Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thornton "Buzz"

We've finalized the text of William Thomas Thornton's 1848 (revised 1874) classic A Plea for Peasant Proprietors, and are now working to get some prepublication "buzz" going . . . besides "makes a great Christmas gift" . . . which it does, but that's not the point. The point is that here is the book proposes a peaceful and practical solution to what, for example, both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street people are demanding, in terms that cause no one to suffer.

The only question that remains (for today, anyway) is why was Thornton's proposal ignored? It might give us clues as to why Capital Homesteading doesn't seem to be getting the attention it deserves. The complications of 19th century Irish political economy offer one possible explanation.

To oversimplify grossly, two events shaped Ireland and its relations with Great Britain in the 19th century. Politically, the "Act of Union" that took effect January 1, 1801 brought together intellectuals and the politically active in a common cause: repeal of the Act and reestablishment of "Home Rule" in some form. Out of the repeal effort of the 1830s came the "Young Ireland" movement of the 1840s, the "Irish Republican Brotherhood" of the 1850s, the "Fenian" uprising of 1867, the Home Rule agitation of the 1870s, the "Land War" of the 1880s, the combination of agrarian and nationalist interests in the 1890s, and, ultimately, the Easter Rising of 1916, the Civil War of the 1920s, partition, and the continuing tensions of today.

Economically, however, the Great Famine was the pivotal event in recent Irish history. It had a disastrous effect on the ordinary people of Ireland, generating popular support for land reform. This manifested in the political activity of the Irish National Land League and its successors, and, eventually, a joining of nationalist and agrarian interests into an uneasy alliance that turned on itself almost as often as it confronted what leading activists considered the eternal British misrule of Ireland.

It is impossible to understand Ireland in the 19th century — or today — without knowing something about "The Great Hunger," An Gorta Mór, as it is known in Irish. The Famine is the defining event in modern Irish history. This is evident in the belief, valid or not, that the Famine was deliberate genocide. Modern explanations that appear to excuse government inaction serve only to confirm the belief that the English were to blame. As Thomas Gallagher described it in his book, Paddy's Lament (1982), the Famine was a "prelude to hatred."

A review of the events surrounding the Famine reveals that, in all likelihood, it was not a fixed policy of genocide, nor even indifference, but a general feeling of helplessness in the face of an unprecedented disaster, and economic institutions that, even today, people do not fully understand, that led to the ineffectiveness of relief efforts. This, in turn, appears to have been caused by reliance on discredited economic theories, notably those of Thomas Malthus. Beneath it all was an unquestioning reliance on assumptions of insufficiency and the fixed (and disproved) belief that it is impossible to finance new capital formation without first cutting consumption and accumulating money savings.

It may be, then, that the key to getting Capital Homesteading on the table as a serious topic of discussion as world leaders search desperately for a solution, whether it be reviving the Irish economy, saving Greece from a financial meltdown, restoring the American economy, or rebuilding Japan's northeast, is to forget about trying to pin blame on someone, and get to work implementing a viable solution.

#30#

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