Chapter 25: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

Overview of Chapter

Section 1: A Growing Demand for Labor-Power Accompanies Accumulation if the Composition of Capital Remains the Same

Outline of Marx’s Analysis

Composition of Capital Individual capitals and branches of production Total social capital of a country Classical political economists Business cycle?


Marx’s opening remarks on the “composition of capital” harken back to the analysis in Chapter 15 on relative surplus value. There we saw how efforts to offset reductions in the working day by raising productivity involved capitalists replacing troublesome workers with compliant machinery. He suggests that the introduction of more machinery per worker can be formulated as a rise in the technical composition of capital, something we can represent symbolically by MP/LP, the material configuration of means of production and labor-power.(1) Looked at from the point of view of of value invested, increased expenditure on machinery raises the value composition of capital, or c/v, a ratio of the value invested in constant capital, c, to that invested in variable capital, v. However, because the value composition can change independently of any change in the technical composition,(2) Marx calls the value composition—when changes are only due to changes in the technical composition—the organic composition of capital. To differentiate, we can represent the organic composition of capital as co/vo. So, c/v can change, even if co/vo does not; but any change in co/vo is also a change in c/v. Therefore, whenever he refers to changes in the organic composition he is talking about a change in the technical composition, but in value terms. Eventually—especially in Volume III of Capital—we find that Marx’s analysis of some tendencies to crisis are formulated in terms of the organic composition of capital.(3)

Although we can analyze these various “compositions of capital” at every level of the economy, from individual enterprises through branches of industry to the total social capital, it is “with this [last] alone that we are concerned here”.(4) In other words, the subject is the expansion of the total social capital. It is therefore vital to be clear about what Marx means by accumulation.

Had he defined accumulation merely as an expansion of the total social capital, it would be easy to confuse accumulation with economists’ concepts of “growth”, or, taking qualitative changes into account, with concepts of “economic development”. But he doesn’t leave it at that; he carefully defines accumulation in social terms as the reproduction “of the capital-relation on an expanded scale, with more capitalists, or bigger capitalists, at one pole, and more wage-laborers at the other pole.”(5) In other words, what is being accumulated are the antagonistic class relationships of capitalism. Unlike economists who recognize neither classes nor class antagonism, and think of growth in terms of production functions such as Q = f(K, L), where factors of production K (capital) and L (labor) produce output (Q) that grows as the economy expands, Marx re-emphasizes here that his interest is precisely those antagonistic relationships within which K (MP or c), L (LP in action or v) and Q (C’ and M’) are only elements or moments.

He then proceeds to discuss the dynamics of accumulation in terms of the relationships between the classes. In this first section he assumes that the composition of capital (by each definition) remains the same, so that when capitalists invest, their money buys both more means of production (MP) and more labor-power (LP). (He relaxes this assumption in the next section.) Under this assumption, capitalist investment increases the demand for labor-power and puts upward pressure on wages as capitalists compete for available workers.(6)

Marx then brings this association between investment and the demand for labor to bear on the analysis of the fluctuations in business activity. He recognizes how downturns and upturns were recurring periodically, but his real interest lay not their periodicity but how major downturns constituted crises for capitalism. That is to say, large-scale layoffs, rising unemployment and increased poverty can lead to worker-led uprisings and a crisis for capitalist control. Unlike economists who prefer the term business cycle, optimiostically presuming that downturns will always be followed by upturns, for Marx each major crisis opened the possibility of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

Assuming a constant composition of capital, as he does in this section, rapid accumulation was achieved by capitalists hiring more labor, sometimes buying new machines and processing more raw materials to produce more output, whether in agriculture, manufacturing or services. At some point, however, accumulation slows and then turns down; the boom becomes a bust, a crisis for capital, often a dramatic collapse with bank panics, firms going bankrupt or being taken over by others. Among a working-class population whose wages are already near subsistence, the associated rapidly rising unemployment and falling wages creates another kind of crisis: sickness, evictions and starvation. Forced to bear the human costs of such downturns, workers sometimes agree that they have "nothing to lose but their chains" and explode in revolt.

Such explosions were not just a theoretical possibility for Marx but part of his own experience. The dramatic, international economic crisis of 1847 was followed by the 1848 revolutions on the European mainland. Marx and Engels followed the crisis closely, analyzing it in their journalism.(7) When revolution erupted in Germany, both traveled there to participate in the uprising. Although the rising failed and both returned to England, Marx subsequently provided a detailed analysis of the parallel uprising in France in a series of articles later published under the title “The Class Struggles in France”.(8)

Among theories of the business cycle put forward by economists, that of Malthus became popular with business. He argued that two related phenomena caused downturns: 1) the emergence of a “glut”, more output being produced than the market could bear, resulting in falling sales, prices and profits; and 2) rising wages. Although rising wages might help absorb rising output, he warned, they would also result in workers having more children. The resulting expansion of the supply of labor, he argued, would soon reduce wages, reduce buying power and accentuate glut. His reasoning assumed workers breed like rabbits, that increased income would inevitably result in more children. In his theory, the only checks on population growth were hunger, disease or war. In short, his theory argued against wage increases and was wielded against both workers’ efforts to utilize tight labor markets to raise wages and against the “poor laws” of the time—supported by middleclass humanitarians —that sought to support the income of the unemployed through various forms of welfare.

Against this theory that blamed workers for their poverty, Marx argued that the primary determinant of the rise or fall of wages was fluctuations in the demand for labor-power. Accumulation, he reasoned, often tightened labor markets and facilitated workers’ battles for higher wages. But the fall in wages occurring during downturns were due to cutbacks in investment that reduced demand for labor-power, not an excessive growth of population. Eventually, demographers, studying the relationship between income and family size would provide support for Marx’s position on this issue. Identifying what they came to call the “demographic transition”, they would observe how rising income would lead people to reduce the birth rate and the size of their families—the exact opposite of Malthus’ assumption.(9)

The real source of downturns, Marx argued, was reduced investment in response to declines in profits. When, as a result of rising wages, “the surplus labor that nourishes capital is no longer supplied in normal quantity, a reaction sets in: a smaller part of revenue is capitalized [invested], accumulation slows down, and rising wages come up against an obstacle.(10) The rise of wages is therefore confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundations of the capitalist system, but also secure its reproduction on an expanding scale.”(11) Despite such limits on increases in wages, Marx supported struggles to raise wages and those that sought to limit their reduction during downturns. (12) Although he doesn’t discuss it at this point, Marx argues that Malthus’ “glut” lies in the tendency of capitalists to hold down wages, which in turn limits the ability of workers to purchase the goods they have produced. (13)

