Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Loathsome Timothy Taylor

I was composing a piece in which for some reason I referred to "the loathsome Timothy Taylor." But then I paused and asked myself "why loathsome?" Shortly after I read this comment by Owen Paine at Economist's View: "Timmy Taylor is a loathsome lamprey like creature..." referring to a piece by Taylor, "Are Labor Markets Exploitative," Mark Thoma had linked to. I have to credit Taylor with answering my query.

Taylor's schtick was to cite a long piece from a pro-slavery essay that also referred to labor markets as exploitive.

"Of course," Mr. Taylor demurs, "the fact that a point of view has some appalling allies doesn't make it incorrect." Of course, his whole point in citing the passage was to insinuate the very conclusion he disavows.

But what of Mr. Taylor's allies? I won't stoop to the sweeping generalities that he did but will here confine myself to the "lump-of-labor fallacy" crowd of professional detractors against shorter work time. Taylor, as I have pointed out, wrote a piece titled "Dept of Misunderstandings" reciting the bogus fallacy claim.

Well, there is a history to that claim (that I happen to have researched) and one of the more despicable documents I encountered was "An Arbitrary Workday" published in 1903 by Smith and Walmsley, one of the first commercial public relations firms to set up office in Washington D.C. The "report" by Robert H. Watkins is loaded with the same kind of sappy Horatio Alger uplift schmaltz that Taylor admires but, also this:
The passage of the bill would indeed in its clumsy way go far toward engrafting the system of eight hours a day throughout the United States, but to contemplate what that would mean is to think of nothing less than a national folly. In my humble opinion, if the bill should pass and every manufacturing concern in the country and every employer of labor should consent to and adopt the eight-hour system, it would instantly mark the decay of the splendid prestige of the United States as the richest and most powerful country on earth. As I have already said, I believe the measure an assault upon the liberty of both the employer and the employee. I do not wish to see the day when American manufacturers and American workmen should not have all the chances they desire with the manufacturers and workmen of the rest of the world. The arbitrary rule of eight hours would make men machines that would surely rust, and would discourage individuality of effort and purpose. It would subject us to a competition with foreign producers with which we could not possibly cope. Civilization has not yet reached the period of impossible felicity when multitudes of men may every day, year in and year out, quit work and go to improving themselves with idleness. The notion that the employer, finding he can not get as much out of his men by only eight hours, will be obliged to employ more men to complete the job, will not do to consider in these days. Under that system manufacturing in America will go backward and employers grow less. As line after line of production is abandoned the crowds of idle will be correspondingly increased. 
Having lived for some years in a Southern State which has made remarkable progress in manufacturing, especially in metal production and in mining, I contemplate with dread the effect there of a possible eight-hour system for labor. A great proportion of Southern labor is negro labor. To turn loose every day the hordes of negroes that would be idle so much of the day as the eight-hour system would give them would visit on the South nothing short of calamity. The negro problem is grave enough at best. It is vexing the calm of our greatest statesmen and baffling already the efforts of our most strenuous intellects. Who is going to provide entertainment, profitable and wholesome entertainment, for our negroes in their hours of ease? Who is going to guarantee that the passions of the blacks -- the millions of blacks -- will conform themselves to the invocations of the lyceum and the library? It is a matter of record that the towns and urban communities throughout the South show that there is most crime among negroes on days on which they are not at work, their few whole holidays and their once-a-week half-holidays. The eight-hour system would give them some holiday every day and the race would either degrade every community in the South or have to be exterminated. 
The negro is not the only human creature to whom enforced or optional idleness is a bane. The best gift of our institutions is in the chance of manful, self-reliant independence. The law should foster it and not hamper and degrade it.
The eight-hour crusade, once having enlisted the aid of the Congress of the United States, would be as stupendous and deplorable an absurdity as was the crusade of the fanatical children of the middle ages.
Now I'm not saying that Timothy Taylor is an advocate of racialist extermination. I'm simply pointing out the odiousness, the loathsomeness of his style of insinuated ad hominem guilt by association. Yes, indeed. The loathsome Timmy Taylor.

"A more despicable belly crawler is inconceivable," Owen Paine concluded in his comment on the Taylor blog post.


Magpie said...

"loathsome lamprey like creature"

Man, I really wish I could come up with something like that. You don't know how jealous I feel right now. said...

For the record, Tim Taylor is a nice guy, even if he is off base in this piece, along with some others. Calling him "loathsome" may be lots of fun, but he is not.

Sandwichman said...

For the record, Barkley. I'm sure you're right about Tim being a "nice guy." Perhaps my note to Tim will clarify what I was trying to do:

Thanks for getting back, Tim. Barkley Rosser says you're a nice guy. I'm sure you are. I certainly agree that the rest of my note was "rude and childish name-calling." To be more precise, I was being loathsome.

What I was trying to do is hold up a mirror to what you had actually done in your post (whether or not that was your intention). I even included the disclaimer that I wasn't calling you an advocate of extermination.

Why so ill-tempered? I've done quite a bit of archival research on the discourse related to the specimen I sent that you found interesting. The discourse is vile. It goes well beyond ill-tempered to slanderous. I would recommend especially Edward Carleton Tufnell's 1833 Character, Object, and Effects of Trades' Unions.

The piece I sent you was from An Arbitrary Workday which is interesting as a document of the crossover of the particular form of the anti-union slander from Britain to the U. S. in the early 20th century. It also includes the congressional testimony of A. B. Farquhar of the National Association of Manufacturers transmitting the anti-union propaganda from a series published in the Times of London about "the crisis in British industry."

The propaganda discourse I study is not merely rude and childish. It had effects. Workers were sent to prison, transported and hanged. But at the same time, sanitized versions of the propaganda seeped into the "respectable" discourse of political economy and economics and was canonized as if it was theory. That is to say, economists repeated it unquestioningly ad nauseum without knowing a thing about its origins.

You know that quote from Keynes about madmen in authority distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back? Well, it works the other way too. Academics distill their scribbling from raving propagandists of earlier centuries. It got to the point in the 19th century in Britain where Frederic Harrison referred to "that anti-social jargon, which so easily passes for economic science":

Political economy professes to be a science based on observation. But the bitter pedantry which often usurps that name usually assumes its facts, after it has rounded off dogmas to suit its clients. In practice this magazine of untruth escapes detection for two reasons. One is that the facts relating to labour are invariably seen through the spectacles of capital. The employing class is virtually in possession of the whole machinery of information; and all judgments are tinged with the tone current among them. Thus we see the very newspapers which celebrate the amusements of the rich in a hundred different forms, scandalized at the coal miners objecting to grub in the pits every day in the week. Laziness, ingratitude, and extortion, seem the proper terms for sportsmen and fine ladies to apply to the men and children who swelter half their lives underground. The second reason which obscures the truth about industry is, that the facts about capital are almost never honestly disclosed....

Magpie said...

As everyone is making their stances clear, so will I: I don't mean the lamprey thing describes anybody in particular, let alone people unknown to me.

I only mean it's really funny and I'm still jealous.