Forgetting the Hunger

I know the Irish famine was long ago and far away, but it’s still especially galling to me when someone with an Irish surname believes that the poor need the “incentive” of hunger and homelessness to make them go to work. But Paul Ryan’s “poverty” speech in Ohio yesterday amounted to that. He echoed what the English said when they continued to export food out of Ireland while a million Irish starved to death.

What, then, were the ideologies that held the British political élite and the middle classes in their grip, and largely determined the decisions not to adopt the possible relief measures outlined above? There were three in particular-the economic doctrines of laissez-faire, the Protestant evangelical belief in divine Providence, and the deep-dyed ethnic prejudice against the Catholic Irish to which historians have recently given the name of ‘moralism’.

Laissez-faire, the reigning economic orthodoxy of the day, held that there should be as little government interference with the economy as possible. Under this doctrine, stopping the export of Irish grain was an unacceptable policy alternative, and it was therefore firmly rejected in London, though there were some British relief officials in Ireland who gave contrary advice.

The influence of the doctrine of laissez-faire may also be seen in two other decisions. The first was the decision to terminate the soup-kitchen scheme in September 1847 after only six months of operation. The idea of feeding directly a large proportion of the Irish population violated all of the Whigs’ cherished notions of how government and society should function. The other decision was the refusal of the government to undertake any large scheme of assisted emigration. …

… There was a very widespread belief among members of the British upper and middle classes that the famine was a divine judgment-an act of Providence-against the kind of Irish agrarian regime that was believed to have given rise to the famine. The Irish system of agriculture was perceived in Britain to be riddled with inefficiency and abuse. According to British policy-makers at the time, the workings of divine Providence were disclosed in the unfettered operations of the market economy, and therefore it was positively evil to interfere with its proper functioning. …

… Finally, we come to ‘moralism’-the notion that the fundamental defects from which the Irish suffered were moral rather than financial. Educated Britons of this era saw serious defects in the Irish ‘national character’-disorder or violence, filth, laziness, and worst of all, a lack of self-reliance. This amounted to a kind of racial or cultural stereotyping. The Irish had to be taught to stand on their own feet and to unlearn their dependence on government.

Of course, the biggest reason so many Irish had been reduced to living on little else but potatoes — and on nothing when the potato crops failed — was that the upper classes had rigged the system to keep the Irish Catholic peasants from ever being upwardly mobile.

Back to Paul Ryan — Ed Kilgore wrote,

In other words, Medicaid and food stamps will be block-granted, which in the former case will (along with the repeal of ObamaCare) eliminate health insurance for 31 to 37 million poor people, and in the latter eliminate food assistance for a mere 10 million. And since Medicaid, food stamps and the earned-income-tax-credit (extremely unlikely to survive a Romney administration attack on “tax loopholes”) were key working-poor supports underlying welfare reform, it’s unlikely welfare reform will exactly thrive, either.

And so, the entire Romney/Ryan “poverty” strategy is basically to consign poor people to the bracing independence of relying on an unimaginable boom in jobs that will supposedly be produced by tax and spending cuts.

See also Eight Things To Know Before Paul Ryan’s Speech On Poverty.

18 thoughts on “Forgetting the Hunger

  1. Jonathan Chait gives a pretty good explanation in Paul Ryan: No, I Want to Help the Poor! Really!. This privileged clown actually believes the nonsense he’s pushing, even though all the empircal data suggests otherwise.

    I just wonder how his talk is being received, whether it helps him or hurts him. I will give the guy credit for coming out and stating what he really thinks, however much it reveals him to be a third rate thinker and first rate con man.

  2. The Brit’s were not alone in history, as I’m sure you know, maha.

    In the early 20th Century, Russia starved Ukraine, killing millions and millions of people, in a move to punish that former country, and to force collectivizaion on an independent people, by stealing crops from the richest farmland in the world.

    Stalin’s version of Communism was its own form of secular religion, if such a thing is possible And the Russian way, like the Protestant way, was deemed far, far superior – by the Russians of course.
    Mao also did this to the country people in certain parts of China.

    In both Russia and China, it was said to have been done for the greater good.
    That’a almost always the excuse for genocide.

