Also, it happened in the 1840s.
hey guys, there actually was an Irish Famine in 1740 (which I knew about, cos it’s the reason why there’s an obelisk on Killiney Hill, as an early form of workfare*) but it also involved potatoes (which I didn’t know). It wasn’t blight, just cold weather, but it had a similar efect as potatoes were a staple foodcrop.
*the inscription on it reads: “Last year being hard with the poor, walks about these hills and this were erected by John Mapas, June 1742.” No more than 100 years later, there was little or no concept of giving relief on a grand scale without requiring work in return; though distasteful as it may seem, relief works were a private form of public works to create employment when the normal economic means of sustenance were failing - we may have the welfare state today, but we have a political culture anathema to the idea of public works.
That’s actually something I’ve wondered about the famine relief projects - were they more comparable to workfare (which I think is the usual assumption) or to Keynsianism? I’ve always avoided Irish history though (shit bores me to fucking tears) so the only basis I really have is from secondary school.
Anyway yes an anonymous person also pointed that out to me about the 1740 famine in an ask, but while it’s a fair point, I kind of doubt that that is the one the person who made this meme had in mind (even if they looked up the dates of the Great Famine and stumbled across this one somehow).
That’s a very interesting question [puts on a lecturer voice]. I mean, on the one hand Keynesianism is different because it starts with the assumption of some level of social insurance/protection (as would have existed in Britain and the advanced economies of Europe from the early 20th century) so it’s about creating employment and demand in the economy, rather than just giving people enough food to stay alive. On the other hand though, and this was what I found interesting in dissecting the whole ‘Trevalyn’s corn’ aspect of Irish Famine history, the attitude amongst the Whigs in the initial response to the famine was an ideological one - liberal in the economic and philosophical sense - that can be traced to today’s anti-Keynesianism, regarding any state interference in the market as injurious to the ‘invisible hand’.
That said, the stronger impetus in dealing with the need for assistance was an older, more moralistic one that created the ‘workhouses’ for poor relief - so relief works in the 1740s as in the 1840s would be a continuation of that, and I’d say also continuing into today’s notion of ‘workfare’ and anyone who says the unemployed should ‘work’ in an involuntary way for their benefits, rather than the conditions being created for full employment. When the Tories took power in the later years of the Great Famine, their conservatism was a less ideological mix of callousness and inadequate compassion, but the outcome was essentially the same: what needed to be done - transfers of massive amounts of food from the wealthy Empire - wasn’t.
It’s not totally fair to blame the British elite for that, however: the conception of doing so didn’t really exist as it does today, and I’m not sure the infrastructure or even the spare capacity (given that this is still only the mid-19th century, with plenty of technological advances in agriculture and transportation still to be made) was there either. Of course, it would have been a great imperial achievement, and one we would ought to be grateful for still today, if such a feat had been accomplished and a massive famine not even on Britain’s doorstep, but in its annexed guest-room, had been prevented - but as a state it was unwilling or unable to do so.
And what if it had been done? We couldn’t be reliant on food imports, certainly not without any native industry to pay for them, and the much larger population was only supportable by the potato anyway, so it’s a massive counter-factual to try and substitute the response we may have liked to have seen to the Famine for the one that was politically and technically contextual for the time.