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Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India

Author(s):Roy, Tirthankar
Reviewer(s):Wolcott, Susan

Published by EH.NET (February 2001)

Tirthankar Roy, Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xi + 252 pp. $64.95 (cloth),

ISBN: 0-521-65012-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Susan Wolcott, Department of Economics, University of

Mississippi.

This new book by Tirthankar Roy of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development

Research, Bombay is well worth reading. It is a careful and extremely well

researched discussion of the evolution of five important craft-based

industries during the colonial period: handloom weaving, on which Roy has

written before, gold thread (jari), brassware, leather, and carpets. Roy

addresses himself to India’s failure to grow. Why did industrialization never

lead to a sustained increase in per capita income? He sets out to do two

things in this book. The first is to dispute the contention that the craft

industries were devitalized by the colonial economy, and thus prevented from

becoming the incubators of an indigenous industrial revolution. His second

task is to show that the true root of stagnation was the too rapid rate of

growth of population and an absence of government involvement in the provision

of education and credit. In the first of these tasks, the book succeeds. The

thorough discussion and careful analysis of the history and organization of

each of these crafts well illustrate the dynamism and inventiveness of the

Indian entrepreneur. But the second task remains for further research. Roy

shows that the laissez faire policy of the British colonial government did not

crush these indigenous craft industries. But a history of craft industries by

itself is not well suited to answering the question of why modern industry did

not establish itself in India.

It can, however, offer certain hints. But the hints in this case do not

support Roy’s contention in an obvious manner. If the histories had shown that

there were attempts to move from small scale craft production to large scale

factory production, but these attempts were thwarted by a lack of capital,

that would have lent support to Roy’s claim that more direct intervention by

the government would have fostered faster growth. That is not the case. In

fact, just the opposite is true. The centralization of the craft industries as

they moved from their rural roots to a more urban existence is a recurrent

theme in Roy’s book. All of these crafts moved away from production for local

consumption to production for long distance trade, either for export to

Europe, or intra-India trade via the new railroads. To some extent, this was

just small craft shops moving to the cities for economies of agglomeration;

information sharing is one theme Roy often stresses. But the urban shift was

frequently accompanied by a large increase in the size of the typical factory,

and a move away from family labor to wage labor. To this reader, large

increases in the scale of individual operations suggest capital constraints

were not a critical issue. (The large scale of modern factory operations in

India during this period support this contention.)

Nor do the histories of these crafts suggest that there was a problem that a

broad program of education would address. Roy makes the important point that

the artisans were quick to adopt modern methods. Examples include the move to

use sheet metal in constructing brassware, mineral dyes for carpets, and the

fly-shuttle in handloomed silks. Through simplification, entrepreneurs

increased productivity. His examples successfully dispel any notion that the

Indians were technologically stagnant, at least in these areas. But this makes

it difficult to believe that these crafts, at least, would have seen greater

productivity increase with a more educated workforce.

What the histories do suggest is the importance of caste and regional ties in

the transmission of knowledge and access to credit. Roy’s attention to these

details in his histories is one of the chief reasons for the book’s

usefulness. It appears that knowledge and credit were accessible in India, but

not to everyone. Leather, the longest chapter, provides perhaps the most

interesting discussion. Leather manufacture has until very recently been the

preserve of the lowest rungs of Indian society as it involves handling dead

animals, a very polluting activity among Hindus. (Anything involving death is

polluting (dead cows even more so), and anything which is polluting is avoided

by higher caste Hindus.) Originally leather tanning was done in the village.

Members of certain castes would have the right to the carcass of animals that

died by natural causes in return for removing and disposing of the carcass.

These animals provided more than sufficient leather for the shoes, water bags

and straps needed by villagers. But the development in the late nineteenth

century of large-scale chrome tanning in the US and mineral leather dyes in

Germany created an upsurge in international demand for hides. Suddenly the

carcasses of animals had a significant value. There was a fairly rapid switch

from a small rural craft to large urban slaughterhouses and tanning factories.

