thundril wrote:This raises a curious point. Observe that, for 500 years at least, we in this country have operated a predominantly capitalist economy.
Hmmm.... I don't think capitalism is a suitable description of the economy prior to about 1750 or so. Mercantilist, perhaps, would be better. And before that, feudal. That's not meant as a defence of capitalism, but because in so many ways the opportunity for capitalism didn't really apply. That doesn't alter the state of the great majority, for whom life was indeed nasty brutish and short, so your question still stands.
From privateering (piracy) the slave trade, the construction of the first truly global empire, industrialisation, the development of sophisticated banking and financial institutions, we became (and we remain) one of the wealthiest nations on earth. And yet there are still millions of us who cannot obtain the most basic needs of life except by toiling 5 days a week at some dull task, or by 'begging' from the state for some means-tested and begrudged handouts.
Why do you suppose this is?
For several reasons: first of all, what we consider to be "the most basic needs of life" has changed (for the better) by a huge amount. Clean water, a dry home, a comparatively nutritious diet, medical assistance, sewage treatment, even in old age, etc etc. Secondly, though many may consider their job dull, it is not going to be anywhere near as dull, dangerous, or back-breaking as a great deal of labour in the past, and the time spent doing it has reduced substantially, too. Thirdly, state benefits have never been as generous as they have been in recent times, not least the old age pension. And fourthly, because standards have improved, society takes the view that it is unacceptable for people to lead lives which, if you like, are detached from the system. You can't build a house without planning permission; it needs to conform to building regs; you must pay rates, your children must be educated, and so on and so forth.
I do suspect that capitalism might be actually incapable of operating if nobody at all was threatened with homelessness and hunger. What do you think?
Given the number of people who are, in fact, housed and fed by the state, funded by the capitalist system, and when one considers the vastly greater threat of homelessness and hunger which existed in the past, I think one might do better to turn your question on its head. Look at the alternatives to capitalism that we have seen in the last hundred years. Russia, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Venezuela, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy... the list goes on. In every one of these, where those in power professed to be on the side of the poor and oppressed, the poverty and oppression was worse than ever. And the ruling group maintained their position through threats far worse than homelessness or hunger.