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The Irish Famine: Britain’s Biggest Economic Policy Failure?

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“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine”. (John Mitchel) Nationalist and revisionist historians have furiously debated British culpability for the famine, instead of examining modern Britain’s worst social and economic disaster in terms of economic policy. This paper takes this new approach to topic, arguing that instead of the British running a “laissez-faire” policy towards the famine, there was a consistent relief policy based on supply-side ideas popular at the time. But these policies misunderstood the underlying cause of the famine, a collapse in monetary incomes, which instead accidentally made Ireland’s problems in the 1840s much worse.

This talk is part of the Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History series.

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