walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Foucault and the business cycle

Here he is describing the role served by the hospital/workhouses, the houses of confinement: "The cycle was clear: in times of high wages and full employment, they provided a low-cost workforce, while in a slump they absorbed the unemployed, and protected society against unrest and riots." He notes that the first workhouses showed up in the first areas to be industrialized (Worcester, Norwich, Bristol, Lyon, Hamburg).

I have no idea whether this will be in scope for this book or not, but it is interesting to note that public charitable activities even in the US continued to focus on tying assistance for the poor and unemployed to them doing some kind of (useful) labor -- including the urban garden movements. This changed in the middle of the Great Depression, as everyone very belatedly realized that the last thing farmers and industry needed was competition from even cheaper goods, and assistance was instead directed to increase consumption, rather than production. The change is so recent, and such a dramatic turnabout from centuries of previous experience, that a lot of people still haven't wrapped their brains around why we do things this way.

ETA: _Great_ quote from Daniel Defoe: 'this is giving to one what you take away from the other; putting a vagabond in an honest man's employment, and putting diligence on the tenters to find out some other work to maintain his family', talking about exactly the same issue, leading to a slightly different outcome. Yes, the emphasis on production decreased -- but the workhouses increasingly turned into prisons instead, especially since they no longer had a mechanism for earning money to pay for what they provided their inmates.

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