Knowledge has an article on Sir John at

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Fortescue_%28judge%29 ,

    which includes a shortish discussion of his published works, including the one whose title stops at the semicolon above.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Julie – in spite of all his many faults, Fortescue (like all Common Lawyers before modern times) took it for grantd that there was an objective RIGHT and WRONG – and that it was the job of a judge (and so on)to seek to FIND (not create)this law.

    Legal positivists (people who regard the WILL of the state as automatically law – and deny the existence of objective right and wrong) were rare – Thomas Hobbes was one (and he rightly viewed “a student of the common laws of England” as his natural enemy).

    However, in the 18th century writers such as Blackstone started to play up Acts of Parliament and saying that they trumped anything else (a return to IMPERIAL ROMAN thinking – with the WILL of the Emperor trumping the natural law) no wonder that John Adams was not fond of Blackstone (normally it is Jefferson who is mentioned in this context – but actually it was Adams, not Jefferson, who did most of the writing on legal matters in the run up the American Revolution – which, in modern language, would be better described as the American COUNTER Revolution, with John Adams and so on being “REACTIONARIES”).

    In the 19th century it became fashionable (among writers on the law) to openly mock the idea of objective right and wrong – as to praise the idea of ever more Acts of Parliament (not as judgements of the High Court of the Crown in Parliament – but as “making law” for the “good of the people”).

    For example, Maitland (now held to be the “greatest” Victorian historian of law) denies that there was ever an Act of Parliament that was against natural justice (because,I suspect, he did not really believe in natural justice).

    I passionately hate and despise such people.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I didn’t know that Paul. My exposure to Blackstone has been primarily from within the context of the RKBA debate, and he is usually used as a reference to how far Britain has fallen in terms of recognising the rights of its citizens. He certainly described self-defence as a “natural right” which was not in and of itself subordinate to parliament, although I believe he thought it proper that parliament get to decide what means are at your disposal.

    Which is of course a problematic position, since parliament have now decided that “no means at all” is what they want you to have….

  • Paul Marks

    Blackstone held that Parliament could do anything it liked (that there was no limitation on its powers).

    That did not just mean there was no defence of the liberties (the property rights) of Americans against it. There was no defence for people in Britain either.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    A better book than these above is the recent book, Why Nations Fail. It looks at the importance of having good institutions, such as having a ruling Parliament instead of an absolute monarchy, and examines history to make its’ point. For instance, Venice was most thriving when its’ political institutions were open to outsiders and newcomers- and it started to decline when offices started to become hereditary. Fascinating stuff.

  • [...] Floru, Heavens on Earth: How To Create Mass Prosperity, quoted by Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata, [...]

  • Laird

    Paul, apparently I am not as familiar as you with Blackstone’s writings (I do own a copy of his “Commentaries” but haven’t read it thoroughly), but my understanding is that in the 18th and early 19th centuries he was regarded as the preeminent source of knowledge about the common law, required reading for all aspiring lawyers (in the Americas as well as in Britain). He influenced generations of lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic. Adams my not have agreed with him on all points, but I suspect that he did in the main.

  • Paul Marks

    Laird – Blackstone’s main point was that Parliament could do anything it liked (exactly what Adams and the other Founders DENIED).

    It is perfectly true that Blackstone did not deny the natural law (indeed like the Roman lawyers of old he showed how tradition, rather than one person trying to do everything off the top of his head, is the best way to try and FIND the law), but the “bottom line” of Blackstone was the above (as it was with Roman Imperial lawyers also).

    For a professional lawyer Blackstone’s writings on the ideas of law may indeed be wonderful – but, to the political person, his de facto “none of this matters if Parliament says it does not” is more important.

    Nick “Nice Guy” Gray.

    A RULING Parliament?

    That is not a good idea.

    Indeed the decline of Britain came, in part, from Parliament being considered a full time part of the government – not a CHECK ON the govenrment (made up of people of independent means – who met a few days a year for a few hours a day).