Interestingly, these factories remained chiefly staffed and quite often owned

by the same castes that had performed these functions in the villages.

However, although there had been a quick response to the change in export

demand, and yet another rapid switch in product mix when export demand died

down in the interwar period, the further step of developing chrome tanning in

India was pursued only on a very limited basis. Roy attributes this to the

restricted access to capital of the lower caste Hindus who had skills in

leather working. Capital was available in India, but not to them.

Another illustrative story is the non-adoption of the fly shuttle in much of

the trade for coarse cotton cloth. But the reason is not that the workers did

not know better. There had been adoption of better techniques and large-scale

manufacture in handloomed silks. The cotton weavers were unwilling to make

even this relatively small capital investment in what was essentially a use

for otherwise unemployable household labor – women in agricultural off

seasons. The question of why the opportunity cost of women remained virtually

zero is not directly addressed.

These two examples provide a different justification for government

involvement in education and capital markets than what is typically given in

development texts. Roy writes that “the conversion of craft skills into

industrial and innovative capacity required an induced social

revolution in India, the conditions for which were not created,” (emphasis

mine, see p. 59). His book does not directly prove that this was the case. But

it does provide hints to this effect. A discussion that addresses this point

directly instead of obliquely might yield very interesting results.

Susan Wolcott is currently working on an article entitled “The Role of Caste

Relations in the Slow Industrialization of Colonial India: Evidence from

Textile Strikes, 1921-38.”

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs?: America’s Debate over Technological Unemployment, 1929-1981

Author(s):Bix, Amy Sue
Reviewer(s):Zieger, Robert H.

Published by EH.NET (September 2000)

Amy Sue Bix. Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs?: America’s Debate over

Technological Unemployment, 1929-1981. Studies in Industry and Society.

Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. x + 376 pp.

Illustrations and index. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-8018-6244-2.

Reviewed for H-Business and EH.NET by Robert H. Zieger, Department of History,

University of Florida.

Men (and Women) at Work?

Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs? is an able and lucidly written account

of the ongoing debate in the United States over the effects of technology on

employment. Drawing on a wide range of published materials as well as on

corporate, labor, and governmental archives, Amy Sue Bix traces in rich detail

the views of three generations of policy makers, labor leaders, engineers, and

business executives to come about the relationship between expanding

productivity and the availability of jobs. A notable feature of the debate has

been the absence of a definitive empirical method for weighing the impact of

technology on employment. Thus, over the seventy years covered in the book

(which deals with developments over the past twenty years as well as with the

period indicated in the title), celebrants and critics of workplace technology

have tended to make the same arguments, often with the same rhetorical

embellishments. According to corporate leaders, engineers, and other partisans

of labor-saving technology, expanding production inevitably lowers prices,

increases consumption, and boosts employment. Labor leaders, social critics,

and troubled politicians, on the other hand, have focused technology’s role in

work force reduction and have argued that promises of long-term growth in job

opportunities have proved unduly optimistic or even illusory.

In Bix’s telling, however, virtually no one called for an end to technological

advance. Laborites, for example, have accepted and even celebrated

technology-facilitated productivity gains, arguing only that workers should

share in them through shorter hours, higher wages, and greater voice in the

actual implementation of new workplace regimes. Three generations of labor

leaders, from William Green and John L. Lewis in the 1930s through Walter

Reuther in the 1950s and John Sweeney currently have repudiated Ludism,

confining their critique of job-related technology to advocacy of

worker-friendly regulation, job training, and the passing on of productivity

savings to workers and consumers. Critical of the blithe optimism of corporate

spokesmen and their scientific and engineering allies that productivity gains

lead inexorably to expanded (and enriched) employment opportunities, even those

most troubled by job loss have accepted the inevitably of continuous workplace

transformation.

Employers have dismissed concerns about job loss, although often in a

defensive idiom. Equating technological advance with progress, and, in turn,

a commitment to progress with national identity, corporate leaders and their

scientific allies have painted a bright new world of abundance and ease.

Rejecting calls for public intervention in the development and application of

labor-saving devices, business leaders such as Henry Ford and machine-tool

innovator John Diebold acknowledged that inevitably some workers would be

displaced and might suffer local and temporary hardships. But the advantages

of expanded production and its concomitant proliferation of consumer goods far

outweighed these minor side effects. Popular writers and editorial cartoonists

might depict soulless robots and inexorable machines spitting out superfluous

unemployed workers as well as appliances and amenities, but resistance to the

machine was in fact ignorant, self-defeating, and even unpatriotic. “Workplace

mechanization,” writes Bix in summary of industrialists’ views, “represented

the inevitable, the only possible way to attain national success.” (166-67).

She quotes economist Benjamin Anderson: “on no account,” declared this banking

analyst of the 1930s, “must we retard or interfere with the most rapid

utilization of new inventions.” (166)

The debate over technology and unemployment has waxed and waned since the onset

of the Great Depression. It raged most fiercely during the 1930s, when

joblessness rose to catastrophic proportions. During World War II, full

employment and military needs dampened it. It re-emerged, now stimulated by

early computerization and other forms of electronic replication, during the

prosperous era of the 1950s and early 1960s, with labor leaders such as Walter

Reuther calling attention to the problem of lingering unemployment amidst

otherwise bright economic prospects. Congressional hearings in 1955 on what

was now called “automation” demonstrated that even during good times, the

specter of worker redundancy walked hand-in-hand with the promise of a brave

new consumerist world. By the late 1970s and into the 1980s, of course, the

computer revolution raised these issues in a new idiom, although corporate

down-sizing, globalization, and widening income disparities have tended to

merge discrete apprehensions about technology’s adverse effects with broader

concerns about job security and living standards.

Bix touches on a wide range of industries and employment situations in

surveying the technology-vs.-unemployment theme. Drawing on TNEC and WPA

studies, she examines the experiences of telephone operators, musicians, steel

workers, coal miners, and railwaymen buffeted by the demands of new

technologies in the 1930s. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the turn of

packinghouse workers, longshoremen, clerical workers, and electrical workers.

Unions attempted various strategies in an effort to cope with mechanical

displacement. In the 1930s, the musicians union, faced with the substitution

of recorded music for live orchestras in movie houses, launched a massive

public relations campaign, hoping futilely to stimulate an outraged public to

demand live music. In the 1950s, the West Coast Longshoremen’s Union followed

an opposite course, capitulating to what its leaders regarded as the inevitable

inroads of containerization while securing for its existing membership generous

severance and manning reduction payments.

Bix’s account of the protracted and continuing debate over technology and work

is enlivened by frequent references to popular literature and films. In

addition, drawings and cartoons, some hailing the brave new future of a

worker-less future, others depicting with grim foreboding the social chaos sure

to afflict hapless displaced workers, give the debate vivid expression.

Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs? also brings to attention governmental

efforts in the 1930s, primarily through studies conducted by the Works Progress

Administration and testimony offered at the Temporary National Economic

Committee congressional hearings, to establish an empirical basis for weighing

the impact of industrial technology on employment. The latter chapters ably

survey a wide range of opinion drawn from more contemporary sources, attesting

to the continuing pertinence of concern about the relationship between

employment and technology.

Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs touches on but explores only briefly a

number of key themes that the general subject would seem to entail. The book

is more of a history of discourse about employment and technology than it is a

social history of the subject. Thus, themes of gender and, especially, race

receive only brief explicit exposition, for example. The social context in

which employers and engineers devise and implement labor-saving devices

likewise is only glancingly dealt with. Thus, for example, some observers have

argued that rapid mechanization of labor- intensive departments in metal

working, paper making, and meat packing after World War II represented less a

technological imperative than an effort on the part of employers to curtail

African American employment in operations that had proven unusually susceptible

to worker militancy and trade union pressure. This is not an issue that

captures Bix’s attention, however.