Marx ends this section by evoking how different things would be if “objective wealth” was “there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development” instead of capitalists’ need for profits and control.(14)

Section 2: A Relative Diminution of the Variable Part of Capital Occurs in the Course of the Further Progress of Accumulation and of the Concentration Accompanying it

Outline of Marx’s Analysis

As capitalists invest in machinery, Increase in social productivity of labor, via ↑MP/LP, involves: Accumulation evolves increased scale of production via two processes:


In this section, Marx drops the assumption that the composition of capital remains the same and analyses some aspects of what is involved as the LP in MP/LP and the v in c/v experience a relative diminution in consequence of the relative surplus value strategy.

He notes how the value composition of capital, c/v, tends to rise less than the technical composition, MP/LP, because the introduction of productivity-raising machinery in the production of the means of production reduces their per unit value. So while labor-power is employed using ever more machinery and transforming ever more raw materials, the decline in the value of the means of production means that the “increase of the difference between constant and variable capital is therefore much less than that of the difference between the mass of the means of production into which the constant capital, and the mass of labor-power into which the variable capital is converted. The former difference increases less with the latter, but in a smaller degree.”(15) Clearly, as in Part Four, what motivated this analysis was Marx’s observation of the spreading use of machinery in factories, mines and agriculture and associated relative decline in the use of labor-power. Unexamined here, but previously evoked in his Grundrisse notebooks of 1857 and later implied in his comments in Volume III of Capital on the results of a rising organic composition of capital, is the dangerous consequence of this capitalist strategy: a declining need for labor to produce wealth, a decline that undercuts capital’s ability to impose work and can inspire the rejection of any need for capitalists as managers of production.(16)

As capitalists strove to cope with workers’ struggles for less work and to expand markets, the scale of production grew steadily. Marx examines two ways capitalists achieve greater scale. First, individual capitalists invest in expanding their operations. They build new factories, buy machinery for those factories, produce or contract for raw materials to work up and hire more workers. This process, he calls the concentration of capital. Second, one capitalist buys out, or takes over, the operations of another, combining existing production facilities, by. Such combining he calls the centralization of capital. This choice of words can be confusing because it became common for economists to speak of increasing industrial concentration when referring to what Marx calls the centralization of capital. Indeed, governments compile statistics on the degree to which various industries are “concentrated” as part of their effort to regulate the degree of competition and the need for anti-trust regulation. That preoccupation arose as the result of public opposition to monopolistic practices and the demand for anti-trust regulation, thanks in large part to the revelations of investigative journalists into the practices of large-scale business operations.(17)

Drawing on some changes introduced by Marx in the French translation of Capital, Engels rewrote some of Marx’s analysis to highlight the role of credit in the form of limited liability or “joint stock” companies. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Marx followed the rapid expansion of the financial industry—that specialized branch of industry that gathers and redistributes money, facilitating its conversion into capital—through processes of what economists call “financial intermediation”. As part of his journalism, he wrote many articles on the growing role of credit in financing both concentration and centralization. The issuance of “stock”, or the exchange of certificates of part-ownership in a firm for money, facilitated the “drawing together” of disposable money, whether from the retained profits of firms or the savings of individuals. This process enabled centralization “in the twinkling of an eye”, a vast speed-up in what had hitherto been a much slower process.(18) The preoccupation here, however, is not with the modes of centralization but only with their impact on the relationship between capital and labor.

Marx concludes his analysis by noting that whether achieved by concentration or centralization the increasing scale of production either “attracts fewer and fewer workers in proportion to its magnitude” or “repels more and more of the workers formerly employed.”(19) Both observations prepare the next section on the genesis of a reserve army of the unemployed.

Section 3: The Progressive Production of a Relative Surplus Population or Industrial Reserve Army

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


This analysis of the composition of the unwaged industrial reserve army and surplus population not only details the conditions of life and situations facing various sectors but also argues their essential role as part of accumulation. Effectively, he shows, with few exceptions, how the surplus population is not really a surplus at all but necessary for capital to be able to meet its ever-changing demands for labor-power and keep in check those it does hire.

The Floating Form

Today, the floating form corresponds to the US Bureau of Labor Statistic's category of currently unemployed members of the labor force who are looking for waged work. Just as governments estimate the number of new hires— additions to the active labor army—as one index of the state of accumulation and the economy, so too does it estimate the number of the unemployed and their percentage of the labor force, the rate of unemployment. Drops in the rate are interpreted as a sign of accelerating accumulation and economic “health”, just as increases in the rate are taken as measures of deceleration or recession. These government-generated figures are regularly and dutifully reported by the capitalist media. Only outspoken critics of current government policies make a habit of pointing out how the rate of unemployment underestimates the degree of actual joblessness by ignoring those who have stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor force, .

Underestimation serves the ideological needs of capital by hiding from frequent consideration all those sectors of the reserve army not included in the narrow definition of “looking for work”. The situation is akin to what we saw in Chapters 19–21, how the wage—when defined as payment for labor (as opposed to payment for labor-power)—hides the existence of surplus labor. Marx’s analysis reveals how, once you take into account the dynamics of their relationship to work, most members of the population—with the exception of the leisured few, living off the work of others, of the bedridden casualties of labor and of pre-school infants and toddlers—make up a working class, whether they receive wages or salaries or not. Despite this, officialdom treats all of those sectors of the reserve army of labor who are not currently looking for paid employment as entirely separate phenomena.

Although his treatment here is brief, his comments on how the over-work discussed in the last section burns up the lives of workers, shortening their life-expectancy is worth noting. So too is the correlation between short life spans and large families. When he speaks of the “premium” set on the production of children, he undoubtedly had in mind the growing tendency of capital to replace adult with child workers and the need of poverty-stricken working-class families to render up their children to exploitation. Today, thanks to considerable research, we know a great deal more about both of these phenomena.

