Luddites Redux?

As Martin Hutchinson and Lisa Lee explain in an article published by The New York Times (March 13, 2011), the British weavers known as the Luddites, who destroyed looms 200 years ago, thought rising unemployment within their ranks was because of machinery. But there’s a case that inflation, money supply expansion, budget deficits and trade barriers were equally to blame. Maybe we haven’t learned much in two centuries.

The Luddite riot on March 11, 1811, was an attack on wide knitting frames in the Nottinghamshire village of Arnold. The rioters’ believed that their livelihoods had been endangered by a dumbing-down of their skilled work by automated looms. The riots spread to Manchester, a main cotton center, late in 1811. Prime Minister Spencer Perceval’s government, which had a robust approach to public order, made frame-breaking a capital offense a year later; 17 offenders were eventually executed. After that, Luddite activity gradually faded out.

A Borders store near my home will soon close. I refuse to shop there during its close-out sale because I’d feel like someone going through the wallets of dead soldiers. Would this store have been spared, had I spent more there during recent years?  Probably not.

What to think of advocates of bound volumes who resent electronic reading devices? Are they descendants of the Luddites in the Nottinghamshire village of Arnold? Not in my opinion.

Innovation is relentless because human curiosity is insatiable and the quest for something better never ends. Wine presses became printed presses that produced bound volumes.

Looms produced products made of cotton that had been processed, delivered to the mills, and then distributed from them by steam-powered improvements of production (e.g. machinery) and transportation (e.g. ships, and vehicles).

The Luddites were fools to oppose progress.

It can be delayed but never denied.


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