Tuesday’s Irish Examiner editorial was entitled Learn from history — more than the economy at stake.
The essence of the article was how both Russia and China, the major proponents of communism, learned from history and the West. We should also learn from history and not repeat it.
The Great Famine, which was a period of mass starvation between 1845 and 1852, is a case in point. For the record, and to forestall any corrective comments historical purists might like to make, this is not a historical treatise, but an effort to show that we have suffered similarly in the past in similar circumstances with very dire consequences for the country, the economy and the people.
From 1800 onwards, for a variety of reasons, an increasingly large proportion of the Irish population subsisted on a diet of potatoes. It was virtually the exclusive diet of the farming community. The main cause of the famine was a potato blight that affected potato crops throughout Europe, but affected Ireland far more severely because of other political and land ownership issues. The structure of farms and land holdings as well as the law greatly affected how Irish “farmers” managed the little land they rented and what they could do with the land.
The bottom line was the rent had to be paid and crops that allowed for that payment had to be grown and sold. This led to considerable quantities of grain crops being exported even during the worst years of the famine.
Indeed, exports of cattle, bacon and ham actually increased during the same period. In an earlier famine in 1782/3, the ports had been closed and it was illegal to export food stuff. However, this was not the case in the 1840s. The net result was over one million dead and several million people forced to emigrate.
So let’s flash forward to 2012. We are once again in dire straits. A calamity has occurred that has affected countries all over Europe and indeed the world. This time it is an economic crisis of global proportions.
However, it has affected some more than others. Ireland appears to be one of those countries to have suffered disproportionately. It needs to get back on its proverbial feet. However, efforts to get the country back on track have to be fair and proportionate.
Unfortunately, that is not how it has been. Government has decided — guided, aided and abetted by the Troika which now appears to control our affairs — to impose disproportionately a level of austerity that risks killing what remains of the economy.
However, it does not stop there. Rather than investing whatever resources we can get to stimulate growth, we are taking every penny out of the economy, borrowing some more and paying it to faceless bankers abroad. Worse still, we are paying this money on behalf of reckless private gamblers. In other words we did not benefit from the antics of Anglo Irish Bank, et al, — yet we are paying for a pleasure we never had.
Worse still it’s costing us tens of billions.
In the 1840s we were forced to export out of Ireland much needed crops and the net result was mass emigration that continued up to very recently. Even that has restarted, albeit not on the same scale. We are now giving money away that could be used to stimulate the economy.
What is the net cost to be? Are we doomed to lose more generations of young gifted people to other countries? Are we to see our Irish companies decimated through lack of finance?
Unfortunately, our government does not appear to be acting in the interest of the people of Ireland. And, again as stated in Tuesday’s paper, “as Mao and Stalin would confirm if they could, ignoring the needs and rights of ordinary people can only lead to collapse”.
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