    Just like Ryan’s push to force people off of government aid and into mythical, non-existant, jobs, right in the middle of when there’s a jobless recovery from a near depression.
    It’s for ‘their own good!’
    And if Romney and Ryan do win, they WILL cause another near depression, maybe even a full-blown one, and that, too, will be blamed on the lazy louts who couldn’t find jobs fast enough to help the “Job Creators” attempts at recovery through tax cuts for themselves, and tax increases on the poor and middle class – working, or non-working. People not having money to spend will never enter their equation, since they don’t understand what that’s like, and haven’t for several generations.

    Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan need to remember, that “The greater good,” almost always leads to ‘the greatest evil.’

    • The Brit’s were not alone in history, as I’m sure you know, maha.

      Yes. However, I don’t believe there’s an example other than the Hunger in which the reasons for the “let ’em starve” policy are so nearly identical to rightie groupthink today.

  3. I am especially infuriated by the refusal to assist emigration. Is laissez-faire another name for depraved indifference?

    It was by such rationalizations that the United Kingdom gave up all moral claim to rule over the Emerald Isle. They would not protect, so why should the people obey? And so, in due course, the U.K. lost most of Ireland; and the fragment they kept has cost them endless troubles. Is this, too, the hand of Providence?

  4. “The Brits were not alone in history……”
    True, but the Brits also started the fires that continue to burn in the Middle East and in South Asia (india / Pakistan).
    They said “The sun never sets on the British Empire”, well. that was true for a while, not so much now.
    We have a rather large population of Brits right here in Central Florida.I have had dealings with some, I do NOT recommend dealing with most, as they are here to escape taxation, yet run home for socialized care when they get sick.
    I currently host a sweet 22 year old from the UK whose family thought it
    ” proper” to cast her out into the street at 17.The epitome of white trash, it ain’t just an American thing. She has a student visa and is attending a local community college. There’s ALWAYS room for one more at my table.
    Being half Irish, I hold some contempt for the Brits for what they did to my ancestors, the other half LOVES pasta and meatballs and cheap red wine…..

  5. What was that old Twilight Zone episode, where the “friendly” aliens landed and announced: “We wish to serve man.”?

  6. Some good news, Colin Powell Endorses President Obama. Finally some maturity instead of that stupid twit, Ryan. Also, If you Succumb to Cynicism, the Regressives Win it All:

    The Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the rabid Republican right, CEOs and Wall Street titans who want to entrench their privileges and tax advantages – all of them would like nothing better than for every progressive in America to throw in the towel.

    Then America is entirely theirs.

    The alternative to cynicism is to become more involved in politics. Help create a progressive force in this nation that grows into a movement that can’t be stopped.

    We almost had it last year in the Occupy movement. We had the arguments and the energy. What we lacked was organization and discipline.

    I’ve spent years in Washington and I know nothing good happens there unless good people outside Washington are organized and mobilized to put pressure on Washington to make it happen.

    This isn’t new. In the election of 1936, a constituent approached FDR with a list of things she wanted him to do if reelected. “Ma’am,” he said, “I’d like to do all those things. But if I’m reelected, you must make me.”

  7. That “Twilight Zone” episode, and the misanthorpic Burgess Meredith, hating humanity, and the only survivor of a nuclear attack, and just wanting to spend the rest of his life reading books, breaking his glasses.

    Also, too/three – “The Monsters Are Due On Main Street.”

  8. Oh, and what’s really “rich,” and ironic, is Paul Ryan talking about poverty and entitlements, and the fact that he took SS money after his father died that he really didn’t need to since his family was pretty well-off.

    He’s the ULTIMATE moocher – someone who took money that he didn’t need.

  9. If Paul Ryan ends up with a cooking show on PBS Create, even I am going to insist on de-funding!

    Soylent Yum!

  10. It occurred to me today that the effect of block grants will vary widely from state to state. Progressive governors will use all the federal block grant to help the poor – conservative states will take the block grant and make the connected rich – richer. All this is no revelation, but one predictable outcome was striking. We will see domestic self-deportation. Poor people who might starve at the hands of a conservative governor will move to a progressive state where survival is possible. The effect will be just what conservatives want – relocation of the rabble from ‘their’ states to liberal states concentrating the burden disproportionately.

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