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Capitalism and the Irish famine


Big Bobo

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Oct 3, 2008
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When you ask an ordinary person what the cause of the Irish famine was they will most likely say it was a failure of the potato crop. This is only partly true. The most important questions to ask is why were millions depending on a crop that was not even indigineous to Ireland? And why were the landowners exporting vast amounts of pork, beef and grain when the people were starving?

Ireland in fact produced enough food to feed 18 million people during the 1840s. However the market dictated that that the supply went where there was "demand". When capitalists harp on about supply and "demand", demand only includes those with money. The poor all over the world have many demands and needs but these will always be ignored by the capitalists.

The role of the state under capitalism is to protect private property. That is why the police and army protected the landlords and hung or deported those who tried to "steal" food. The fact is the only thieves were the landlords themselves. The capitalist robber baron will always use coercive methods to dispossess the people and then create laws to legalise their theft.

What Ireland needed in the 1840s was a mass revolution which placed the people in control of the lands. A planned economy could then be formed to produce according to people's needs and not for profit.

It is disgraceful that the history books are constantly being re-written so that capitalism and the capitalist state seem blameless. The revisionists wish us to believe that this was just an accident or an unavoidable tragedy. Maybe the capitalist "historians" will acknowledge the state could have done more to provide relief but that is all. It is inconvienient for the capitalists to acknowledge that the "free market" is the main cause of the saddest and most shameful part of irish history. That is why they will blame the potato. As George Orwell wrote "Those who control the present control the past".

It is also interesting to note that famines in non-capitalist countries are played up for the purposes of propaganda. Take the famine in China circa 1960 which is the greatest famine in history (although proportionately was not as bad as the Irish famine). This famine is exploited by capitalist historians for ideological reasons. While this famine was partly due to bad planning and naive farming practices enforced by the Party, the severe weather that destroyed many crop harvests are never reported by the capitalist historians.

Famines in capitalist countries are caused by natural disasters, famines in "communist" countries are caused by political theory.
 


Alfred E. Neuman

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Feb 5, 2009
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Very true. "The Great Hunger" by Cecil Woodham-Smith gives a succint account the capitalist mentality of the business classes throughout this period of Irish history.
 

Beagbuí

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Jul 22, 2007
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The Irish Famine was a direct result of crippling government intervention, taxes and infringements on private property rights. Have you ever heard of the Penal Laws? Private property rights were hardly recognised by the courts. Ever heard of the Corn Laws? Taxes were actually increased on the productive people during the famine! Try reading this article for some economics and truth about that dreadful period in our history
What Caused the Irish Potato Famine? - Mark Thornton - Mises Institute
 

Mazzy Maz

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Apr 24, 2007
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Great OP.

Our own contemporary revisionists would have us believe that our current economic woes are down to the actions of a few overly greedy bankers and the system itself is sound. In the 80's they told us that greed is good, now they're telling us that greed is not intrinsic to capitalism and that it would actually function better with a little less of it! laughable.

This has all happened before and it will happen again. Who will we scapegoat next time? Patato blight? Greedy bankers? The public service? The government? Anything but the system upon which the wealthiest rely.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of alternatives we come up with once there is mass acceptance that it is the system that needs changing.
 

Big Bobo

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Looks interesting. The British always reffered to India as "The jewel in the crown". This is because it was there most profitable colony. The purpose of any colony is to make money for the capitalists of the mother country but the British really took the biscuit. By the start of WW2 Britain was taking £250,000,000 out of India (no idea how much in today's money) through pillaging and slave labour.
 

Big Bobo

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The Irish Famine was a direct result of crippling government intervention, taxes and infringements on private property rights. Have you ever heard of the Penal Laws? Private property rights were hardly recognised by the courts. Ever heard of the Corn Laws? Taxes were actually increased on the productive people during the famine! Try reading this article for some economics and truth about that dreadful period in our history
What Caused the Irish Potato Famine? - Mark Thornton - Mises Institute
Only a Ron Paul nut could make a case for the free market not being extensive enough during the famine. The capitalist will always lie, cheat, steal and oppress to make more money. Why would capitalists want more rights for the Irish?
 

sandar

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Only a Ron Paul nut could make a case for the free market not being extensive enough during the famine. The capitalist will always lie, cheat, steal and oppress to make more money. Why would capitalists want more rights for the Irish?
No thats where your wrong Bobo, you are ewquating the existence of the profit motive wioth the existence of a capitlaist society. Marx did not to that?( he would have termed 1840's Ireland as a society at the feudal stage of development rather than the capitlits stage of development and they are very different) food was exported to britian on the orders of the british government regardless of what demand was like in ireland, selling that food in ireland would have generated more profit for capitalists, as their costs would have been lower and indeed more profits for the capitlalists in britian who xould have gotten much higher prices for british potatoes, your OP is attacking the profit motive not capitalism.
 

