ans have noted the impoverishment of the lower classes beneath the daz-
zling facade of mining wealth.!7 Mexico City's dramatic expansion was caused
(then as now) by a rural crisis coupled with rapid population growth. As
the Indian villagers finally recovered from the demographic devastation of
the conquest, they foune! that whites had taken over much of their lane!. In-
creasingly dependent on cash, the rural population suffered when food prices
escalated after
1770.
A series of bad harvests and epidemics intensified their
misery. Many country people responded by migrating to the capital in search
of food, work, medical care, or charity. Unfortunately, they joined a populace
already buffeted by inflation, declining real wages, and underemployment.
As a result, mendicity became a growing problem.
The response of elite city dwellers to the swelling crowds of beggars
ranged from disgust (one colonial bureaucrat proposed building a wall around
the capital to keep the migrants out)!8 to initiating the Poor House experi-
ment-the only such experiment, as far as I can determine, in eighteenth-
century Latin America.19 For, if the project owes much to the ideas of the
Enlightenment, it was attempted in Mexico City only because it fit local cir-
cumstances. And, despite its similarity to contemporary European projects,
it was far from a carbon copy of foreign blueprints.
The Social Control School and Its Critics
Ever since
1961,
when Michel Foucault's
Madness and Civilization
made the
asylum a symbol of the repressive bourgeois state, European and U. S. histo-
rians have reexamined the almshouses, orphanages, prisons, mental hospitals,
and reformatories that proliferated in the seventeenth to nineteenth cen-
turies during the Great Confinement of the poor.20 Questioning the benevo-
lence of these institutions, numerous "revisionist" works portrayed them as
representing the interests of the elites rather than of the clients supposedly
served. For example, David Rothman emphasized the role of social welfare
in maintaining civil order. Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward explored
its role in "regulating the poor" by making relief so degrading that the able-
bodied would instead labor under exploitative conditions.21 Others showed
how the asylum movement benefited the philanthropists and the rising pro-
fessional class, which gained new positions, power, and statureP Angry New
Left scholars turned the older sociological theories on their heads. If Emile
Durkheim and Norbert Elias had viewed the collective internalization of so-
cial restraint as a positive step in the development of civilization (or of capi-
talism for Max Weber), such "discipline" now represented an insidious kind
of mental domination and a violation of individual freedom. If Edward Ross
INTRODUCTION 7
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