As we saw in Section 3 of Chapter 10, not only can work kill quickly in industrial accidents, but also more slowly through continuous exposure to low levels of toxic chemicals and noxious substances, e.g., cotton dust in textile mills, rock and coal dust in mining that cause byssinosis, silicosis and pneumoconiosis respectively. Then there’s the poisoning of water, land and air by pollution from industrial factories, mining, factory-farming and energy generation. Added to such physical abuse, we also now know how stress, anxiety and depression weaken the body and lead to health-destroying behaviors outside, as well as within, working hours. Beyond such direct workplace-related dangers we are increasingly conscious of how the mining and burning of fossil fuels contribute not only to pollution and acid rain but to global warming, which affects not only those working but the larger environment and all of those living in it, human and non-human. Economists call such plagues by the euphemistic term of “negative externalities”.

The work of demographers revealing how the success of workers in raising their income generally results in smaller families—because fewer children are needed as income earners—must be complemented by more gender-specific considerations. Feminists have pointed out how the size of families is also determined by the degree of control that women are able to exercise over their own bodies. Against the patriarchal relationships that capital inherited, adopted and promoted, women have long organized for greater freedom and self-determination. Part of that self-determination is the choice of whether or to what extent to have children. Everywhere women have won access to various methods of birth control and abortion, they have reduced the average number of children they have been willing to bear and the size of families has dropped accordingly. To some degree, there has been a correlation between working class income and the success of such struggles. Where income is higher, and women win access to that income, their battles for self-determination are more easily financed, including their access to methods of contraception. Therefore, in those countries with higher average income and standards of living women have been more successful in gaining control over their own bodies, procreating and rearing fewer children.

The Latent Form

When we turn to the composition of the latent reserve army, it is evident that who can be considered a part of this sector varies historically. When Marx was writing, those still attached to the land, still being periodically driven off by the development of capitalist agriculture, constituted the larger part. Even today, a great many people are still subject to such repulsion. Enclosures, that once constituted primitive accumulation, have become a recurrent strategy of on-going accumulation. But even in that earlier period, there were parallels between the situation of those still in agriculture and the situation of women and children in the families of waged workers in manufacturing. They were not immediately and automatically available as members of the floating reserve any more than those attached to the land were immediately available for employment in factories. Although some women and children sought independent income, many had to be driven into the labor market—mostly by poverty—as others had to be driven off the land. Later, years after Marx died, when workers were successful in imposing not only further restrictions on the length of the working day but labor laws that liberated children from waged labor, they were effectively shifted from part of the active army or floating reserve into a position of latency. Typically, child labor laws forbid employers from hiring children, from birth to some legally determined age, usually in the teens. There were often exceptions, both legal, such as family and farm labor, and illegal, such as human trafficking, but vast numbers of children are only a latent source of potential labor-power.

As I have discussed in earlier commentaries, capitalists need those children, temporarily free from waged employment and exploitation, to be properly prepared to eventually enter the floating reserve. Thus, their incarceration in schools, schools structured and designed to produce compliant and exploitable future participants in both the reserve and active armies of labor. Although school children are not engaged in producing commodities on which a profit can be earned, they are put to work producing labor-power. So, although workers’ struggles have liberated most children from waged exploitation, their youth is still being poisoned by the forced labor of schooling through which they are disciplined into accepting authority—today of teachers, tomorrow of employers—and acquiring, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on their resistance, the skills and abilities required by those future employers. Although latent with respect to the active army of labor, capital still manages to impose unwaged work on children.

The position of women, vis-à-vis labor, has also varied over time, the result of both capital’s demands and women’s struggles. In Marx’s time, along with children they were being driven from work in the latent to work in the active army. Later, in the late 19th and early 20th Century United States, laws and rules were passed excluding women from certain jobs, pushing many back into the latent reserves, despite a wave of feminist-suffragette struggle when women marched out of workplaces and homes into the streets. In both the First and Second World Wars, women were drawn into waged labor to replace men mobilized as soldiers. Then, as soon as the wars were over, despite having demonstrated both their ability and willingness to work in industry, vast numbers of women had their wages snatched away and handed to demobilized soldiers as a “family wage”. With the rise of “second-wave” feminism in the 1960s, autonomously organized women fought for universal access to, and equal treatment in, whatever form of work they choose.

The Stagnant Form

The closest modern equivalent of what Marx calls the stagnant form is most often thought to be what economists call the “structurally unemployed”. This section, however, shows that to be a poor parallel. The structurally unemployed are defined as those who, having lost a job, discover it impossible to find another of the same kind. But the “chief sort” of the stagnant surplus population for Marx were workers actually at work in so-called “domestic industry”. As he explained in Section 8 of Chapter 15, the domesticity of this industry refers only to workers being employed in other workers’ homes. There, he provided details of the exploitation of women and children, here he largely evokes such conditions and points out how they favor large and pauperized families. Stagnant describes the social condition and immobility of persons caught in such circumstances. Whereas workers in the floating and latent forms may eventually, or periodically, find jobs in one industry or another, those in the stagnant form are largely stuck. If they can work, they work at the most miserable, low paying jobs. If they cannot work for wages—too old, mutilated by capitalist machinery or sickly because poisoned by working conditions—they may still contribute to the reproduction of labor-power. Although Marx refers to pauperism as the “hospital of the active labor-army”, it does not function like a real hospital where impediments to work may be repaired, but rather as a kind of obscene social-hospice to which some are condemned to slowly die.

The Lumpenproletariat

In this sub-sector of the surplus population, which Marx places within general category of pauperism, he includes vagabonds, criminals and prostitutes. We have already seen in Part VIII on primitive accumulation, how vagabondage and petty crime were, like begging, active alternatives to the meek acceptance of entering the labor market in search of waged labor. Since Marx touched only briefly on such alternatives, we have been fortunate enough to have several Marxist historians delve much more deeply into examples drawn from the same period to which he makes reference, including the authors of such books as Albion’s Fatal Tree (1976), Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1989) and The London Hanged (1992).(23) From such studies we have learned much about the complicated relationships that have existed between wage earning and alternative modes of survival. One thing that such studies have revealed is how individual lumpenproletarians, that in Marx’s brief treatment appear to be stuck in a stagnant state of pauperism, have actually often been quite mobile, moving among the alternatives available to them, including waged labor. Studies of more recent periods, including the present, have revealed much the same.

