The agony of repeat begins......
Ireland And Free Trade
"The only country in the world I know of that has thoroughly free trade forced upon her by compulsory process is that most distracted and unfortunate land, Ireland. Before the union her manufacturing industries were protected against England by duties on woolens, silks, cotton, yarn, and twist, and cotton manufactured goods. Her calicoes and muslins were protected by a duty almost prohibitory, and Ireland was rapidly becoming a successful manufacturing country. Her people were happy, contented, industrious, and prosperous. There was a loom in almost every house, and with it comfort came, too. Her linens were known and appreciated all over the world, and her silks were gaining a ready market.
There were in 1800, as appears by an imperfect census then taken, over 8,000 weavers employed in Cork alone, over 5,000 manufacturing woolen goods in Dublin, 3,000 making blankets in Balbrigan, 2,000 weaving calicoes in Wicklow, 1,000 making flannels, while the numbers engaged in linen work were immense.
This linen trade was encouraged by subsidies, but they were gradually withdrawn until all protection ceased in 1826. In 1825 more than thirteen million of dollars were expended in the purchase of coarse, unbleached, home-made webs of linen. "What a power of good, of comfort, and of happiness, those home-made webs revealed.
England, not content with destroying Ireland's navigation, with crushing out, in the earlier days, her manufacture of woolens, greedy to manufacture for the world, determined that the rest of mankind should raise the raw materials to feed her hungry looms, as the South wanted us to feed their slaves, beguiled poor Ireland into assenting to the act of the union, under the terms of which every duty was repealed—some gradually, to be sure, but certainly. The act continued the tariff on woolens for twenty years, terminated it on calicoes and muslins in 1821, on cotton yarn and twist in 1816, withdrew all subsidies in 1826, and Ireland enjoyed the benefit of absolute free trade.
What was the result? England held both ends of the bargain. Ireland could raise in her fertile soil the raw material. England could make it into goods cheaper than she could, but Ireland had no voice in the price to be paid for either.
In 1840, another census was taken, and there were 500 blanket-makers in Kilkenny, 200 silk- weavers in Dublin, no carpet makers in all Ireland, no linen- weavers in Cork, 300 operatives in that city in all the manufacturing industries, where fifteen years before there were 8,000 weavers alone.
Free trade had done its work and Ireland was starving. She is the only absolutely free trade country in the world today, the only land enjoying its rare privileges in complete fullness, and what a commentary it affords with a good climate, a fertile soil, great rivers, splendid water-power, broad, safe bays and harbors, an abundance of minerals, an industriously-inclined people, it is the most terribly vexed, troubled, suffering, distracted, impoverished, starving country in the world.
Irishmen, loving their land earnestly and with more unbounded enthusiasm than the men of any other country, have been driven into exile by the millions. Now, I do not blindly charge all of her woes to free trade alone; land tenure has to answer for a portion, not for more than half. Give her a parliament of her own, and the first act passed would be a protective tariff, and in twenty years from now the exiled Irishman would return to the land he loves and find it peaceful, contented, and prosperous. England, for her own selfish purposes, fastened these two fearful leeches upon her, and they have been fattening on her blood."
Senator William Pierce Frye
Speech in the United States Senate, February 10,1882
Note: Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan was assistant secretary to HM Treasury from 1840–1859, during both the Irish famine and the Highland Potato Famine of 1846-1857. In Ireland he was responsible for administering famine relief.
"The influence of laissez faire on the treatment of Ireland during the famine is impossible to exaggerate. Almost without exception the high officials and politicians responsible for Ireland were fervent believers in non-interference by Government, and the behavior of the British authorities only becomes explicable when their fanatical belief in private enterprise and their suspicions of any action which might be considered Government intervention are borne in mind.
The loss of the potato crop was therefore to be made good, without Government interference, by the operations of private enterprise and private firms, using the normal channels of commerce. The Government was not to appear in food markets as a buyer, there was to be "no disturbance of the ordinary course of trade" and "no complaints from private traders" on account of Government competition.
