#WealthofTweets: Book 3.2

primogeniture teach adam smith chattel slavery entail taxes #wealthoftweets #smithtweets read the wealth of nations aristocracy abolitionism taille taxation

Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the Ancient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire
3 Feb • 24 tweets • adamsmithworks/status/1356964876825067523

Is it just us, or do you guys love it when #AdamSmith is all, “I am inventing modern economics! To do so, I must now discuss at length that time the Germans and Scythians overran the Roman Empire!” Because we are very much here for that. (III.ii.1) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

It’s probably just us. Anyway the Germans and Scythians overran the Roman Empire. It was bad.(III.ii.1) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Lots of land was deserted as people fled, then grabbed up or “engrossed” by a few people, who protected their grabbed land with primogeniture and entail. (III.ii.1) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

[We, the SmithTweeters, are middle children and thus no fans of primogeniture. We are also chicks and thus no fans of entail, even if it’s a great source of plots for #JaneAusten. We are fans of Jane Austen.] (III.ii.2–6) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

When land is just a source of food and housing, it tends to be divided equally within families. But when it becomes a source of power and wealth, watch out. People get grabby hands. (III.ii.3) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

That can be helpful, says Smith, because that power protects everyone on a landed estate. But it makes the rest of the family poor to keep the wealth and power in the hands of one person. (III.ii.4) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Entails (which prevent selling or giving away land by pre-establishing a line of inheritance) are even worse. They regulate the rights of current and future landowners by the whims of people who died centuries ago. (III.ii.5–6) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

All this means a huge amount of land is held by people who got it basically by chance, and there's no path to division or change. That’s bad. Smith says that great landowners are not usually great improvers of land. (III.ii.7) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Remember! Smith thinks that the landed aristocracy were mostly harmless but also mostly useless. MAYBE they want more land, but they don't care about improving its productivity. (III.ii.7) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Improving land is a skill set that requires being interested in boring stuff like drainage and forestry, not just buying fancy carriages and putting in granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. (Oops. Wrong century.) (III.ii.7) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

And it’s not like tenants are going to improve land they don’t own. “Don’t be gentle, it’s a rental” is a thing for a reason. (III.ii.8) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

And it’s even worse if slaves are working the land. (III.ii.9–12) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

We're going to pause for a moment because something awesome is about to happen. Smith is about to make the economic case against slavery, which William Wilberforce and other prominent abolitionists will use. (III.ii.9–12) #WealthOfTweets #BlackHistoryMonth

This should be one of the most celebrated arguments in this book. But today it's far too often forgotten when people talk Wealth of Nations. (III.ii.9–12) #SmithAgainstSlavery #WealthOfTweets #BlackHistoryMonth

Smith hates slavery: it’s bad for slaves, it's bad for slave owners, it's bad for land improvement, it's bad for the economy. It’s bad for everything. Always has been, always will be. (III.ii.9–12) #SmithAgainstSlavery #WealthOfTweets #BlackHistoryMonth

Humans love to domineer over others. Owning slaves is something people will 𝘱𝘢𝘺 𝘵𝘰𝘥𝘰. The more profitable the enterprise, the more slave labor it can support. That’s not good. Smith’s 𝐧𝐨𝐭 praising it. It’s just true. (III.ii.10) #BlackHistoryMonth #WealthOfweets

Smith has moral arguments against slavery, too. Here he’s focusing on the economic ones, but those aren't the only ones he cares about. For more on Smith and slavery (he’s against it. #BlackHistoryMonth #WealthOfTweets

Tenancy is much better than slavery because tenants have freedom and the ability to own property. They are thus interested in the work they are doing. But it’s still not as good as really owning the land you work. (III.ii.12–13) #SmithAgainstSlavery #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

England is really good at securing the rights of tenants and yeomen. That's good. Go England! (III.ii.14–15) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

“Avarice and injustice are always short-sighted.” #MicDrop. (III.ii.16) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Oh, have we mentioned that Smith enjoys a good critique of the French? The French treat yeomen badly—lots of public service requirements and high taxes. (III.ii.18–19)C'est mechant, ca! #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Including a particularly nasty tax called a “taille”, a tax based on the stock you have on your land, not on what you actually produce. So it actively discourages improvements. Bien fait!! (III.ii.19) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

All this means that farmers are only able to improve their land slowly and with difficulty. That’s bad. (III.ii.21) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Tomorrow things should look a little cheerier. On to the rise of cities! See you then! #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

See also the AdamSmithWorks Reading Guide for this chapter.