Prostitution is one survival strategy, which Marx includes among those of the lumpenproletariat, that deserves closer treatment than he accords it. In the 19th Century, the dominant image of the prostitute seems to have been “the fallen woman”—often a woman who had not “fallen” but been pitched into poverty and recourse to prostitution by being “gotten with child” and then abandoned by the man responsible. With the extended family rapidly disappearing under the pressure of expropriation and the need to seek wages wherever they could be found, such single-mothers often had few options for earning a living. These were the street-walkers and brothel sex-workers often portrayed in literature. But we know that, as in so many other domains, there has always been a hierarchy of prostitutes, both female and male, from the paupers evoked in Marx’s text to well-kept courtesans and mistresses living amongst the wealthiest in society. In Victorian England, such diversity was well-known but kept in the shadows, except in a more or less underground literature and salacious journalism. Elsewhere, say in mining towns and those with military barracks, brothels functioned with greater openness and often government sanction. In more recent times, feminist works, such as Simon de Beauvoir’s La Deuxième Sexe (1947), and success in overcoming obscenity laws have allowed a more open circulation of literary treatments of sexual relationships, and have forced a more general recognition of this diversity. Along the way, some authors, often feminists, have drawn parallels between formal prostitution—in which sex and other reproductive services are usually provided in what amount to short-term contracts—and marriage (formal or de facto) where those same services are provided in exchange for long-term contracts. Such observations harken back to Marx and Engels's early critiques of marriage in the Communist Manifesto that blasted its conventions within capitalism as exploitative of women.

Unfortunately, while describing these various strata of the reserve army or surplus population, Marx gives us little sense of the various forms of struggle undertaken by individuals and groups, nor of how movement from one strategy of survival to another might constitute such a struggle. Beyond the struggle for a wage, of movement from the reserve to active army, we must also study those unfolding within the various sectors of the surplus population and contributing to the political recomposition of the working class. Knowledge of all of these can inform useful strategies for circulating our efforts from one sector to another.

Section 5: Illustrations of the General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

Overview of Section

(a) England from 1846 to 1866

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


The bulk of this section presents statistics—mainly drawn from official government documents—illustrating the historical accuracy of Marx’s previous analysis of accumulation. He shows how the rapid growth, concentration and centralization of wealth in the hands of the rich was paralleled by an equally rapid spread of poverty and pauperism. Against evidence of some increase in wages, among some sectors of the working class, he provides evidence of increases in the prices of the means of subsistence that has undercut real wages. These kinds of statistics have also been used to attack Marx’s theory of the “pauperization” of the working class. Pro-capitalist economists and historians have used increases in real wages and various measures of standards of living in England (and in other industrialized countries) to argue that the pauperization that Marx illustrates here was soon reversed as capitalism continued to develop. Among Marxist responses to such attacks has been the argument that with the spread of colonialism and primitive accumulation abroad, the issue of pauperization has to be reframed in international terms. Following the early period of slavery for the production of industrial inputs, of colonial conquest, of the seizure of the best lands and their conversion from local food production to export agriculture and of mining operations, global capitalist accumulation displaced the locus of pauperism from industrial England, where concessions were granted to an increasingly well-organized and militant working class, to the colonies (and later neo-colonies). Even in this section, however, Marx is not arguing that all workers will be reduced to paupers, only that the dynamics of capitalist development, including downturns in business activity that cause many to lose their wages, continually produces paupers and on an expanding scale.

In one of the few passages in this volume where he brings up the issue of debt, he does so in a quotation from Henry Fawcett’s book on The Economic Condition of the British Labourer (1865). “They (the workers) become almost the slaves of the tradesman to whom they owe money.”(24) The increasing dependence of workers upon credit from tradesmen, Marx notes in a footnote to that passage, “is the consequence of the frequent oscillations and interruptions in their employment.” In other words, with wages at, or very near, subsistence, the loss of wages forces workers to pawn their few worldly possessions and to beg credit from local merchants who supply subsistence goods. Once in debt, the risk of near slavery—or what some economists and historians call “debt peonage”—lay in the way some tradesmen manipulated debt accounting to prevent workers’ escape, even if, and when, wages could once again be obtained. In a period in which workers’ income and wealth was so low as to make access to bank credit impossible, such were the limited legal possibilities open to them, short of being turned out into the street, starving or entering the prison-like workhouses.

To my mind, however, the most important point in this section is made in one sentence:

But for a full elucidation of the law of accumulation, [workers’] condition outside the workshop must also be looked at, his condition as to food and accommodation.(25) [my emphasis]

Just as Sections 3 and 4 of this chapter have shown how the unwaged are an integral and necessary part of the working class, reproduced on an expanding scale along with everything else being accumulated, so too must an analysis of accumulation take into account the character of the lives of workers, both waged and unwaged, outside of places of waged employment. This is a shift from Chapter 23 where Marx thought it sufficient to point out 1) that the reproduction of the class was part of the reproduction of capital and 2) that the capitalists mostly leave it to workers to take care of that reproduction. Here he examines the conditions of that reproduction, especially workers’ ability to eat, to clothe themselves and to find shelter. Largely missing from his analysis in the next few sections, however, is the kind of examination of work outside the workshop that he undertook inside it—discussion of the division of labor, of the organic composition of capital, of the subordination of workers to machines and so on.

(b) The Badly Paid Strata of the British Industrial Working Class

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


Drawing on a series of Public Health Reports, commissioned in response to the appalling conditions in both cities and countryside, Marx cites statistics and comments by the authors of those reports as to the malnourishment of the waged, active labor army of the English working class. For present-day readers from middle and upper levels of the global hierarchy of working class income, where discussion of food intake has largely shifted from requirements to maintain biological subsistence to how to avoid overeating and obesity, the statistics Marx cites may seem quaint and passé. However, although advances in science have made such measurement more sophisticated today, estimates of nutritional requirements for the maintenance of life are not all that different from Marx’s time. Instead of calculating the intake of grains of carbon and nitrogen, requirements are now calculated for things like general energy intake and nutrients, e.g., amino acids, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, whereas in the Public Health Reports of the mid-1860s that Marx cites, differentiation was only made between men and women, today nutritional requirements are calculated for males and females over their entire life-cycle, from gestation and infancy to old age, taking into account things such as activity and body characteristics.

