Volume 5(2017)

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Classical Economic Theory and Policy during the Great Irish Famine*
Hiroyuki Furuya

Associate Professor of the History of Economic Thought, Tokushima Bunri University, Japan

Abstract

This paper aims to clarify the relationship between classical political economy and the Irish policy of the Whig government, including the former’s influence on the latter, during the Great Irish Famine. The paper focuses on the political economy of Nassau William Senior (1790–1864) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). Classical political economy of the time is often accused of utterly failing to prevent mass starvation in Ireland.

The paper argues that, in order to assess this assertion during the Great Famine, it is crucial not to oversimplify as one unified group of Whigs the statesmen and mandarins in the Whig government who planned and managed the relief measures, and the classical political economists who offered broad-scale ideas and advised on policy. Mandarins were not always able to grasp precisely and practice effectively what political economists prescribed, nor did they necessarily intend to do so.

The paper concludes that, concerning the Irish relief measures, the influence of classical political economy has been overestimated.

Keywords: Classical Political Economy, Great Irish Famine, The Russell Government, Nassau William Senior, John Stuart Mill Ireland ‘died of political economy’. ― John Mitchel in 1861 (Mitchel, 2005/1861, p. 139)

*This paper is part of research funded by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), part of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and is based on my presentations, ‘Nassau Senior, the Whig Government, and the Great Irish Famine’, given at the Conference of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought (Roma Tre University, Italy, May 2015), ‘Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the Great Irish Famine’, given at the Conference of the History of Economics Society (Duke University, June 2016), ‘Classical Economic Theory and Policy during the Great Irish Famine’, given at the International Conference on Economic Theory and Policy (Liberty Tower, Meiji University, September 2016), and ‘John Stuart Mill on the Irish question during the Great Famine’, given at the International Conference on Economic Theory and Policy (Liberty Tower, Meiji University, September 2017).