Sunday, January 21, 2007

Yeomen As Foundation of Scientific Revolution

Peter Turney blogs that the heroic theory of scientific development needs to be challenged, since every case of revolutionary scientific breakthrough appears to have occurred independently more than once near the same time. My contention is that there is more to it than that. There is evidence of an independent yeoman class as the foundation of scientific revolution, frequently motivated by the very competition to be first that Turny cites as evidence of the historic inevitability of revolutionary thought. This can be found by looking at the lives of the people Peter chose as exemplars:

Having left Italy at the end of his studies, he [Copernicus -- JAB] came to live and work at Frombork (Frauenburg). Some time before his return to Warmia, he had received a position at the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross in Breslaw in Silesia in Germania 1635 map, which he would attend to for many years and only resign for health reasons shortly before his death. Through the rest of his life, he performed astronomical observations and calculations, but only as time permitted and never in a professional capacity.

The Brunswicks tolerated the enormous effort Leibniz devoted to intellectual pursuits unrelated to his duties as a courtier, pursuits such as perfecting the calculus, writing about other mathematics, logic, physics, and philosophy, and keeping up a vast correspondence. He began working on the calculus in 1674; the earliest evidence of its use in his surviving notebooks is 1675. By 1677 he had a coherent system in hand...

in 1665, the University closed down as a precaution against the Great Plague. For the next 18 months Newton worked at home on calculus, optics and the law of gravitation.

After the death of his brother William in 1845, Wallace left his teaching position to assume control of his brother's firm... In 1848, Wallace, together with another naturalist, Henry Walter Bates (whom he had met in Leicester), left for Brazil to collect specimens in the Amazon Rainforest... In 1855, Wallace published a paper, On the Law Which has Regulated the Introduction of Species...

He was the fifth of six children of wealthy society doctor and financier Robert Darwin... In 1827, his father, unhappy at his younger son's lack of progress, shrewdly enrolled him in a Bachelor of Arts course at Christ's College, University of Cambridge to qualify as a clergyman, expecting him to get a good income as an Anglican parson.[14] However, Darwin preferred riding and shooting to studying.[15] Along with his cousin William Darwin Fox, he became engrossed in the craze at the time for the competitive collecting of beetles,[16] Fox introduced him to the Reverend John Stevens Henslow, professor of botany, for expert advice on beetles. Darwin subsequently joined Henslow's natural history course and became his favourite pupil, known to the dons as "the man who walks with Henslow"... Once exams drew near, Darwin focused on his studies and received private instruction from Henslow... he returned home to find a letter from Henslow who had recommended Darwin as a suitable (if unfinished) naturalist for the unpaid position of gentleman's companion to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle which was to leave in four weeks on an expedition to chart the coastline of South America. His father objected to the planned two-year voyage, regarding it as a waste of time, but was persuaded by his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood, to agree to his son's participation.

JAB: Moreover, this has not escaped the attention of public policy thinkers widely ranging from Martin Luther King Jr (in his last published words) to Charles Murray (of the right wing American Enterprise Institute), in their arguments for a citizens' dividend which places all citizens in an independent yeoman class.

First Martin Luther King, Jr.:

New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote, in Progress and Poverty:

"The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased."
Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life and in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he know that he has the means to seek self-improvement.

And now the recent work of the AEI's Charles Murray:

"Murray suggests eliminating all welfare transfer programs at the federal, state, and local levels and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone age twenty-one or older. In Our Hands describes the financial feasibility of the Plan and its effects on retirement, health care, poverty, marriage and family, work, neighborhoods and civil society."

And while I'm at it I may as well post something of my own 1992 proposal for a citizen's dividend (which I called "market democracy"). And yes, I came up with it without having read King (let alone Murray who had not yet published his):

"With the exception of basic functions of government and the pay
down of debt, the government budget should be dispersed to
citizens as cash, rather than being spent in government programs
or even limited in the form of vouchers. This is "market
democracy" in which the citizens and their markets, rather than
central planning and politics, influence the selection of goods
and services to be capitalized and provided."