As in the days of the reports cited here, those preoccupied today with fighting hunger, whether working in governmental or non-governmental agencies, study the close relationship between malnutrition and susceptibility to illness and disease. Marx’s analysis in this section makes clear that the situation was so dire among so many workers as to risk the spread of disease to “respectable people”, i.e., the bourgeoisie. As a result, public health measures were demanded, not out of any benevolent attitude towards workers but from self-defense. To this motivation must be added the demand by capitalists for healthy, productive workers. Often unwilling to implement costly changes within their own production facilities that would improve the health of their workers, or to pay wages sufficient to support a healthy life, capitalist support for public health measures always wanted the cost to be borne by other taxpayers. As capitalist investment moved into disease-ridden areas, either at home (the American South) or abroad (the colonies or otherwise subordinated nations), there too capitalists began to demand public health measure to reduce their own labor costs.(26)

When Marx turns from food to housing, the Public Health Reports upon which he draws are even more graphic in describing the terrible living conditions of waged workers, especially those in urban areas. (27) Poorly built, ill-maintained, often with little or no access to light, air, water or sanitation, the typical tiny apartments were often overcrowded, ill-furnished (especially when wages were lost and furniture was pawned); they were homes of the malnourished and breeding places of disease. Although it is still possible to find similar conditions in the ghettos and poor neighborhoods of the Global North, those conditions are more rampant in the sprawling shanty towns and slums of the Global South. Often created and then swollen by rural–urban migrants escaping the enclosure of their lands in the countryside, only through great effort and collective struggle are workers who dwell in such favelas, barrios or bidonvilles able to gradually convert their hovels into decent housing and obtain utilities such as electricity and running water. To what degree there was collective self-organization in the 19th Century slums of England’s great cities, such as London and Newcastle upon Tyne, we are not told; we are only offered an account of the dynamics of exploitation and impoverishment.(28)

Those dynamics include such familiar phenomena as urban renewal and real estate speculation. Urban renewal projects, which in Marx’s time were called “city improvements”, replaced the old with the new, and often at the expense of working class housing. Ill-built and ill-kept housing (tenement or row houses)(29) were demolished to make way for wider roads (for commerce), bigger, better buildings (for businesses and for homes for the wealthy), tramways (to bring workers to work from increasingly marginalized distant neighborhoods), sanitation systems (to protect the bourgeoisie from disease) and so on. That projects to improve “public” health should have such adverse consequences for workers is especially bitter. Subjected to the worst living conditions, they were displaced by such “remedies” only to find themselves in even worse conditions! Such reorganization of cities to meet capitalist needs has been going on ever since. As workers have become better organized in their communities, however poor, they have learned to fight back against such attacks. In recent years, pitched battles have been fought against such projects as new airports or sports stadiums intended to benefit commercial airline and sports industries at the expense of local people. Such conflicts erupt every time whole working-class neighborhoods are demolished to make way for World Cup or Olympic stadiums and associated buildings.(30)

Anticipation (or insider knowledge) of such projects also feeds real-estate speculation—buying cheap today, to be richly compensated tomorrow by the state for property subjected to imminent domain. Such speculation proceeds even in the absence of such large-scale projects because the growth of capitalist industry in cities, and the associated growth of the working class, increases the value that can be realized from rents and thus from land. As land rent rises, so too does the price of homes and the cost of rental housing, especially during periods of rapid growth. Today, when the middle- and upper-income strata of the working class have obtained access to bank credit and mortgages, the same phenomena—complete with speculation—puts upward pressure on the price of single-family dwellings. It was precisely such speculation—coupled with widespread fraud—that inflated the “bubble” in housing prices in the early 2000s, whose bursting triggered the great financial collapse of 2007-2008.

(c) The Nomadic Population

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


Despite its title, this section does not deal with traditional nomads, neither subsistence pastoral tribes who move their herds according to season and available forage, nor geographically restless, itinerant groups such as the Romani or the Irish Travelers. Instead, Marx analyzes the living conditions of workers only able to obtain temporary employment who are forced to move more frequently than most. High unemployment and rapid changes in industrial demands for labor, coupled with capitalist efforts to minimize the cost of labor, combine to result in horrible housing for such workers, even worse than that in cities surrounding factories, often in more isolated, more or less temporary, work spaces, such as construction sites and mining camps. In this section, he illustrates such conditions by drawing on the reports of official government inspectors. Typical are flimsy, overcrowded shacks (or even caves) with no running water, no sanitation, no ventilation, no drainage, no health services and often built in proximity to toxic wastes.

Because of these conditions, suffering and death proliferate as contagious diseases spread easily from worker to worker, from parent to child. The Public Health Reports are particularly scathing in their condemnation of the living conditions of such workers. At best, special houses are provided to separate those with diseases such as small pox, typhus, scarlet fever and cholera. But in the absence of medical care and sanitation, those diseases spread not only to other workers but to people in the surrounding areas. All of this unfolded in the absence of both modern understanding of the vectors of disease or of effective methods of treatment.

In these conditions, Marx notes, capitalists exploit their workers “in two directions at once—as soldiers of industry and as tenants”. Even among relatively highly paid workers, such as miners, employers minimize their costs by treating such things as housing, fuel and water—“be it good or bad”—as payments in kind, deducting their costs from wages. These patterns of abuse in living conditions parallel those at the point of production. The minimization of expenditure on life outside the mines or construction sites replicate the minimization of expenditures on “protective measures against dangerous machinery in the factory, from safety appliances and means of ventilation in the mines, and so on.”(31) Such consistent efforts to maximize profits have condemned workers to injury and ill-health.

