Friday, July 22, 2011

On Free Time

I am currently reading Michael Perelman's The Invention of Capitalism (Duke University Press, 2000). One of his central theses is that primitive accumulation is a technique of expropriation that continues during the historical development of capitalism, rather than a process that only occurred before, or during the formation of, capitalism.

Part of the process of primitive accumulation, or what, following David Harvey, I prefer to call accumulation by dispossession, requires curtailing free time. Perelman writes, in a striking passage on page 17:
Although their standard of living may not have been particularly lavish, the people of precapitalistic northern Europe, like most traditional people, enjoyed a great deal of free time. [...] Joan Thirsk estimated that in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, about one-third of the working days, including Sundays, were spent in leisure. Karl Kautsky offered a much more extravagant estimate that 204 annual holidays were celebrated in medieval Lower Bavaria. [...] Even as late as the 1830s, we hear the complaint [from the moralizing elite, no doubt] that the Irish working year contained only 200 days after all holidays had been subtracted.

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