Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Plea for Peasant Proprietors


The position of Charles Stewart Parnell and William O’Brien of the Irish National Land League was very close to that of William Thomas Thornton (1813-1880). Thornton suggested as much in 1874 in his revision of his most important work, A Plea for Peasant Proprietors (1848).

Thornton contended that had his proposals been adopted in the 1840s, “Fenianism” (Irish nationalism) would not have gained so much support. Thornton was a very strong supporter of widespread ownership of all forms of capital, and an opponent of the “scarcity economics” and population theories of the Reverend Thomas Malthus.

Unfortunately, in common with many economists and politicians down to the present day, Thornton was locked into the “slavery of past savings.” This had been embedded into public policy in the United Kingdom with the British Bank Charter Act of 1844, (7 & 8 Vict. c. 32. See Lord Overstone, Tracts and Other Publications on Metallic and Paper Currency. London: 1857; The Evidence Given By Lord Overstone on Bank Acts. London: Longman, Brown & Co., 1858.) and in the United States with the National Banking Act of 1863 (reformed 1864). (Ch. 58, 12 Stat. 665, February 25, 1863.)

Thornton’s Plea was written in response to the Great Famine in Ireland (1846-1852). In it, Thornton detailed a feasible proposal to create widespread ownership of landed capital among the Irish. His On Labor: Its Wrongful Claims and Rightful Dues in 1869 (revised 1871) laid out a similar proposal for other forms of capital. (Vide the appendices in the “Economic Classics Edition” of William Thomas Thornton’s A Plea for Peasant Proprietors. Arlington, Virginia: Economic Justice Media, 2011.)

Like Kelso and Adler, in On Labor, Thornton lumped land and other capital together as non-labor (non-human) factors of production. Henry George, of course, objected, and claimed that Thornton did not understand the difference between landed and non-landed capital.  George did not, of course, bother to prove that Thornton did not understand the alleged difference between landed and non-landed capital. He simply asserted, ridiculed Thornton and other economists foolish enough not to agree with the georgist program, and moved on.

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