Likewise, Bix invokes but never quite explores in detail the implications of

the consumerist justifications to which employers increasingly turned in

justifying their resort to labor-saving measures. In 1951, Fortune magazine

published a special edition titled “USA-The Permanent Revolution,” boldly

proclaiming that mass affluence and its attendant consumerism constituted the

real revolution of the 20th century. In the 1960s, social critics such as

Herbert Marcuse, Charles Reich, Paul Goodman, E. F. Schumacher, and Christopher

Lasch-none of whom receives mention in Inventing Ourselves Out of

Jobs?-expressed the reverse of this kind of celebration of material plenty,

which in corporate America’s view depended on continuous technological

innovation. In a sense, competing visions of America centering on consumerism

(and, thus, technology) are the modern echo of the 18th century debate between

adherents of the civic republic and partisans of a commercial republic.

Implicit also, but underdeveloped in the book, is the question as to whether

work can remain an adequate vehicle for the social identities that before the

Great Depression it conveyed. Many of the jobs that Americans hold today are

far removed from productive enterprise, at least as it has traditionally been

understood. Technological advance and productivity gains have made it possible

for televangelists, day traders, and historians to flourish. Why these

particular occupations should attain public certification while other kinds of

non-productive employment languish or are suppressed is a question of culture

and politics, not one of technology per se.

Bix suggests rather than asserts her own sympathies. Her prose comes alive

when she exposes the fatuities and excesses of technology celebrants while

taking on a more troubled and somber tone when exploring the plight of the

displaced and dissident. Her dismay with those who equate America’s purposes

and promises with technological progress and consumerist indulgence is evident,

although never strident. She seems reluctant to concede that ordinary people

might have benefitted from technological innovation and at times flirts with

nostalgia for the good old days of man-killing coal mines and lethal railroad

work. Even so, Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs? is a useful survey of

the ongoing debate over the relationships between technology and work in the

modern United States.

Robert Zieger has worked extensively in the fields of American labour history

and twentieth century history. His latest book is America’s Great War: World

War One and the American Experience, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

Subject(s):History of Technology, including Technological Change
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector

Author(s):Salamon, Lester M.
Anheier, Helmut K.
List, Regina
Toepler, S. Stefan
Reviewer(s):Goldin, Milton

Published by EH.NET (March 2000)

Salamon, Lester M., Helmut K. Anheier, Regina List, Stefan Toepler, S.

Wojciech Sokolowski and Associates. Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the

Nonprofit Sector. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector

Project, 1999. Price (paper) $34.95. ISBN 1-886333-42-4.

Reviewed for H-Business and EH.NET by Milton Goldin

National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS)

The Global Associational Revolution

“…a veritable ‘global associational revolution’ appears to be underway, a

massive upsurge of organized private, voluntary activity in literally every

corner of the world. Prompted in part by growing doubts about the capability of

the state to cope on its own with the social welfare,

developmental, and environmental problems that face nations today, this growth

of civil society organizations has been stimulated as well by the

communications revolution….” (p. 4)

If these statements appear to be exaggerations–after all, how often do you

think of nonprofits in connection with revolutions?–brace yourself before

reading this book. Dr. Salamon and his co-authors will positively jolt you with

their conclusions based on data from 22 nations including Israel,

Japan, the United States, five countries in Eastern Europe, and five countries

in Latin America. All data relate to 1995.

Consider the following:

- “Even excluding religious congregations, the nonprofit sector…is a $1.1

trillion industry that employs close to 19 million full-time equivalent paid

workers. Nonprofit expenditures in these [22] countries…average 4.6 percent

of the gross domestic product, and nonprofit employment is nearly 5 percent of

all nonagricultural employment,” (p. 8)

- “… if the nonprofit sector in these countries were a separate national

economy, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world, ahead of Brazil,

Russia, Canada, and Spain.” (p. 9)

