In the shadow of speenhamland: social policy and the



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1 Recent writings in favor of the basic income idea include Van Parijs 1992, Block and Manza 1997, and Cohen and Rogers 2001.

2 Among the important parliamentary reports that led up to the Royal Commission Report were the Report from the Select Committee on the Poor Laws (1817), Report from the Commitee on the Poor Laws (1819), and Report from the Select Committee on Labourers Wages (1824)

3 To be sure, in those years in which wheat prices were unusually high, poor law outlays would rise across the whole country since parishes had to adjust the income of dependent populations.

4 Webb and Webb (1927, pp. 221-240) provides the classic account of the failure of numerous efforts–in workhouses and farms–to derive profit from the labor of those who were in need of relief.

5 On the other hand, high rates of unemployment certainly played a role in radicalizing employed farm workers, such as those who participated in the Captain Swing rebellion in 1830. One of the main targets of the rebels were the threshing machines that increased seasonal unemployment (Hobsbawm and Rude 1968, Reay 1990).

6 Our definition of Speenhamland also excludes child allowances. The justification is simply practical--to make the story more manageable. Child allowances represented only a small proportion of poor law outlays and played little role in arguments about work disincentives. Moreover, this paper will not address the issue of child allowances as a possible encouragement to excess fertility (Boyer 1990).

7 Napoleon abdicated for the first time in early April 1814 and then returned from Elba for three more months of war in 1815. Hence, in annual series, 1813 generally marks the peak of the wartime boom because it was the last full year of war.

8 With this change in meaning, there was also a change in generosity. The post-1813 scales, even holding the price of wheat constant, were considerably less generous than those used in famine years. But the famine payments were to households with a fulltime worker and the post-1813 payments represented a fraction of what an employed worker would receive (See Hammond and Hammond [1911] 1966, pp. 181-182, for a somewhat misleading comparison of these scales.)

9 Drawing on settlement hearings, Snell (1985) argues that there was a significant decline in women's employment opportunities in the wheat growing regions from the 1790's onward. However, Horrell and Humphries (1995) family budget data show women and children providing

10 Keynes ([1923] 1932, p. 194) is explicit about the parallel when speaking of his contemporaries who favored an immediate return to the pre-war parity: "This view is in accordance with that expressed by Ricardo in analogous circumstances a hundred years ago." Polanyi (n.d.) also recognized the parallels between the two post-war periods in a short unpublished piece entitled, “1820 vs. 1920", but he chose not to emphasize this parallel in The Great Transformation.

11 There was, however, an underconsumptionist current of economic thinking in this period that favored governmental action (Link 1959, Hilton 1977, pp. 77-79). Ironically, Malthus was the chief theorist of this current that rejected the Ricardian view that supply creates its own demand (Checkland 1949, Semmel 1970).

12 The outbreak of rural disorder, in turn, played a key role in undermining rural support for the Old Poor Law (Dunkley 1982, Mandler 1987).

13 The question of the actual impact of the New Poor Law is still intensely debated. For recent discussions, see Driver 1993, King 2000.

14 For a description of the intense anti-Ricardo backlash after the 1825 crash, see Gordon
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