The Potato vs. the Economy

Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in 1801, but as a conquered country. The population was eighty-percent Catholic, the majority living in poverty. Until 1829, Catholics were not allowed to own property. Most of the land was owned by English, many of them absentee landlords. Their agents managed the properties and collected rent with almost no regulatory oversight. Most Irish farmers were tenants “at will,” subject to eviction at the whims of the owner or the owners’ agents. The farmers produced peas, beans, honey, rabbits and fish, most of it exported. The tenants themselves subsisted primarily on potatoes and water.

In 1845, a fast-spreading fungal infection wiped out nearly half the potato harvest. The following year, the blight laid waste to three-fourths of the crop. Starving tenants still had to pay their rent. When unable, they were evicted. Property owners took this opportunity to clear out the bothersome tenants on small parcels and consolidate their lands into more profitable large parcels.
British Prime Minister Robert Peel made a secret deal to purchase maize and cornmeal from the U.S. to help relieve hunger in Ireland. Bad weather delayed by months its arrival. After that came the realization that only a few mills in Ireland had the capability to handle maize.

In spite of this, the British government continued its export of foodstuffs from Ireland. Peel’s effort to repeal high taxes on corn brought into Ireland resulted in his ouster as prime minister and his Tory party lost control to the Whig party.
The Whigs were unwavering in their efforts to keep the economy open and their belief in laissez faire, as God intended, without government interfering in natural economic mechanics. They revoked the previous relief efforts so the Irish populace would not become dependent on government handouts. They knew that the economy operated best without meddling.

The result? More than a million Irish died; another million emigrated, many to America.

Modern-day Republicans have taken the lesson from the British Whigs. South Dakota Governor — and Trump sycophant — Kristi Noem is one of five governors who has not issued any sort of shelter-in-place order. Meanwhile, Smithfield Foods has shut down its Sioux Falls pork-processing plant after becoming the nation’s number-one source of covid-19 cases. Smithfield, wholly-owned by WH Group of China, has contributed half of the state’s total coronavirus cases.

The governor’s response? She tweeted, ”Let’s be perfectly clear: a shelter-in-place order would NOT have prevented Smithfield from happening.”

(Why are there two Dakotas anyway? The two have a combined population of less than one-and-three-quarters millions. That’s about one senator for four-hundred-thousand people. California has one senator for each twenty-million citizens; Texas, one for fifteen-million.)

A chilling history of the Irish Potato Famine and how the British government handled it: “The Great Hunger” by Cecil Woodham-Smith

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