- “Nonprofit employment in the eight countries for which time-series data were

available grew by an average of 24 percent, or more than 4 percent a year,

between 1990 and 1995

. By comparison, overall employment in these same countries grew during this

same period by a considerably slower 8 percent, or less than 2 percent a year,”

(p. 29)

- “…the growth in nonprofit employment evident in these figures has been made

possible

not chiefly by a surge in private philanthropy or public-sector support, but by

a substantial increase in fee income,” (p. 31)

- “…the relative size of the nonprofit sector varies greatly among countries,

from a high of 12.6 percent of total nonagricultural employment in the

Netherlands to a low of less than 1 percent of total employment in Mexico. The

overall 22-country average, however, was close to 5 percent.

This means that the U.S., at 7.8 percent without religious worship, lies

substantially above the global average. However, it falls below three Western

European countries the Netherlands (12.6 percent), Ireland (11.5 percent), and

Belgium (10.5 percent), as well as Israel (9.2 percent). (pp.

265-266)

Despite the awesome data, Salamon writes in

his Preface that we are nowhere near having enough information to fully grasp

what is happening in America or elsewhere vis-a-vis nonprofits. For those of us

who closely follow the philanthropic literature, this is surely no

exaggeration: The IRS isn’t even certain how many private foundations or

nonprofits exist. Nor is lack of data the extent of the problem. Salamon and

his associates at the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project which

manages the research rightly seek in the long term not only to describe the

“basic scale,

structure, and revenue bases” of nonprofits around the world but hope, in later

volumes, to account “for the differences that exist” between nonprofits in

various countries, “the factors [that] seem to encourage or retard

their development,” and, finally (and perhaps most important of all), to

answer the questions, “what difference…these entities seem to make? What are

their special contributions?” (p. xvii)

The more philosophical among us might have preferred that Salamon and his

associates begin with a volume responding to the questions about economic

benefits that justify nonprofits and what expectations we should entertain for

their future. The purpose would be not only to provide intellectual

satisfaction but because of the gigantic transfer of wealth currently

underway, in America, from the World War II generation and baby boomers to

foundations and other tax shelters.

But to return to the present volume, someone somewhere once said there are no

specialists, only vested interests. When Salamon writes, “Traditionally,

the United States has been considered the seedbed of nonprofit activity,”

and then proceeds to write that Alexis de Tocqueville, “a keen 19th century

observer of American institutional life, aptly considered voluntary

associations a uniquely democratic response to solving social problems. . .”

(p. 261), you have to wonder exactly which vested interests de Tocqueville

thought were being served. But had de Tocqueville attempted to address this, he

would have come across immediate, knotty problems, including how,

exactly, to define “nonprofit” or “charity” or “philanthropy” in an American

context.

Definition is no easier 150 years after de Tocqueville’s visit. Annual salaries

of some nonprofit executives now exceed $1 million; this suggests that

nonprofit is not non- profit for them. Benjamin Franklin, the patron saint of

American philanthropy, thought charity (meaning welfare) should be the business

of churches and never of government. To him, philanthropy meant community

advancement, and community advancement must be the business of all citizens. To

put the matter bluntly, successful entrepreneurs could only do well if they did

some local good, but finding shelter for the homeless was not the kind of good

in which they should be involved.

As Global Civil Society

makes clear, one of the most remarkable aspects

of post-industrial philanthropy is the degree to which systems in various

countries throughout the world have come to resemble each other.

In Western Europe, “On average, three-fourths of all nonprofit employees…work

in education, health or social service organizations. This reflects the

historic role that the Catholic and Protestant churches have long played in the

education and social service field.” (p. 16). In America, “…almost half of

all nonprofit employment…is in the health field. This is more than twice as

high as the global average of 19.6%….” (p. 269) (On the other hand, it should

be pointed out, as Salamon does, that “one

out of every five nonprofit employees in the United States works in the

educational field. This is proportionally well below the all-country average

and also falls below the developed country average. The principal reason for

this is that the tradition of

separation of church and state in the U.S. has limited the growth of public

funding of religiously affiliated education institutions in the country….”)