Those familiar with the typical conditions of life available to contemporary “nomadic” segments of the working class will be struck by how uneven changes have been since the mid-1860s. In the Global North some workers have succeeded in escaping from such conditions. For example, through decades of arduous struggle, often against violent repression, miners, through collective resistance, have won recognition for their unions, collective barganing, higher wages and escaped from isolated mining camps into better living conditions. Another example has been the success of some migratory agricultural laborers. In the United States, in the 1960s, the United Farm Workers in California (UFW) evolved an innovative strategy that complemented strikes and protest marches with calls for consumer boycotts of farm produce. Their success forced grower recognition of the UFW and negotiations that have brought better wages, less dangerous working conditions and improved temporary living conditions. More recently the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) anti-slavery campaign has “uncovered, investigated, and assisted in the prosecution of numerous multi-state farm slavery operations across the Southeastern U.S., helping liberate over 1,200 workers held against their will since the early 1990’s.”(32) On the other side of the country, in Washington state, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), an organization of mostly indigenous migrant farmworkers has recently won a collective bargaining agreement with Sakuma Brothers Farms.(33)

On the other hand, vast numbers of the estimated 150 million migrant workers in the world today continue to suffer all the ills described in this section of Capital. In construction sites around the globe, it is easy to spot crude shacks lacking all the same amenities as described here, thrown up to house temporary migrant labor, often imported from far away. Most recently, such practices have been revealed in the construction of sports facilities, e.g., those for the World Cup in Brazil in 2013 and currently in Qatar in preparation for 2022.(34) Similarly, while some agricultural workers, such as those who organized the UFW and CIW, have made substantial gains, millions of other workers, toil and continue to struggle against intolerable conditions of both work and life.

(d) Effect of Crises on the Best Paid Section of the Working Class

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


Newspaper reports on the results of the crisis of 1866 in England illustrate the catastrophic effects of that downturn on even the highest paid workers, e.g., shipbuilders, who tended to be highly skilled mechanics or artisans. Those reports detail the miserable condition of workers, whether admitted to workhouses, where they break rocks or pick oakum for less than subsistence wages, or desperately besiege the gates in hopes of obtaining some relief, however little.(35) Marx also gives us an interesting analysis of the causes of the 1866 crisis. First, the crisis came in the wake of an industrial crisis in the textile industry caused by the “cotton famine”, which was itself caused by the American Civil War that cut off cotton exports to the United Kingdom causing a dearth of raw materials and a spike in cotton prices. Second, the financial panic that set off the crisis was due to the collapse of a speculative wave of investments, in shipbuilding among other industries, fed by capitalists throwing “much capital from its accustomed sphere into the great centers of the money-market”.(36) Thus, from a global perspective, the crisis was not merely due to financial speculation but also to workers’ struggles—those of slaves and those of waged workers in the Union Army—to end the Confederate use of slavery to undercut the income of waged labor. In Volume III of Capital, in an expanded, year-by-year analysis of the cotton famine and its consequences for workers, Marx also reports on the effects on British workers of the substitution of weaker, shorter fiber Surat cotton from India for stronger, longer fiber American cotton, a substitution made possible by the British conquest of the subcontinent and its annexation of the labor of Gujarati cotton workers.(37) In these two cases, we can see not only the global reach of capital, but the interconnectedness of workers' struggles in different parts of the world. The victory of the Union against slavery and the militancy of British workers, evident in the so-called Hyde Park Riot where thousands faced down police and government troops, resulted in the passage of the Reform Act of 1867 enfranchising most male English and Welsh male workers.

In the Belgium case, often admired by English capitalists, Marx quotes from an 1855 report by the inspector-general of prisons and charitable institutions whose data show that the average working-class family receives less real income than soldiers, sailors and even prisoners. Moreover, that data also revealed income so close to bare biological subsistence that even the slighted downturn in economic activity, any reduction of wages or employment, or any increase in the price of basic necessities throws the average family into destitution and pauperism.(38)

(e) The British Agricultural Proletariat

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


The living conditions of agricultural workers differ little from that of the “nomadic” working class population discussed in section (c) above. The former are less mobile; the latter more so, but both were subjected to extremely low and precarious wages and forced to live under horrible conditions of overcrowded, often deteriorating huts with no sanitation, running water, rampant disease, etc. What this section shows is why at the very beginning of his discussion of proletarian nomads, Marx states that their “origin is rural”. Here he analyzes the forces that drive agricultural laborers off the land, into open villages and sometimes further afield in search of the kinds of jobs discussed in section (c).

Those forces are two-fold. First, a revolution in agricultural technology that dates from the mid-17th Century produced investments in new methods of land drainage and cultivation that often involved labor-displacing machinery. Second, far from sharing the resulting increased productivity of the land with those retained to work it, capitalist farmers transformed and reduced the cost of their labor force. Whereas in earlier times a great many agricultural workers were housed on the ever-growing estates, as this “revolution” progressed, the owners of those estates found it more profitable to evict their workers and force them to find worse housing many miles away in local “open” villages.

The various reports upon which Marx draws reveal a continuation of the processes that he analyzed in Part VIII on primitive accumulation: the expulsion from the land to distant villages or small towns and an ever-growing concentration of control over the means of production: both the land and the tools to work it. Yet, as with manufacturing, agricultural industries require workers—who must now walk miles to and from their assigned fields. As in the towns surrounding factories, the Poor Laws and those laws and police practices aimed at curbing resistance force them to remain in the local “labor market” and subject to exploitation by their employers in the countryside and by landlords and merchants in the villages.

These processes—complemented over time by other exploitative methods, such as debt peonage and taxation—have been constant elements of on-going accumulation ever since Marx wrote. The development of the American Midwest—the corn and wheat belt—enabled by railroads to serve far markets, was marked by the invention and deployment of first reapers, then threshers then combines, all labor-displacing machinery.(39) A parallel process of mechanization in American cotton-growing—of planting, picking and baling—displaced millions of Black farmers and workers from the land. A more recent great “revolution” in agricultural technology was the advent of the so-called Green Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s that involved the introduction of new high-yielding grains (mostly wheat and rice in the Global South. The nature of the new plants (short, with heavy heads of grain) and the switch to monocoluture required increased investment—in controlled irrigation, heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides—and the profits from the resulting increased productivity permitted many better-off farmers in places like Mexico, India and Pakistan to purchase and use, for the first time, labor-displacing technologies such as reapers and threshers, once more depriving rural laborers of jobs. Not surprisingly, the “Green” revolution turned “Red” in many places as unemployed and destitute rural workers fought back against their worsening poverty.(40)

In other words, what is being revealed in this section is how capitalist development in agriculture paralleled its development in manufacturing; how the replacement of labor by machinery—investments that raised the organic composition of capital—contributed to the production of a “surplus population” that constituted parts of the “floating” reserve army of labor, and more broadly, elements of the “latent” reserve that, over time would gradually escape the poverty of fields and village to find employment elsewhere in construction sites, mines, factory towns or cities.

After giving abundant illustrations of these dynamics, Marx ends this section by focusing our attention on the way the increasingly precarious employment of agricultural workers came to be organized through processes of sub-contracting, known at the time as the “gang system”. Whether the gangs were of the “public, common or tramping” types, organized by an agricultural worker turned “gang-master”, or of the “private” type, organized by “some old farm servant”, the pattern is the same. The intermediary, gang-master or servant, negotiates with the farmer on the one side and the workers on the other. They work for him, not the owners of the land and his income derives from his leverage on both sides. This organization of labor proved highly profitable for capitalist farmers, by reducing their labor costs and because workers could be mobilized and moved from farm to farm as needed. In such movement, of course, they resembled that “nomadic population” discussed earlier.

This method of labor organization, while growing in Marx’s time, has exploded in recent years. An element of local “out-sourcing”, it is no longer confined to the countryside and the employment of farm labor, but has infected cities and industry where a wide variety of workers, e.g., custodial workers, clerical labor, domestic labor and so on, are organized through such mediation. It has been an essential element of the increasing precariousness of labor in recent decades as members of what has been dubbed the “precariat” are hired part-time, with few or no benefits and find themselves dependent on intermediaries for repeated employment and income.

(f) Ireland

Outline of Marx’s Analysis


All commentary on conditions in Ireland in the mid-19th Century must keep in mind that Ireland, along with Scotland and Wales were the first colonies of the British Empire. From the early Norman invasion of the late 12th Century, through the invasion, conquest and rape of the country by Oliver Cromwell in 1849–50, just three years after the great famine, the mostly impoverished Irish population was subjected to systematic expropriation and exploitation by the British, and by local Irish capitalists and landlords who sided with them. The characterization by Marx of Ireland as being “merely an agricultural district of England” was not only correct but would be applicable to colony after colony as the British Empire expanded, annexing lands and peoples’ labor in the Americas, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Place after place was colonized to provide raw materials and the cheap labor to produce them for English industry, first and foremost the textile industry and then others.(41)

Never completely assimilated or subdued, the history of this colony was one of repeated rebellion against foreign control and exploitation. The consistency of that resistance, fueled partly by Gaelic nationalism, partly by Catholic refusal to accept Henry the VIII’s imposition of Protestantism, was the source of the government’s dependence on “bayonets and a state of siege”. English rule in Ireland was what historian Peter Linebaugh has called a thanatocracy, rule by death, whether the method by which capitalists retained control was starvation, local police and courts or military repression.(42)

Marx’s primary interest here, however, within the context of illustrating the character of accumulation and its impact on the working class, is how capitalists profited from the vast suffering caused not only by the potato blight that wiped out workers’ basic food stuff, bringing on the Great Hunger (an Gorta Mór) of 1842 to 1852, but by the conditions of colonialism that had made them dependent on that one food and by the response of the colonialists to their plight. Instead of helping the Irish cope, the colonizers, from local landlords (such as Lord Dufferin) to English economists (such as Nassau Senior) welcomed the famine and the exodus of emigration because it undermined resistance and increased the rate of exploitation. Despite the dramatic reduction of both population and agricultural output, capitalists and landlords managed to appropriate an increased proportion of output as “surplus” earning profit and rent for them.

Having already debunked Malthus’ analysis of the relationships among wages, changes in population and crises in the very first section of this chapter, Marx is happy to point to the way the evolution of events in Ireland illustrate the errors of the Malthusian argument, i.e., the dramatic decline in population, instead of raising real wages was accompanied by their fall and by a rise in profits and rents.(43)

This redistribution of income, from workers to capitalists and landlords, took place not only within the context of the vast suffering of Irish workers, but also through a massive reorganization of agriculture. Here Marx highlights two phenomena: the concentration of land and farms as families died off or moved away and a change in the composition of agricultural production. The reduction in the number of small farms meant a reduction in the production of food crops to support the local population. The abolition of the Corn Laws, which had encouraged the production of wheat for export to England, brought on the conversion of cultivated land to grazing land to provide meat and wool to British markets, and with it a reduction in the demand for agricultural labor and greater poverty for Irish farmworkers.


1 Because MP and LP are heterogeneous, as a representation of the arrangement of means of production and labor-power MP/LP might better be thought of as an array rather than a ratio.

2 For example, take the cotton textile industry. Fluctuations in weather can affect the value of a bale of cotton, changing c and thus c/v. Or, worker successes or failures in struggles over the value of their labor power, v, can change v and thus c/v.

3 In the voluminous literature interpreting Marx’s writings on crisis, differences in understanding the relationship between the value composition and the organic composition have led to differences in the interpretation of his analysis, especially that of “the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”.

4 Capital, Vol. I, p. 763.

5 Ibid.

6 Although he doesn’t discuss it at this point, he is well aware that capitalists have often sought to reduce such upward pressure on wages by importing cheap labor to expand the pool of available workers. In his day, Irish workers were brought over and pitted against English workers. In the years after decolonization, English capitalists imported workers from the West Indies and South Asia. Since the collapse of Soviet-style regimes in Eastern Europe, contemporary English capitalists have been hiring workers from Eastern Europe. Such pitting of foreign against domestic workers—widespread today—can escape capitalist control, either through immigrant/migrant worker struggle or through local worker efforts to limit competition in labor markets. Such efforts can be narrow, such as fighting for immigration reform, or broad as in the vote for Brexit that was, at least in part, a vote against further migration into the UK.

7 See, for example, Engels, F. "The Commercial Crisis in England—The Chartist Movement—Ireland," (written October 23, 1847) MECW, Vol. 6, pp. 307-309. (published in La Reforme, October 26, 1847)

8 “The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850”, MECW, Vol. 10, pp. 45-145.

9 By admitting—in the second edition of his book on population—that workers could exercise “moral restraint” and limit the size of their families, Malthus effectively undermined his theory. This admission has largely remained unnoticed, or ignored, by all those who have enjoyed using his theory to attack workers’ wages and welfare support for those without wages.

10 Here he recognizes how worker success in raising wages can undermine profits. Those who have emphasized this phenomenon often speak of “profit-squeeze” as a source of crisis.

