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May 29, 2006



"British citizens are victims of primitive accumulation - say through enclosures - which deprived them and their descendants of the land necessary to earn a subsistence living." Is there actually any decent evidence for this, or is just repeated endlessly without critical scrutiny?

Chris Williams

Yes. Here's some:

Brutal URL, I admit. There's more evidence in a less polemical format all over the place, but I selected that one becuase I thought it would appeal to you. In any case, Linebaugh knows his stuff.

If that's too much, but you want something nice and conservative which illustrates the same point, get hold of:

David EASTWOOD, Communities, Protest and Police in early Nineteenth-Century Oxfordshire: The Enclosure of Otmoor Reconsidered, in: AgHistRev 44, 1996, p. 35


Thanks Chris. I've had only the briefest of looks but it does seem that he (the URL guy)is muddling up two meanings of "commoner". (1) Someone who is neither royal nor noble. (2) Someone who has a right, in common with defined others, to use a defined part of the land of an estate/town/what-have-you e.g. for grazing, collecting firewood, etc. This does not inspire confidence.


You have to hand it to Goodhart - it's not any easy one, and he's quite gutsy to raise it in the first place.

The problem is in coming up with a formula.

Your formulation of the justification of welfare, for instance, is problematic. You say....

"British citizens are victims of primitive accumulation - say through enclosures - which deprived them and their descendants of the land necessary to earn a subsistence living. Welfare benefits can be seen as compensation for this expropriation. Because we don't still expropriate all land from Africans, and so don't deprive them of a subsistence living, we owe them no such obligation."

I'm not sure about this as a foundation on which welfare is based. Socialists would suggest that there is a moral duty of solidarity that we owe to ANY victims of market failure. The obvious problem comes in selling this idea to the entire population of the UK who would have to accept a massive cut in their standard of living to meet the global need that this creates.

But your formula certainly wasn't the basis on which welfare was introduced in the first place. It was acheived by a combination of nervous nation states heading off more extreme demands, and by workers who demanded a safety net for the future in return for an agreement to meet wartime production targets.

I suppose Goodhart's argument could be boiled down by saying that it is possible for UK citizens to contemplate universal welfare for UK citizens, but not any wider.

His problem is the word 'obligations'. An obligation is usually a subjective thing in practice. The old anarchist writer, Colin Ward used to argue that the vast majority of practical obligations that we have are informal and uncodified.


Nor does he know what a "hydrocarbon" is, nor does he distinguish a commoner from a villager, nor does he seem to realise that assarting was theft (from both the landowner and the commoners) etbloodycetera.

Anyway, it still isn't about the key issue of enclosure, which often had nothing to do with commons since in many counties there wasn't any common land left. "Critical scrutiny" it ain't.


Surely the adjective "progressive" has the same effect on the noun it modifies as "social" - thus "social justice", "social democracy" etc etc.

If so, the old Etonian was actually promoting the opposite of nationalism, which I take to be inter-nationalism.

Chris Williams

And that, dearieme, is why I cited Eastwood's article as well as Linebaugh's.

The problem with dicussing this issue is that it becomes tied up with accusations of category errors. If you think only in terms of freehold property, for example, then commoners were indeed getting something for nothing, and ought to have been grateful.

But the idea of freehold real property that we currently hold is the outcome of a long struggle over how property, and who ought to have rights over it, should be defined. Modern-day arguments about whether enclosure was 'right' or not are very hard to map on to the past for this reason.

Incidentally, there was also an equally long struggle over how the right or duty to sell/extract labour ought to be defined. Freedom of contract within the UK is less than 200 years old: the last Master and Servant laws in the Empire were kicked into touch by the ILO in the 1930s.


"Existing citizens' interests count too, especially poorer ones who are most likely to lose out from immigration."

now see this is where this David guy clearly doesn't know what he's talking about and joins the usual disinformation bandwagon about 'losing out from immigration'. yep existing citizens count - sure. the poorer ones who are most likely to lose out from immigration - wrong. firstly - how so? even if you assume the asylum seekers are coming and sitting around on 'benefits' - still, they're only a very small percentage of the immigration picture. the rest of us are on visas and we pay tax on our incomes - and aren't allowed 'recourse to public funds' . which is fine by me - more for those on the dole obviously! if more people put in to the pot than take out - who does it benefit? the ones on the dole - again. One could argue, ah well but these fancy intl types on work permits are taking jobs away from the Brits - yes you could argue that - but then you'll find the people I might be competing for jobs aren't the same ones around the dole queue.


good post.

id say that the main problem people have when they talk about immigration is that they don't really know what they're talking about - in terms of the rules and conditions etc. and why should they - since British people don't have to get on visas how are they to know about what those of on visas and permits can or can't do! most of my british friends find it surprising that i'm not allowed recourse to public funds. i don't - i agreed to abide by the rules and conditions in order to get my visa - and the first condition is - as long as you don't sponge on us, you can live here and earn the money and pay taxes like everyone else.

if david and other people are worried about the 'negative' impact of immigration - then they should be encouraging the govt. to be more open about immigration - so more people are legal rather than illegal - for when they're illegal - you can't turn it into an advantage for your country

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