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The Great Famine In Ireland – whatever the government was it certainly was NOT “laissez faire”.

Perhaps the the title should read “the mass death of the 1840s” – as people tended to die from sickness rather than actual starvation (although they were weakened by lack of food, or lack of good food) and there had been other mass death events in Irish history. Some people claim that the mass death event of the 1730s, in an Ireland where the war confiscations and post war Penal Laws had done much of their work (and a lot of government action hit nonconformist Protestants as well as Roman Catholics – which is why so many of the “Scots Irish” went to the American colonies – where these Protestant folk took their dislike of the British government with them) actually killed a larger percentage of the Irish population that the crop failures of the 1840s.

However, whatever one calls it – the mass death and emigration event of the 1840s (during which about a million people died before their time) has been used as the great argument against “laissez faire” (leave alone in French – the government staying out and letting people get on with things). This evil ideology, the world is told endlessly, meant that the government stood by and “did nothing” whilst vast numbers of Irish people died.

But what would things have looked like if one had been in Ireland in the 1840s?

Well there were lots of road (and other) construction projects that did not seem to make any economic sense (roads from nowhere to nowhere – and so on) – hard to believe that private companies were paying for them. And in the work camps people were spreading sickness to each other – because of the concentration of population.

Also people were being handed large amounts of Indian Corn (from the United States) that gave them dystentary and killed them. Hard to see why private companies would sell such stuff to consumers – would it not have a bad effect on their commercial reputation with customers?

Then there were these state schools in so many parts of Ireland – in the days of Edmund Burke such places had not existed.

Also one would have seen policemen (in much of England and Wales there still were no government police in rural areas in the 1840s) – and riding round in groups and with firearms on their backs (oh yes – the Royal Irish Police were armed).

These people seemed to spend a lot of their time riding up to farms (and other places) and demanding unpaid “rates” (local property taxes) for such things as the “Poor Law” (which had not existed only a few years before), smashing down doors and waving weapons about. Hard to see how farms (and other enterprises) could take on more employees – when they were being treated like this.

However, one would indeed see a lot of poor tenants being evicted from their homes – the potato crop had failed and they were not given a chance to grow anything else, because they were being kicked off the land.

At last! Evil capitalist bloodsuckers – destroying the poor. Accept…..

Most of those evicted seem to be from holdings under Four Pounds in rateable value. That “rate” thing again – and the little provision that for holdings under Four Pounds in value the landlord was responsible for the rates, for the property tax.

Clue – “greedy capitalists” do not tend to like unoccupied ground. Unless tenants actually cost them money. And many of the “rich” Irish landlords were on the verge of bankruptcy themselves.

“But food was exported during the famine” – so it was (although nothing like the amounts the stories claim – the same story tellers who will tell you that the Ottoman Turks sent relief ships), and so were people – to earn wages to pay for food.

They went to work in (for example) the factories of Britain and in the railways that were linking up the industrial areas of Britain.

But why had not the greedy capitalists built lots of factories in Ireland? It could not have been because of many decades of government regulations could it?

And government regulations (the 18th century Penal Laws) could not have been the reason that most of the people were reduced to uneconomic peasant plots (wildly different from English farming) in the first place. Any more than government confiscations of land had created the class of absantee landlords – many of whom had harldy ever even seen the estates they owned.

In an sane economy if an estate is badly managed other people will come along with money to buy it (believeing they can manage the land better) which is why even if land is handed to useless warlords it will eventually get into the hands of sensible folk. But in much of Ireland (not all of it) few locals seemed to have the money to buy land (even when they were eventually allowed to), almost as if something had being undermining the Irish economy for a long time, such as a large interventionist state…….

Surely not, that could not possibly be true – it would not be “laissez faire”.

Any more than armed men riding all over the place and collecting taxes (by violence and the threat of it) was “laissez faire”. Even in Edmund Burke’s day he had warned that whilst taxes per person were lower in Ireland – if one measured things in relation to size of the Irish economy, taxes were much higher (again – clue, things had not got better in terms of taxation).

But let us shut up about all this (and so much else) – it spoils the nice simple morality play.

So move along people, no state interventionism here. Just “laissez faire”.

One Comment

  1. Paul Marks says:

    Along with all the big things – there was one “little” thing the “Scots Irish” hated, the government licensing and taxing of whisky making.

    The American government (after independence) tried that itself – and promising to get rid of such things was something that helped Thomas Jefferson into the Whitehouse.

    And he kept his word – although the tax was back with the Civil War (it has never gone – hence “Moonshine” to this day).

    Ian B. is right – the traditional American did always have a Bible (if people find that scary – so be it, and it would be the Geneva translation before the King James and the comments in the Geneva are hardcore), but he would have also had a firearm (another thing some people might be scared of) ready for his other hand.

    Partly because to have a firearm (in Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland) was banned by the British government – in certain key periods of history.

    And, of course, a bottle of spirit not far away. Made locally (and, if need be, “unoffically”).

    And the Catholic Irish (in spite of all the centuries of feuding) are not really from a different planet.

    After all Tory island (from which the Tory party gets its name – “remote, cold and ruled by brigands”) was Catholic.

    And (I am told) still has no visible means of support for a lot of the locals.

    The spirits are not really fey folk – the real spirits come in bottles.

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