11 Capital, Vol. I, p. 771.

12 See his arguments against Weston’s opposition to wage struggles and trade unionism spelled out in his essay “Value, Price and Profit”, an address to the First International in 1865. MECW, Vol. 20, pp. 101-149.

13 Both Marxists and non-Marxists, e.g., John A. Hobson (1858–1940) and Albert F. Mummery (1855–95) in Physiology of Industry (1889), New York: Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1992, who have emphasized this problem speak of “underconsumption” as a cause of crisis. Like Keynes who, years later, took Hobson to task, Marx recognized that consumption was only one element of aggregate demand, albeit the largest.

14 Capital, Vol. I, p. 772.

15 Ibid., p. 774. It is worth noting that in this analysis Marx ignores a key element of the argument he made in Part IV about capital’s relative surplus value strategy: namely, that the rise in productivity in the production of the means of subsistence lowers the value of variable capital, thus raising the rate of exploitation s/v and the rate of profit s/(c+v). Ignoring this parallel effect, as he does in this passage, only makes sense if you assume that the value per unit of c is declining faster than that of v.

16 The passage in the Grundrisse is the famous “Fragment on Machines”. The analysis in Volume III of Capital unfolds in Part III, Chapters 13-15.

17 Among the many highly critiqued “trusts”, whose behavior led to public outcry and eventually anti-trust regulation, was the “oil trust” of John D. Rockefeller—whose “philanthropic” investments in social engineering are cited in several of these commentaries. Counterparts today can be found in controversies surrounding mergers in telecommunications, such as that between Comcast and AT&T, and their consequences for consumer costs.

18 Both Marx’s original passage and Engels rewritten one can be found in Capital, Vol. I, p. 777-780.

19 Ibid., p. 781.

20 In the United States, such destruction is often rationalized under the euphemism of “urban renewal”. For one example of such struggles in Mexico, see Harry Cleaver, “The Uses of an Earthquake”, Visa Versa (Montréal) December/January 1987. Also published in Midnight Notes, (Boston) No. 9, May 1988, Wildcat, (Germany) Winter 1988, Common Sense (Scotland) No. 9, 1989 and available at:

21 See, for example, Michael Hill and Susan Hoecker-Drysdale (eds), Harriet Martineau: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives, New York: Routledge, 2002.

22 National Defense Counsel for Victims of Karoshi, Karoshi: When the "Corporate Warrior" Dies, Tokyo: Mado-Sha, 1990.

23 E. P. Thompson, Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh, John G. Rule and Cal Winslow, Albion’s Fatal Tree, op. cit., Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, Cambridge University Press, 1989. Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged, op. cit.

24 Capital, Vol. I, p. 807.

25 Ibid.

26 Thus, the efforts mentioned earlier of the GEB and Rockefeller Sanitary Commission in the Southern states. For an overview of capitalist responses to one disease—prevalent in the Global South— see “Malaria, the Politics of Public Health and the International Crisis”, op.cit. For a broader overview, see Peter Linebaugh, Lizard Talk; Or, Ten Plagues and Another: An Historical Reprise in Celebration of Boston ACT UP, February 26, 1989 and available online.

27 Marx's analysis was preceded by Engels' vivid portrayals of workers' housiing in his Conditions of the Working Class in England and followed by his more polemical 1872 analysis of "The Housing Question", MECW, Vol. 23, pp. 317–391.

28 A similar absence marked Upton Sinclair’s novel of immigrant life in Chicago’s meat-packing districts, The Jungle (1906). As James Barrett points out in his introduction to the University of Illinois edition of the book, Sinclair completely missed the networks of mutual aid in those communities.

29 Keep in mind that in Marx’s day, while some agricultural tenants lived in stand-alone single-family houses/farms, workers in urban areas had no access to bank credit or mortgages and the only housing they could afford was a room or two in a tenement.

30 For an example of community struggles against urban renewal in the Global South, see Cleaver, “The Uses of an Earthquake”, op. cit. For a discussion of resistance in the Global North see Anouk Belanger, “The Urban Sport Spectacle: Towards a Critical Political Economy of Sports”, in Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald (eds), Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sport, New York: Routledge, 2009, pp. 51-67.

31 Capital, Vol. I, p. 821.

32 See their webpage for a description of all their programs to improve agricultural workers’ rights, conditions of employment and conditions of life more generally.

33 One current example in the US are the efforts of those indigenous migratory farm laborers who have organized Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) in Washington state to mobilize—as the UFW did—a consumer boycott. See

34 “Brazil World Cup workers ‘face slave-like conditions’”, BBC News, September 26, 2013. “Qatar 2022: World Cup project workers living in slum conditions behind glitz of oil-rich country”, ABC News, July 14, 2015.

35 “Picking oakum” refers to the tedious labor of picking apart old tarry ropes and cordage to make new materials for caulking the seams in wooden ships.

36 Capital, Vol. I, p. 822.

37 Capital, Vol. III, Chapter 6, Section 3: “General Illustration: The Cotton Crisis 1961-65”, pp. 228-229.

38 Capital, Vol. I, pp. 825-828.

39 While a graduate student at Stanford, I was employed as a research assistant to Paul David, who was researching the spread of the reaper in the Midwest. Although he framed his study using neoclassical theory of factor substitution, the results replicated Marx’s analysis that increases in wages spurred the adoption of labor-displacing machinery. See his "The Mechanization of Reaping in the Ante-Bellum Midwest," published in a 1966 volume edited by Henry Rosovsky, Industrialization in Two Systems: Essays in Honor of Alexander Gerschenkron, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966, pp. 3-39.

40 See Cleaver, "The Contradictions of the Green Revolution."

41 Colonization, of course, also provided export markets for English industry and investment options for its capitalists, both at home in the expansion of commercial and naval fleets and armies and abroad in conquest, the expansion of export production and infrastructure development. The raw materials acquisition that Marx treats here was only one element of British imperialism.

42 Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged, op. cit., Chapter Two: ‘Old Mr Glory and the Thanatocracy”.

43 While he does cite evidence of a rise in some nominal wages, Marx doesn’t address the consequences of the famine on birth rates that fell an estimated 14% over this period. See Phelim P. Boyle and Cormac Ó Gráda, “Fertility trends, excess mortality, and the Great Irish Famine”, Demography, Vol. 23, No. 4, November 1986, pp. 543-562.