Alice A. Bailey (AAB) had some interesting things to say about Capitalism. When reading the works of Alice A. Bailey, many of which she attributed to Djwhal Khul (DK), one has to ask the question whether one believes that attribution to be real, the revelations of a much advanced “Master of Wisdom,” or a product possibly of her imagination or alter ego, or something else.
Her writings attributed to DK on Capitalism are I think a good test. For example in Problems of Humanity we read:
“With invention of machinery and the inauguration of the machine age during the 18th and 19th centuries, the condition of the labouring elements of the population became acutely bad; living conditions were abominable, unsanitary and dangerous to health, owing to the growth of urban areas around factories. They still are, as witness the housing problem of munitions workers during the past several years and the situation around the coal fields both in the States and Great Britain. The exploitation of children increased. The sweat-shop flourished; modern capitalism came into its own and the sharp distinction between the very poor and the very rich became the outstanding characteristic of the Victorian era. From the angle of the planned evolutionary and spiritual development of the human family, leading to civilized and cultural living and to fair play and equal opportunity for all, the situation could not have been worse. Commercial selfishness and wild discontent flourished. The very rich flaunted their superior status in the faces of the very poor, paralleled with a patronizing paternalism. The spirit of revolution grew among the herded, overworked masses who, by their efforts, contributed to the wealth of the rich classes.” CHAPTER III – THE PROBLEM OF CAPITAL, LABOUR AND EMPLOYMENT
Much of the above is just not accurate, not accurate from a historical perspective. It is I think possibly something you might expect an admirer of the 1940s British Labor Movement to believe, or what an admirer of the principles (though not necessarily the practices) of Communism might believe. It is not something I would expect a “Master of Economic Wisdom” to teach.
However the majority of people today, the product of modern education, would probably believe AAB/DK’s description of Capitalism above. Perhaps we can borrow on a useful principle taught by the writer Joseph J. Dewey when he said that:
“Take those concepts that are embraced by the authorities of the world and look in the opposite direction” -Provocative Quotes
To “look in the opposite direction” we need to read what some defenders of Capitalism had to say. Robert Hessen, an American economic and business historian, largely debunks the popular history of the evils of child labor:
“One is both morally unjust and ignorant of history if one blames capitalism for the condition of children during the Industrial Revolution, since, in fact, capitalism brought an enormous improvement over their condition in the preceding age.”
“One cannot evaluate the phenomenon of child labor in England during the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, unless one realizes that the introduction of the factory system offered a livelihood, a means of survival, to tens of thousands of children who would not have lived to be youths in the pre-capitalistic eras.” The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children
Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution in England was literally a means of survival unavailable to earlier generations. To see this truth starkly illustrated one only has to look at the population of England during the time period from 1750 to 1820 and see that the population doubled and the age distribution changed dramatically with many more children being represented in the population. In earlier times, without Capitalism, without factories and without child labor in those factories, many of these children would have died – their parents could not support them.
Quoting Robert Hessen again:
“Both the rising population and the rising life expectancy give the live to the claims of socialist and fascist critics of capitalism that the conditions of the laboring classes were progressively deteriorating during the Industrial Revolution.” The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children
The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children is available as Ch. 8 in Ayn Rand’s book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
So when AAB (or DK) writes that:
“With invention of machinery and the inauguration of the machine age during the 18th and 19th centuries, the condition of the labouring elements of the population became acutely bad; …”
She is spouting nonsense. The conditions of many children before that time were drastically worse. Working in a 19th century factory was no picnic by any means, but it was an improvement over dying of starvation or neglect as a child because your parents couldn’t afford you (and had no reliable birth control).
AAB is correct when she writes that “The exploitation of children increased.” What she (or DK) didn’t seem to understand is that before this time “un-exploited” children died en masse because their parents couldn’t adequately feed or take care of them. Imagine the plight of a 16th century peasant family trying to decide which of their children to feed and which to neglect? That was the reality (as it still is in some very backward places of the world today).
She writes that:
“… modern capitalism came into its own and the sharp distinction between the very poor and the very rich became the outstanding characteristic of the Victorian era”
Up until the modern era, long preceding Capitalism, there were often “sharp distinction[s] between the very poor and the very rich.” What Capitalism did was to vastly increase the number of the very rich, and enormously after several generations, the number of those between the very poor and the very rich – the middle class.
One could say a lot more on this. I highly recommend reading Robert Hessen’s article quoted above to dispel some of the popular nonsense about Capitalism. It is probably most easily available in Ayn Rand’s book mentioned above.
Was AAB right that there was selfishness and greed? Of course. That has always been true of humanity. Capitalism didn’t make people more selfish or greedy than they already were. What it did do, and this is the one factor the Socialists have never figured out, was harness some of that greed and selfishness to the greater good. If you want to make and sell things and get rich then you first have to figure out what people want and need, and then figure out a way to make it so they can afford it.
Was everything about early Capitalism a “bed of roses” that authors like Ayn Rand might like to tell you ? No, there were many abuses, and still are. But the obvious fact that I think any “Master of Wisdom” should be able to see is that first and foremost this was a necessary stage in human evolution. If it had not happened you and I would be sitting in a dirty hovel most likely without electricity or running water instead of setting in front of a technical marvel which is the computer you are reading this on.
In all of human history no single event has had a more beneficial effect on human living conditions than the rise of Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Was it terrible by modern standards? Yes. But you don’t even want to try to understand what life was like before that for most people. Most literature before the modern era does not dwell in depth on the plight of the “common man and woman,” and for good reason. It was not a pretty picture.