    A full time LEGISLATURE which makes lots and lots of “laws” (based upon the whims of the politicians in the legislature – without check) is, in the end, fatal to any society.

    And it does not matter, in the end, if this legislature is one man (an absolute ruler) or a group of people.

    See Bruno Leoni “Freedom And The Law” for the terrible threat to civil society that comes from “legislation”.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    It’s a good idea- if you compare it to having a ‘divine-right’ king! Britain’s Industrial Revolution happened because individuals felt safer in Britain to experiment with their properties and ideas, and try to become rich.
    I agree that an excess of laws can be very bad, but so can a land where the King’s word is the only law!

  • Paul Marks

    During the industrial revolution Britain had checks and balances (the so called “balanced constitution”) the Crown had a lot of real power – but Parliament could block stuff.

    The “divine right of Parliament” is no better than the “divine right of the King”.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    But the Institution of Parliament can have its’ members replaced at elections, if they are not responsive to the interests of their voters- a monarch is crowned for life! To take a modern example, Parliamentary South Korea is an infinitely better place than its’ neighbour, Monarchial north Korea!

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    That doesn’t really follow Nick. Ethiopia was an infinitely better place under the monarchical rule of Haile Selassie than it was under the junta that deposed him or the dysfunctional “democracy” that followed.

    It is just as possible to have a good monarchy as it is to have a bad democracy. The problem with North Korea is not strictly speaking that it is a heredity dictatorship, but that the Kim family are all completely insane, and that no one has had the balls to cut their heads off.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    JV, I have not confused Parliament with ‘Democracy’. The term ‘Democratic’ is often used in ways that are opposite to our thinking.
    As for the Kim family being insane, I think they are very sane in looking after their own family interests. Every time they have rattled the nuclear sabre before, the world has given them goodies, so why should they stop now?

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    The one big advantage of kings over elected politicians is meant to be they can take the long term view. Since they plan on being in the job for a long time and passing it onto their children, they are supposed to be interested in the long term stability and prosperity of their country.

    Whereas the Kim family have repeatedly brought about famine and death on a massive scale, and are currently following a course of action which looks as though it can only end with the destruction of N. Korea. I’d call that insane.

    As you say they’ve done a pretty good job at protecting their own interests, but to torture a whole country to service the interests of a single family? I’d also call that insane.

    This of course highlights an important distinction between actual kings and nutty socialist upstart revolutionaries. Another thing about kings is they are supposed to be primarily concerned with the business of being a king, as opposed to pursuing ideological agendas which get a lot of their subjects killed.

    There is a difference between an absolute monarch and a dictator.

  • Laird

    I agree with JV.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul cites the book Freedom and the Law, by Bruno Leoni. This book is available to read on-line or download in PDF at the Online Library of Liberty:

    http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=920

  • Paul Marks

    Kings often give into the temptation to increase their own power (at the expense of the liberty of their subjects) even though this leads to the long term decline of the country.

    That is why the power of the monarch (if their is one) must be limited – although I do stress LIMITED (not reduced to nothing). The powers that (for example) the Prince of Liechtenstein has are more like what supporters of the “balanced constitution” had in mind, rather than the absurd figurehead (fairy-on-top-of-the-Christmas-Tree) Kings and Queens of most European countries.

    By the way a directly elected head of state is dangerious – as they can claim to speak for the “people”. And if the elected head of state is also head of government – they also make a party system inevitable. The friends of the elected head of government, and the foes of the elected head of government (they can not stand outside of politics – because they are the product of politics).

    Perhaps (just perhaps) the supporters of the “New Jersey Plan” had a point – the representatives of the States (each State represented equally – regardless of population) choosing a President to act as a manager of the Federal Executive (in much the same way that today Town Managers are chosen in straight laced Kansas) might have avoided a lot of problems…..

    Julie – reading things on-line?

    Vile witchcraft!

    The correct thing is to have piles of books all over your (dusty) house – and to be unable to find anything.