The standard of living debate

Topics: Industrial Revolution, Marxism, 18th century Pages: 7 (1741 words) Published: July 7, 2014
Arsheen Aziz
HST 333 Victorian England
The Standard of Living Debate in 18TH Century England
The standard of living debate is essentially between two groups of people, the pessimists and the optimists. The optimists believe that the standard of living had increased over a specific time. The pessimists believe that it did not increase, that for some it actually decreased. Each historian studied the standard of living of the working class in England during the 18th century. There are five historians that we studied; Gillboy, Hobsbawm, Hartwell, Thompson, and Himmelfarb. In addition to these five we have studied a number of others, however these are the five that stood out to me most. Some of these historians view the debate as optimists. Their opinion is that the standard of living had increased because of the rise of technology during the Industrial Revolution. Then, there are some historians that view this debate as pessimists. Those in fact don’t see the standard of living increasing, but in fact decreasing. In my opinion, the optimists or those who argue that the standard of living increased have capitalistic views. Those who are pessimists have non-capitalistic views and some are in actuality have communist beliefs and values. These historians have been developing their work through different time periods, and the standard of living debate is something that has been studied throughout decades. It is interesting to see how each historian develops their own opinions on the standard of living and how the time period they are writing in also has an affect on their view. Many of the historians state how the debate is so important and this is because capitalism originated with the industrial revolution. Each historian had their viewpoint on capitalism, if they were for it or against it, and this was largely due to the distribution of wealth. The standard of living debate in the 18th century changes throughout time because each historian develops a different view on it and capitalism from the 1930’s up until the 1980’s. Elizabeth Gillboy was an optimist who felt that the standard of living had increased since the Industrial Revolution. She had written “The Cost of Living and Real Wages in Eighteenth Century England” in 1936. This took place during the Great Depression, and her views were that the times were going to get better. She had a business cycle that was based off of the cost of living and real wages. She argued that there would be success when we see a rise of technology in a specific industry. She clearly states in her article “The cost of living and that of real wages over time is a subject of never failing interest to the economist.” (134) She goes on to discuss the importance of the business cycle, and explains how it changes the well being of the working class. Gillboy also mentions how not only are these trends important to an economic historian, but also a theorist. She breaks down the different groups of statistics calculated for London, England. The groups consist of cereals, animal products, beverages and condiments, candles and coal, and clothing. She develops many charts to analyze the data collected in these categories. She concludes that the groups showed a great similarity of the movement. Gillboy concludes with stating how the real wages increased in the latter half of the century when the cost of living was rising. She believes that they do rise together, and that this situation could be repeated in the future. The next historian is E.J. Hobsbawm, and he wrote the “The British Standard of Living 1790-1850”. He wrote this article in 1957 during the cold war time era. He starts off his article with clearly stating that the standard of living debate has been going on for 30 years. Hobsbawm was a communist and had a pessimist view toward the debate. He argued that more capita doesn’t mean equal distribution. The working class doesn’t always get the same benefit that the upper class had...
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