(p. 270)

But in America, as in the other 22 countries during the past two decades,

financing nonprofits has had less and less to do with philanthropic giving and

more and more to do with fees paid for services by governments. In this

connection, Catholic Charities of America receives some 62 percent of its

annual $1.9 billion operating income from eight national agencies as well as

local and state governments, to provide home care for the elderly,

battered-women’s shelters, foster care, and other essential services.[1]

Global Civil Society was published at a time when the American economy

flourished

as no one had ever imagined it could. But not in Washington or in any other

world capital were those officials concerned with welfare policy over- curious

about what might happen if the global economy falters and a depression

threatens. Hopefully, a succeeding volume in this series will include a “What

If” chapter. We badly need thinking in this area.

[1] David Van Bema, “Can Charity Fill the Gap?” Time (December 4, 1995),

pp. 44-46, 53.

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America

Author(s):Jacoby, Daniel
Reviewer(s):Friedman, Gerald

Published by EH.NET (November 1998)

Daniel Jacoby, Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in

America. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998. 224 pp.

$61.95 (hardcover); $22.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0765602512 (hardcover);

0765602520 (paperback).

Reviewed for EH.NET by Gerald Friedman, Department of Economics,

University of

Massachusetts at Amherst.

Not so long ago, Labor History was a simple field chronicling the growth of

labor unions and labor-oriented political parties on the assumption that the

organized working class was to be the cutting

edge of social change. Upholding the banner of the organized working class,

labor historians from John R. Commons through Philip Foner and David Montgomery

shaped our conception of American industrial history from the 1920s through the

1980s.

In recent

years this simple vision of labor history has collapsed along with its Marxist

social theory. Critical of white,

male-dominated unions advancing a narrow, anti-Communist, and sometimes

politically conservative agenda, radicals rejected the old institutional

history. They sought to substitute a new labor history celebrating the

rank-and-file and focused on the radical opponents of the established union

leadership. Some rejected unions altogether to chronicle the history of groups

traditionally outside the unions, including household workers and racial

minorities. Speaking a new language of culture, gender, and race, some have

replaced the labor union with the community and transposed the locus of

struggle from the state and the workplace

to the social

group and the family.

Instead of strikes and elections, social struggles have become more abstract

and universal, contests over the definitions of words and the social

constructions of our realities.

From a different perspective, many neoclassical economists have joined

historians and anthropologists in rejecting the old labor history’s focus on

working-class institutions. Past labor historians,

they charge, have underestimated the ability of individual workers to better

their circumstances by using competitive markets. They have shown how free

workers have improved their circumstances, forcing up wages at undesirable jobs

by leaving them for alternative employment. Unions and cultural constructs,

they argue, are epiphenomena. The underlying reality

is the economic circumstances of society shaped by relative factor supplies

and technological change.

No longer is there a shared consensus about what labor history is or how to

place new works in a clear, ongoing chronicle.

Into this confusion comes Daniel Jacoby with a new vision of labor history as

the history of freedom. An economic historian at the University of Washington

at Bothell, Jacoby has written on public education and labor relations in the

Progressive Era. Here, he interprets American labor history as a struggle by

individual workers to gain ‘freedom,’ to win more power and more opportunity to

act without constraint. Jacoby interprets the struggle historically. It

changes over time because technology, social constructions, and institutions

shape the possible scope for opportunity and freedom in each period.

Behind this historical circumstance lies a still-greater contradiction, that

between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ freedom,

between ‘freedom from’ constraint and ‘freedom to’ act. Jacoby makes this

traditional dichotomy a useful tool by showing how in the United States the

distinction between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’

freedom has been manifested as a struggle over “independence or contract.” The

American Revolution, Jacoby argues, made

“republican independence” the nation’s creed, linking freedom to the ownership

of productive property. In 1776 this left little for blacks or women, largely

excluded from property ownership. But the American Revolution provided the

language with which Americans pragmatically dismantled “remaining bastions of

traditional authority” (page 33) including slavery and gender inequality.

