February 25, 2024

Famine & Unification: The Case of Ireland and North Korea

Marcus Noland’s recent comparison of the famines in Ireland in the 1840s and North Korea in the 1990s is spot-on -- but perhaps not in the way he intended.  In that post he pointed out...

"The Irish Potato famine of the 1840s is one of history’s best remembered.  One of the odd things about the Irish case is that Ireland actually exported food during the famine as economic historian Joel Mokyr has demonstrated.  The potato, the island’s mono-crop, was very heavy in value or caloric terms due to its high water content.  The transportation network across Ireland was underdeveloped and presented an impediment to internal trade.  Moreover, incomes in western Ireland were relatively low. So cultivators on the more fertile east side of the island could earn more money by exporting their crop across the sea to Britain than by hauling the potatoes across the island to be sold to their poorer relations."