Saturday, June 28, 2008

Building the Famine Walls

As the credit crunch threatens to bite, there is another time in history when another credit crunch left people literally starving - the Irish potato famine of 1847-51.

Ireland exported wheat to England and was described as the most fertile country in the British Empire. The Irish peasant farmers worked for their English absentee landlords producing grain for export, but with only enough land to grow potatoes for themselves. When potato blight destroyed this vulnerable and overfarmed monoculture crop, between one and two million Irish people died of starvation and the diseases of starvation. Meantime, more than enough food for the entire Irish nation was exported to ensure a wealthy English minority enjoyed a modern Western life style.

Not all landlords continue to demand extortionate rents while their tenants farmers starved. Some paid their workforce to build the Famine Walls; to collect stones from the ground and make them into walls that went nowhere and divided nothing.

Yet throughout the Irish troubles, those Landlords who built the Famine Walls have remained safe behind the walls that seemed to be going nowhere. Even today, the land still belongs to them and their descendants.

This might be a lesson for all large companies wondering what to do about falling company profits. Before they think about redundancies, these companies might do well to remember that the strength of the human tribe lies in its diversity. Everyone, from the most Sensitive to the most Robust is part of the whole. Companies contemplating making their staff redundant would do well to remember John Donne's words from 'No man is an Island'

"Send not to know for whom the Bells tolls - it tolls for thee"

Copyright (c) Dr. Liz Miller


Peter A. said...

A much-needed departure, Dr Miller. It's too easy to hammer on about success and failure of technique without thinking why it's being done. ---Not just in medicine, but everything.

It's measurement isn't it. There used to be time-and-motion men in factories didn't there. And now the men at the top hadn't even the sense to realise that lending to those who couldn't repay, and just repackaging that business as wonderful, was a disaster in waiting.

Dr. Liz Miller said...

I agree - the crunch has many of the hall marks of a constructed disaster. Whether due to incompetence or conspiracy, only time will tell.

peter a. said...

People want houses, there are men who want to build them, yet our priority remains with caring for the money. It's very easy to see why people become angry and socialist when faced with such a system.

Why did we ever believe health would be excepted? In your gut you don't believe men will use such basic things as a goad - but of course they do, and some.

So what's the answer? Not building follies, but an alternative economy - where knowledge of the value of what has been done begins to weigh comparably with the token, the money.

It's already happening: these blogs, documentaries showing injustice, war photographers, hecklers - all people who want to show the conventional presentation of things might just be conniving in a falsehood....

Dr. Liz Miller said...

I agree - the cost of anything for example a pencil, has two parts. The cost of producing the pencil and its speculative value.
In the case of an ordinary pencil that anyone can make, a) the cost is that of production and b) a small slice of profit.

In the case of a Gucci designer pencil, the cost is a) that of production and b) a slice of profit based on speculation - the speculation is that, a person will pay well over the cost of production for an item that has "special" value such as a Gucci designer pencil.

Money becomes difficult when it no represents the cost of production but has become almost entirely a vehicle of speculation.

The solution is to separate the speculative side of money from the part that represents the cost of production. Ordinary people could use a currency that represents the cost of production.

"Special" people could use speculative money, to accumulate vast fortunes in the Monopoly game of the financial markets. Gucci pencils could be an exclusive product only available to "special" people who want to speculate.

To a certain extent this separation happens already. Nonetheless, these "special" people need their own currency. Before they destroy the money the rest of us have to use in our everyday lives.

Henry North London said...

oh Good to see you blogging Liz

The credit crunch affects us all