Transient

I was reading in one of my favorite magazines, The Economist, that 2008 is the United Nation’s International Year of the Potato! Potatoes are great, especially if they are served during the reception and we are hungry from running around all day. Rosemary potatoes, garlic potatoes, they have Twice Baked Potatoes at Anaheim Hills Golf Course that are very good. I’ll bet some of you even had a Mr. Potato Head toy!

Here is the article:

IT IS the world’s fourth-most-important food crop, after maize, wheat and rice. It provides more calories, more quickly, using less land and in a wider range of climates than any other plant. It is, of course, the potato.

The United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato (see article). It hopes that greater awareness of the merits of potatoes will contribute to the achievement of its Millennium Development Goals, by helping to alleviate poverty, improve food security and promote economic development. It is always the international year of this or month of that. But the potato’s unusual history (see article) means it is well worth celebrating by readers of The Economist—because the potato is intertwined with economic development, trade liberalisation and globalisation.

Unlikely though it seems, the potato promoted economic development by underpinning the industrial revolution in England in the 19th century. It provided a cheap source of calories and was easy to cultivate, so it liberated workers from the land. Potatoes became popular in the north of England, as people there specialised in livestock farming and domestic industry, while farmers in the south (where the soil was more suitable) concentrated on wheat production. By a happy accident, this concentrated industrial activity in the regions where coal was readily available, and a potato-driven population boom provided ample workers for the new factories. Friedrich Engels even declared that the potato was the equal of iron for its “historically revolutionary role”.

The potato promoted free trade by contributing to the abolition of Britain’s Corn Laws—the cause which prompted the founding of The Economist in 1843. The Corn Laws restricted imports of grain into the United Kingdom in order to protect domestic wheat producers. Landowners supported the laws, since cheap imported grain would reduce their income, but industrialists opposed them because imports would drive down the cost of food, allowing people to spend more on manufactured goods. Ultimately it was not the eloquence of the arguments against the Corn Laws that led to their abolition—and more’s the pity. It was the tragedy of the Irish potato famine of 1845, in which 1m Irish perished when the potato crop on which they subsisted succumbed to blight. The need to import grain to relieve the situation in Ireland forced the government, which was dominated by landowners who backed the Corn Laws, to reverse its position.

This paved the way for liberalisation in other areas, and free trade became British policy. As the Duke of Wellington complained at the time, “rotten potatoes have done it all.”

Read the Full Article from 

The Economist

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