Big Bobo

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No thats where your wrong Bobo, you are ewquating the existence of the profit motive wioth the existence of a capitlaist society. Marx did not to that?( he would have termed 1840's Ireland as a society at the feudal stage of development rather than the capitlits stage of development and they are very different) food was exported to britian on the orders of the british government regardless of what demand was like in ireland, selling that food in ireland would have generated more profit for capitalists, as their costs would have been lower and indeed more profits for the capitlalists in britian who xould have gotten much higher prices for british potatoes, your OP is attacking the profit motive not capitalism.
That makes absolutely no sense. Every bit of it is wrong.
 

Aindriu

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Very true. "The Great Hunger" by Cecil Woodham-Smith gives a succint account the capitalist mentality of the business classes throughout this period of Irish history.
An excellent book indeed. It very clearly shows the continued export of foodstuffs whilst peasants were starving.
 

sandar

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That makes absolutely no sense. Every bit of it is wrong.
care to explain why yout hink that?
Free markets allow the sale of goods where the most profit can be made, the british government did not allow that to happen wanting the potatoes to be exported to keep prices lower in britian, that was done for political reasons, the potatoes were exp0orted for political rather than economic reasons. The market wasnt free, and Ireland was a feudal society rather than a capitalist one
 

ivnryn

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That makes absolutely no sense. Every bit of it is wrong.
The point about food and capitalism is that there is a decreasing utility of food as you have more of it.

The value of food to a starving person is much higher than the value of a 3rd meal in the day to a richer person. It would be interesting to see the relative prices of food in both places. Do you believe that the price of food in the UK at the time was higher than in Ireland?

If not, then it wasn't a capitalist action. Transporting stuff from a place where it sells for a high price to a place where it sells for a low price does not happen if there is a free market.

It was a fundamentally feudal system. The land that the food was produced on was stolen in the first place (or belonged to the King by right, depending on your view). The peasents weren't free to decide which lord they actually worked for. You worked and the lord got the fruits of your labour.
 

atlantic

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Jan 25, 2008
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The Irish Famine was a direct result of crippling government intervention, taxes and infringements on private property rights. Have you ever heard of the Penal Laws? Private property rights were hardly recognised by the courts. Ever heard of the Corn Laws? Taxes were actually increased on the productive people during the famine! Try reading this article for some economics and truth about that dreadful period in our history
What Caused the Irish Potato Famine? - Mark Thornton - Mises Institute
Beat me to it
 

absconded

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If 1 million died and 7 million survived. Then we should be asking how our great great grandparents survived while they watched their neighbours starve. Maybe the blame lies closer to home than we care to admit.
 

Big Bobo

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care to explain why yout hink that?
Free markets allow the sale of goods where the most profit can be made, the british government did not allow that to happen wanting the potatoes to be exported to keep prices lower in britian, that was done for political reasons, the potatoes were exp0orted for political rather than economic reasons. The market wasnt free, and Ireland was a feudal society rather than a capitalist one
No one was exporting potatoes. In fact no one was selling potatoes at all. They were the food grown by tenant farmers for their own use. Mainly beause potatoes were suited to intensive farming on bad land. When the potato crop failed then the poor had nothing.

The landlords were interested in one thing only- profit. There was no profit to be made from seliing food in the west of Ireland because the people had no money. Instead the landlords used their vast estates to export crops and livestock to Britain and France.

And Ireland was never a fuedal society.
 

Big Bobo

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The point about food and capitalism is that there is a decreasing utility of food as you have more of it.

The value of food to a starving person is much higher than the value of a 3rd meal in the day to a richer person. It would be interesting to see the relative prices of food in both places. Do you believe that the price of food in the UK at the time was higher than in Ireland?
I have never come accross such ignorance! This isn't about junior cert economics where simplistic supply and demand graphs state everyone is made happy eventually.

People starved because they were poor. Food was exported from Ireland because it was profitable to do so.
 

Big Bobo

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If 1 million died and 7 million survived. Then we should be asking how our great great grandparents survived while they watched their neighbours starve. Maybe the blame lies closer to home than we care to admit.
What exactly is that supposed to mean? Are people supposed to feel guilty for surviving a famine? Anyway not all parts of the country were affected in the same way the west was.
 

absconded

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What exactly is that supposed to mean? Are people supposed to feel guilty for surviving a famine? Anyway not all parts of the country were affected in the same way the west was.
You hear all sorts of theories, such as it was the fault of Capitalists, gombeens etc etc.
But the famine affected the whole country.A whole class of people were wiped out. And it was particularly the landless labourers and their families who perished and emmigrated. Their neighbours, i.e. our ancestors survived and prospered. The question must be asked, what did they do to help their neighbours. Not enough obviously.
 

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