Republicanism, Jacoby shows, was an expansive doctrine; its logic demanded that

America push freedom forward to encompass others,

to free the slave and to make blacks and women the legal equals of white men.

But at the same time that American society was conducting this republican

struggle for freedom from caste privilege,

it experienced growing division between capitalists and a growing class of

proletarian wage earners. For women and for ex-slaves,

extending the right to sell their wage labor power and to make contracts in the

wage-labor market was an extraordinary burst of freedom. (This was true as

well, although Jacoby says little about them, for the former European and

Asian serfs and small peasants who came to America and comprised much of our

wage labor force.) But the situation was very different for white male

laborers who became proletarian wage laborers instead of independent

producers. For them, the right to contract marked a loss of control over their

work, a loss of freedom, compared to some earlier, or anticipated, status as

free producers, managing their work independently. As proletarians, they

discovered, as Jacoby notes,

that in the traditional creed of republican independence “only property, not

merely the freedom to contract it, yielded an adequate basis for real

independence” (page 55). No longer able to achieve autonomy on their own,

these workers were forced to look towards social institutions and collective

action to gain freedom.

Having established the parameters of the controversy over freedom and contract,

Jacoby proceeds to interpret American history as the struggle between

‘freedom-from-constraints-on-labor-

contracts’ and ‘freedom-as-opportunity-to-regulate-work-

collectively.’ In the late-nineteenth century, Supreme Court Justice Stephen

J. Field extended the Fourteenth Amendment prohibition of legislation denying

individuals of any fundamental rights to an absolute protection of the right

of individuals and corporations to make contracts. Under the legal doctrine of

“Substantive Due Process,” courts between the 1880s and 1930s disallowed a

broad range of collective legislation and worker action regulating wages,

hours of work, and the conditions of employment. Substantive due process

protected individuals’ freedom from social and political constraints, by

assuring them their opportunity to make contracts.

But it ignored the basic inequality in opportunity between wealthy employers

and their workers. Jacoby shows how Progressive-era reformers sought to

reconcile contractual equality with capitalist property relations by extending

public education. Education was to assure equality of opportunity, to be “the

last countervailing force”

to economic tendencies undermining “labor freedom in the United States” (page

99). But an effective balance to powerful employers came only in the 1930s

when state support for labor unions allowed effective collective bargaining and

New-Deal era legislation and court decisions restricted the right to contact.

Expanding positive freedom came at the expense of negative freedom from

constraint.

The old labor history often ended with the New Deal,

vie wing it as the final achievement of the American labor movement.

Jacoby goes further. Although gender disappears from America’s struggle for

freedom in his later chapters, he carries his discussion of freedom into the

1990s, writing about Civil Rights and union struggles in the post-World War II

era. In the concluding chapters, Jacoby warns against the impact of free

markets on worker standards in the era of the “global piano.” He fears a

“race to the bottom” driving working

conditions and wages in advanced economies down to the level of the poorest.

Jacoby notes how Germany, Japan, and some other advanced countries have avoided

this threat from globalization through regulatory policy and advanced education

and suggests that the United States might learn from their experience. Thus

his work ends on a salutary note, recognizing past progress and warning

against future threats.

Laboring for Freedom provides a survey of American history that might be

useful for students in courses in economic history and history generally as

well in courses in labor history as such. The book provides little new

research. Instead, its merit is in the reinterpretation of older material,

placing an existing literature into a provocative new framework. Jacoby’s book

is deceptively thin. It has fewer than 170 pages of text but Jacoby packs into

this limited text a new synthesis of American history built around labor. This

is a significant achievement in a work that should be read widely by historians

and all social

scientists.

Gerald Friedman Department of Economics University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Gerald Friedman is the author of State-Making and Labor Movements:

France and the United States, 1876-1914 (Cornell University Press,

1998) as well as numerous

articles on the history of organized labor in the United States and Europe.

Subject(s):Labor and Employment History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII