Tuesday, July 10, 2007

L&S: Cats and Dogs, Living Together...

As Glen said, John has just given a terrific talk on women and industrialization. There's no better feeling than being "lit on fire" by a talk. John has got me thinking about so many ideas for my work on classical liberalism and the family, as well as providing great intellectual ammunition for discussions about the effects of the industrial revolution.

One quick comment on Glen's point below: he's quite right that inequality is increasing looked at in percentage terms, but life for the poorest is clearly getting better. This poses the question of whether we should care about inequality or about how well off the poorest are. In my own view, it's worth more inequality to improve the well-being of the poor.

John's opening slide was a picture of an English family engaged in "putting out." He pointed out that everything in the picture in their home was about their production activities. The home was the workplace, and the contents of the home were almost exclusively capital goods. Toward the end, he had a picture of a home from later in the 19th century. He was using it to illustrate the power that women had gained as it shows a woman buying cloth for the household (which compares favorably to earlier in the century when men ruled the roost). What struck me in that picture was that the household was full of consumption goods. Nothing seemed to better symbolize the increasing wealth that the Industrial Revolution produced.

The latter picture also had a dog and cat in it. This got me thinking about pets and wondering whether early IR families tended to have dogs, and if so, were they much more likely to be working breeds (e.g., herding sheep or hunting game)? I can imagine that pets underwent a transformation process similar to children, beginning as "capital goods" or inputs into household production, and then becoming consumption goods as industrialization took hold.

If that's right, it might suggest that rising wealth increases the commonality of cats as pets, as they are pretty much worthless as capital goods (says Steve the dog lover). Although I suppose in the crummy housing that characterized the early industrial era, having something to catch mice might have been pretty valuable. But still... they're cats, you know?

Update: A cat-loving friend tells me that cats were valued in ancient times for their ability to keep rodents away from stored grain. So a capital good indeed. We might also note the division of labor between cats and dogs - the latter perhaps protecting the livestock and helping find food, while the former helped preserve the value of harvested grain. With the relative demise of those agricultural and hunting needs, both have become (mostly anyway) consumption goods. But still...they're cats.

1 comment:

Einzige said...

...and, therefore, totally awesome!