The flaw in the plan was the underdeveloped state of the food and provision trade in a great part of Ireland. Large numbers of people, especially in the west and south-west, hardly purchased food at all; they grew potatoes and lived on them. Shops and organizations for importing foodstuffs and distributing them on the English model were generally found only in more prosperous districts in north-east Ulster, Dublin, some places in Eastern Ireland, and the larger towns, like Cork. Where relief would be most needed, the means by which it was to be supplied seldom existed."
The Great Hunger, 1962
"On August 17, 1846, Lord John Russel rose in the Commons to acquaint the House, "with great pain" that "the prospect of the potato crop is even more distressing than last year - that the disease has appeared earlier, and its ravages are far more extensive"; it was "imperative on the government and Parliament to take extraordinary measures for relief."
The new relief scheme, briefly, fell under two main heads.
First, though public works were again to be undertaken, and on a large scale, the British Government would no longer, as last year, bear half their cost. The whole expense was to be paid by the district in which the works were carried out. "Presentment sessions," meetings of ratepayers at which works were proposed, would be held as before, but instead of being voluntary meetings they were to be summoned by the Lord-Lieutenant, at his discretion. Works were to be approved and executed by the Board of Works. The cost was to be met by advances from the Treasury, repayable in their entirety in ten years, at 3 1/2 per cent. interest, and the money for repayment was to be raised by a rate levied on all poor-rate payers in the locality, a momentous and controversial innovation. The expense was designed to "fall entirely on persons possessed of property in the distressed district," who were, after all, responsible for the poor on their estates. This part of the new procedure was embodied in an Act, "to facilitate the employment of the Labouring Poor for a limited period in distressed districts in Ireland," popularly called the Labour Rate Act. This measure was the most important section of the new scheme, and proved a source of difficulty, confusion, discontent and ruin. In addition, the modest sum of 50,000 pounds was to be spent in free grants to those districts in Ireland too poor to bear the whole cost of public works.
Second, the Government would not import or supply any grain food. There were to be no Government depots to sell meal at a low cost or, in urgent cases, to make free issues, as had been done during last season's failure. No orders were to be sent abroad, nor would any purchase be made by Government in local markets. It was held that the reason why dealers and import merchants had so signally failed to provide food to replace the potato last season had been the Government's purchases. Trade, said Trevelyan, had been "paralysed" on account of these purchases, which interfered with private enterprise and the legitimate profits of private enterprise; and how, he asked, could dealers be expected to invest in the very large stocks necessary to meet this year's total failure of the potato if at any moment Government might step in with supplies - sold at low cost - which would deprive dealers of their profit and "make their outlay so much loss?"
The Great Hunger, 1962
"One of the reasons why the British Government did not feel bound to send food to Skibbereen was that ample food was to be found there already. "On Saturday, notwithstanding all this distress," wrote Major Parker, the Board of Works' Relief Inspector, on December 21, "there was a market plentifully supplied with meat, bread, fish, in short everything." This extraordinary contradiction occurred all over Ireland during the famine years, and was not understood by the British Government. Trevelyan insisted that the "resources of the country should be "drawn out," failing to realize that those resources were so utterly inaccessible to the unfortunate wretches dying in the streets and by the roadsides that they might as well never have existed. The starving in such places as Skibereen perished not because there was no food but because they had no money with which to buy it."
The Great Hunger, 1962
But where had the money gone?
In true laissez faire capitalist redistribution of wealth:
"Routh blamed the landlords. The proprietors of the Skibereen district, he told Trevelyan, "draw an annual income of 50,000 pounds." There were twelve landowners, of whom the largest was Lord Carbery, who Routh declared, drew 15,000 pounds in rent; next was Sir William Wrixon-Becher, on whose estate the town of Skibereen stood; Sir William, alleged Routh, drew 10,000 pounds, while the Reverand Stephen Townsend, a Protestant clergyman, drew 8,000 pounds. "Ought such destitution to prevail with such resources?"
The Great Hunger, 1962
And I haven't touched on laissez faire capitalism in England 1800-1840 and the hunger and pauperism that resulted.