There was a great deal of continuity between the Whig landed aristocracy that carried out the enclosures and other abrogations of traditional rights to the land, and the employing classes of early industrial Britain. The early industrialists of Manchester, far from being (as Mises portrayed them) an upstart class who accumulated capital through their own parsimony, were junior partners of the landed oligarchy; the latter were a major source of investment capital. And the factory owners benefited, in addition, from near-totalitarian social controls on the movement and free association of labor; this legal regime included the Combination Acts, the Riot Act, and the law of Settlements (the latter amounting to an internal passport system).
In addition, the general legal framework (as Benjamin Tucker described it) restricted labor's access to its own capital through such forms of self-organization as mutual banks. As a result of this "money monopoly," workers were forced to sell their labor in a buyer's market on terms set by the owning classes, and thus pay tribute (in the form of a wage less than their labor-product) for access to the means of production.
Lysander Spooner, a hero to many anarcho-capitalists, in Natural Law described the process in somewhat less than capitalistic language:
“In process of time, the robber, or slaveholding, class---who had seized all the lands, and held all the means of creating wealth---began to discover that the easiest mode of managing their slaves, and making them profitable, was not for each slaveholder to hold his specified number of slaves, as he had done before, and as he would hold so many cattle, but to give them so much liberty as would throw upon themselves (the slaves) the responsibility of their own subsistence, and yet compel them to sell their labor to the land-holding class---their former owners---for just what the latter might choose to give them. Of course, these liberated slaves, as some have erroneously called them, having no lands, or other property, and no means of obtaining an independent subsistence, had no alternative---to save themselves from starvation---but to sell their labor to the landholders, in exchange only for the coarsest necessaries of life; not always for so much even as that.
These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less slaves than they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even more precarious than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to preserve his life. They were liable, at the caprice or interest of the landholders, to be thrown out of home, employment, and the opportunity of even earning a subsistence by their labor. They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to the necessity of begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerous to the property and quiet of their late masters.
The consequence was, that these late owners found it necessary, for their own safety and the safety of their property, to organize themselves more perfectly as a government and make laws for keeping these dangerous people in subjection; that is, laws fixing the prices at which they should be compelled to labor, and also prescribing fearful punishments, even death itself, for such thefts and tresspasses as they were driven to commit, as their only means of saving themselves from starvation.”
19 March 2011
Lysander Spooner on the Industrial Revolution
Was the Industrial Revolution in Britain a natural outcome of a market phenomenon? Kevin Carson says “no”: