Historical Ignorance on a National Scale: Income Inequality

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Historical Ignorance on a National Scale: Income Inequality

Yes­ter­day I found my self feel­ing burned out and decided to repair to a local restau­rant to for­get about the world, elec­tion and the lot for an hour or so.

Want­ing to do more than just watch TV at the place I grabbed a book off a shelf right next to the back door. It was the 1921 edi­tion of the His­tory of the United States by Charles and Mary Beard which inci­den­tally was the US His­tory Text­book for Fitch­burg High school back in 1934.

I man­aged to fin­ish about 10% of the 600+ pages in my sit­ting. As I sat and read while wait­ing for and eat­ing my sup­per it hit me how lit­tle of the infor­ma­tion I was read­ing is known or under­stood by the adults of today let alone taught to stu­dents. More impor­tantly there were bits that jumped out at me that is very sig­nif­i­cant in this elec­tion cycle.

Lately we’ve been hear­ing a lot about both the min­i­mum wage and “income inequal­ity” yet most peo­ple don’t under­stand how many of the peo­ple who came to Amer­ica in the early colo­nial days had lit­tle or noth­ing or sold them­selves into bondage sim­ply to get here. The his­tor­i­cal norm was a form of servi­tude either to a Lord or to a piece of land. As the Beards noted:

“It has been esti­mated that two-​thirds of all the immi­grants into Penn­syl­va­nia between the open­ing of the eigh­teenth cen­tury and the out­break of the Rev­o­lu­tion were in bondage”

and the need for labor meant that the com­pa­nies were not above kidnapping:

In 1680 it was offi­cially esti­mated that “ten thou­sand per­sons were spir­ited away” to amer­ica. Many of the vic­tims of the prac­tice were young chil­dren for the traf­fic in them was highly prof­itable. Orphans and depen­dents were some­times dis­posed of in amer­ica by rel­a­tives unwill­ing to sup­port them. In a sin­gle year, 1627, about fif­teen hun­dred chil­dren were shipped to Virginia.

And mind you all of what I’ve just quoted was NOT includ­ing the slave trade from Africa.

And even for those who weren’t in bondage the Amer­i­can Dream as we under­stand it today came from the unremit­ting labors of those will­ing to break their backs to make a go of it and even so had to deal with “quit rents” under Royal Char­ters that were in effect: “really a feu­dal pay­ment from free­hold­ers , an a source of income for the Crown as well as for the pro­pri­etors” (said pro­pri­etors being the Lords granted Crown char­ters and grants of land).

While rich through­out his­tory have always had com­fort and wealth In mod­ern Amer­ica the degree of com­fort, plea­sure and auton­omy and rel­a­tive safety that peo­ple at or near the bot­tom of the lad­der live so dwarfs the con­di­tion of early Amer­i­can set­tlers (let alone the peo­ple of the rest of the world) that such a con­di­tion would have been con­sid­ered an idylis­tic fan­tasy for those peo­ple for whom unre­lent­ing toil and the threat of death by dis­ease or war­fare were the norm.

So the next time some­one decides to give you a speech about the evils of “income inequal­ity” as they text from their iPhone that gives them not only world­wide com­mu­ni­ca­tion but access to almost the entirety of human knowl­edge of all time ask them the ques­tion that has never occurred to them between face­book posts:

“Income inequal­ity com­pared to when?”

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I’m back try­ing to get that very elu­sive $61 a day for DaTipJar

I’d like to think we do good work here If you’d like to help us keep up the pace please con­sider hit­ting DaTipJar




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Yesterday I found my self feeling burned out and decided to repair to a local restaurant to forget about the world, election and the lot for an hour or so.

Wanting to do more than just watch TV at the place I grabbed a book off a shelf right next to the back door. It was the 1921 edition of the History of the United States by Charles and Mary Beard which incidentally was the US History Textbook for Fitchburg High school back in 1934.

I managed to finish about 10% of the 600+ pages in my sitting. As I sat and read while waiting for and eating my supper it hit me how little of the information I was reading is known or understood by the adults of today let alone taught to students. More importantly there were bits that jumped out at me that is very significant in this election cycle.

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about both the minimum wage and “income inequality” yet most people don’t understand how many of the people who came to America in the early colonial days had little or nothing or sold themselves into bondage simply to get here. The historical norm was a form of servitude either to a Lord or to a piece of land. As the Beards noted:

“It has been estimated that two-thirds of all the immigrants into Pennsylvania between the opening of the eighteenth century and the outbreak of the Revolution were in bondage”

and the need for labor meant that the companies were not above kidnapping:

In 1680 it was officially estimated that “ten thousand persons were spirited away” to america. Many of the victims of the practice were young children for the traffic in them was highly profitable. Orphans and dependents were sometimes disposed of in america by relatives unwilling to support them. In a single year, 1627, about fifteen hundred children were shipped to Virginia.

And mind you all of what I’ve just quoted was NOT including the slave trade from Africa.

And even for those who weren’t in bondage the American Dream as we understand it today came from the unremitting labors of those willing to break their backs to make a go of it and even so had to deal with “quit rents” under Royal Charters that were in effect: “really a feudal payment from freeholders , an a source of income for the Crown as well as for the proprietors” (said proprietors being the Lords granted Crown charters and grants of land).

While rich throughout history have always had comfort and wealth In modern America the degree of comfort, pleasure and autonomy and relative safety that people at or near the bottom of the ladder live so dwarfs the condition of early American settlers (let alone the people of the rest of the world) that such a condition would have been considered an idylistic fantasy for those people for whom unrelenting toil and the threat of death by disease or warfare were the norm.

So the next time someone decides to give you a speech about the evils of “income inequality” as they text from their iPhone that gives them not only worldwide communication but access to almost the entirety of human knowledge of all time ask them the question that has never occurred to them between facebook posts:

“Income inequality compared to when?”

*******************************************************************

I’m back trying to get that very elusive $61 a day for DaTipJar

I’d like to think we do good work here If you’d like to help us keep up the pace please consider hitting DaTipJar




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Please consider Subscribing. We are currently 116.3 subscribers at $10 a month to make our goal every day without further solicitation but the numbers are even more interesting:

If less than 1/3 of 1% of our readers subscribed at $10 a month we’d have the 114.5 subscribers needed to our annual goal all year without solicitation.

Plus of course all subscribers get my weekly podcast emailed directly to you before it goes up anywhere else.


Choose a Subscription level