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An End to Poverty?

An End to Poverty?: A Historical Debate

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    An End to Poverty?
    Book Description:

    In the 1790s, for the first time, reformers proposed bringing poverty to an end. Inspired by scientific progress, the promise of an international economy, and the revolutions in France and the United States, political thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Antoine-Nicolas Condorcet argued that all citizens could be protected against the hazards of economic insecurity. In An End to Poverty? Gareth Stedman Jones revisits this founding moment in the history of social democracy and examines how it was derailed by conservative as well as leftist thinkers. By tracing the historical evolution of debates concerning poverty, Stedman Jones revives an important, but forgotten strain of progressive thought. He also demonstrates that current discussions about economic issues -- downsizing, globalization, and financial regulation -- were shaped by the ideological conflicts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

    Paine and Condorcet believed that republicanism combined with universal pensions, grants to support education, and other social programs could alleviate poverty. In tracing the inspiration for their beliefs, Stedman Jones locates an unlikely source-Adam Smith. Paine and Condorcet believed that Smith's vision of a dynamic commercial society laid the groundwork for creating economic security and a more equal society.

    But these early visions of social democracy were deemed too threatening to a Europe still reeling from the traumatic aftermath of the French Revolution and increasingly anxious about a changing global economy. Paine and Condorcet were demonized by Christian and conservative thinkers such as Burke and Malthus, who used Smith's ideas to support a harsher vision of society based on individualism and laissez-faire economics. Meanwhile, as the nineteenth century wore on, thinkers on the left developed more firmly anticapitalist views and criticized Paine and Condorcet for being too "bourgeois" in their thinking. Stedman Jones however, argues that contemporary social democracy should take up the mantle of these earlier thinkers, and he suggests that the elimination of poverty need not be a utopian dream but may once again be profitably made the subject of practical, political, and social-policy debates.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51079-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Economics, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-15)

    This book employs history to illuminate questions of policy and politics which still have resonance now. It aims to make visible some of the threads by which the past is connected with the present. It does so by bringing to light the first debates, which occurred in the late eighteenth century, about the possibility of a world without poverty. These arguments were no longer about Utopia in an age-old sense. They were inspired by a new question: whether scientific and economic progress could abolish poverty, as traditionally understood. Some of the difficulties encountered were eerily familiar. Many of the problems...

    (pp. 16-63)

    It was in the 1790s at the time of the French Revolution that there first emerged the believable outlines of a world without endemic scarcity, a world in which the predictable misfortunes of life need no longer plunge the afflicted into chronic poverty or extreme want. This idea was not another version of the medieval fantasy of the land of Cockaigne, in which capons flew in through the window ready-cooked. Nor was it the update of a more serious invention, Utopia, most famously that created by Sir Thomas More in 1516. This was the ‘nowhere’, or ‘good place’ according to...

    (pp. 64-109)

    It has been estimated that in the winter of 1792–3, effigies of Paine were burnt in 300 or so towns and villages in England and Wales. The intensity of the reaction was an indication of the magnitude of the felt threat. His Rights of Man was one of the bestsellers of the century; 250,000 copies had been sold by 1793. A London merchant wrote to Henry Dundas, the Home Secretary:

    Payne is a dangerous book for any person who does not share in the spoil to be left alone with and it appears that the book is now made...

    (pp. 110-132)

    In France at the beginning of the nineteenth century a separation of political economy from politics similar to that which was occurring in Britain was also declared. In a ‘preliminary discourse’ preceding his Traité d’économie politique, first published in 1803 and destined to become the best-known economic treatise in nineteenth-century France, Jean-Baptiste Say asserted that ‘political economy’ had too long been confused with ‘politics’. Questions about how wealth was formed, distributed and consumed were ‘essentially independent of political organisation’. ‘Under all forms of government’, he went on, ‘a state can prosper, if it is well administered.’ If there was any...

    (pp. 133-162)

    In the years after the battle of Waterloo, discussion of the extraordinary development of the textile industry in Britain and what became known as ‘the machinery question’ became commonplace in both France and Britain.¹ In France, liberals celebrated the advent of modern industry as a likely bulwark against the opposed forces of feudalism, corporate regulation and protection. In Britain, on the other hand, interest in the possibilities of machinery was overshadowed by Malthusian anxieties about population increase and Ricardian fears about diminishing returns, dramatised by the growth of pauperism and the prohibitive level of agricultural protection afforded by the 1815...

    (pp. 163-198)

    Say’s ‘revolutions d’industrie’ were the principal source of the account of the English ‘industrial revolution’ given by Jérome Adolphe Blanqui (the brother of the famous French revolutionary Auguste Blanqui) in his Histoire de l’économie politique of 1837.¹ Blanqui was a protégé of Say who had gained him the chair of history and industrial economy at the École Spéciale du Commerce.² Blanqui also gave courses at the Athenée and at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, where in 1833 he succeeded Say as professor. Following Say, Blanqui wrote of the impact of the Bridgewater canal and emphasised how cotton-spinning machinery and...

    (pp. 199-223)

    For Paine and Condorcet in the 1790s, the elimination of poverty had been part of a pitched battle between advancing enlightenment and the receding defences of ‘force and fraud’. These powers were personified by the aristocracy and the established church. In this battle, the works of Adam Smith had been a crucial asset. In the eyes of his progressive followers of the 1780s and 1790s, Smith’s great achievement had not only been to spell out the historical and political importance of the progress of exchange, but also to distinguish the peaceful and reciprocally beneficial facets of exchange from the self-interested...

    (pp. 224-235)

    The argument put forward in An End to Poverty? is that the first practicable proposals to eliminate poverty through the creation of a universal framework for social security date back to the 1790s, and were a direct product of the American and French Revolutions. These were not proposals to resolve the ‘social problem’, as that problem came to be understood in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The purpose of the schemes discussed by Condorcet and Paine was not to remove the hostility of the working classes towards private property or to overcome the antagonism between labour and capital, since these...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 236-269)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 270-278)