Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Caused the Irish Potato Famine? (Mark Thornton)

Mark Thornton on how government meddling turned a potato blight in 19th century Ireland into a famine that claimed the lives of one million people:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for doing "too little" in response to the Irish Potato Famine of the 19th century that killed one million people and brought about the emigration of millions more. But in fact, the English government was guilty of doing too much.

Blair's statement draws attention to the question of what caused the famine. Up to now, the popular theory is that the Irish were promiscuous, slothful, and excessively dependent on the potato. As a result they died by the hundreds of thousands when a blight appeared and ruined their food source, in the midst of one of the fastest economic growth periods in human history.

Was the Potato Famine an ecological accident, as historians usually say?

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