wrote:] It was useless 'to transfer famine from one country to another.'
If food was bought for Ireland in the present scarcity, prices must
be sent up, and the English and Scots working-classes would pay more
for their food. Large sums of public money had already been spent on
Irish relief, and 'you cannot expect the English and Scotch laborers
to support Ireland and pay famine prices as well.' Everything that could
be done had been done: 'My purchases are carried to the utmost point
short of transferring the famine from Ireland to England.'"59
This statement, coming from Trevelyan, is surprising for two reasons.
First, it is oddly enough both consistent and inconsistent with a strict
interpretation of laissez-faire. Second, it indicates an awareness at
the highest levels of British government that workers were unable to
pay the high famine prices of food. The system of public works was already
in full swing, and the British government argued that the wages it paid
were more than enough to buy food, despite a calculus that did not account
for famine price inflation. However, Trevelyan advocated protecting
English and Scotch workers because he believed that their wages would
not be sufficient to pay famine prices. His position suggests a use
of laissez-faire to protect the lower classes of England and Scotland
at the expense of the Irish.
Davis' argument about the third world being used to subsidize the industrial
dominance of Britain is also extremely difficult to sustain in the Irish
case. The lynchpin of Davis' argument in this regard is that India continued
to export massive amounts of grain throughout the famine. Contemporary
accounts suggest a similar situation in Ireland, and early in the famine
there were riots in many port cities as wheat and oats were exported.
However, as O'Grada convincingly demonstrates, this perspective is flawed
for at least two reasons. First, even if all of the food exported during
the famine were costlessly diverted directly to famine relief, "the
ensuing increased supply of food would have made only a small dent in
the gap left Phytophthora infestans."60 [Original
emphasis.] Secondly, O'Grada shows that over the course of the famine,