Tariffs, Trade, and the British Corn Laws

Stuart Schneiderman linked an article by Robert Samuelson on the 1846 British repeal of the tariffs on food imports, which further linked an Economist article arguing that:

With the repeal of the tariffs, instituted to protect British corn farmers, liberal economic policies ascended. Free trade, free enterprise, free markets and limited government became the rule. And the world has not been the same since.  (Schneiderman’s summary)

To me, it is highly questionable how much the elimination of tariffs had to do with limited government and internal free enterprise. The view that the British 1846 action was economically a very good thing for almost everybody is, however, generally accepted.  From the Economist article:

The case for getting rid of British tariffs on imported grain was not a dry argument about economic efficiency. It was a mass movement, one in which well-to-do liberal thinkers and progressive businessmen fought alongside the poor against the landowners who, by supporting tariffs on imports, kept up the price of grain…When liberals set up the Anti-Corn Law League to organise protests, petitions and public lectures they did so in the spirit of the Anti-Slavery League, and in the same noble name: freedom. The barriers the league sought to remove did not merely keep people from their cake—bad though such barriers were, and strongly though they were resented. They were barriers that held them back, and which set people against each other. Tearing them down would not just increase the wealth of all. It would bring to an end, James Wilson believed, the “jealousies, animosities and heartburnings between individuals and classes…and…between this country and all others.”

Again, this is all mostly generally-accepted thinking.  But Stuart’s post and the links reminded me of something I read–oddly enough, in a 1910 book on railroad history.  The author (Angus Sinclair) describes the transition to steel rails (from cast iron) and the heavier trains they enabled, and then discusses the political-economic impact of this transition:

The invention of cheap methods of making steel rails has exerted a tremendous effect upon railroad transportation, and has created social revolutions in certain part of the world…It threw many farms in New England and along the Atlantic seaboard out of cultivation; it caused a semi-revolution in farming business in the British Isles, and strongly affected the condition and fortunes of millions of people in other countries.  Irish peasants used to go in thousands to England and Scotland to work in the harvesting of grain crops and thereby earned enough money to pay the rent of their small holdings.  Steel rails and Consolidation locomotives stopped the cultivation of so many wheat fields in the British Isles that the help of the Irish worker was no longer needed…

The woes of Ireland were merely the preliminary manifestations of hardships inflicted through the grim ordeal of competition worked out by our cheapened  methods of land transportation.  (The heavier locomotive enabled by steel rails) is steadily forcing more grain raising farms of Europe out of cultivation and is raising a demand for protection against cheap land, just as our politicians have so long urged the necessity for protection against the cheap labor of Europe.

About 60 years ago Great Britain abolished all duties on grain…By curious reasoning the statesmen believed that this policy would not only make the British Isles the manufacturers of the world, but that it would increase the prosperity of the agricultural communities as well.  The first thirty years’ experience of free corn did not seriously  challenge the correctness of the free trade theory, for more of the American wheat lands were yet unbroken prairie or virgin forests, and our steel rail makers and locomotive builders were merely getting ready…In 1858 the rate per bushel of wheat from Chicago to New York was 38.61 cents.  The rate today is 11.4 cents…

The effect of that cheapening of transportation in the United States has been very disastrous to Great Britain, for during the last thirty years there had been a shrinkage of 3,000,000 acres in wheat and another of 750,000 acres in green crops; an enormous amount of land had reverted to pasturage…and the number of cultivators of the soil  had declined 600,000 in thirty years–1,000,000 in fifty years.

That is a high price to pay for the devotion to a theory which fails to work out as expected.


But then he says…

The cheapening process represented by these figures involved changes that caused terrible affliction and suffering to a multitude of people, but their misfortune has been small compared to the benefits conferred upon the many by the invention of Bessemer steel and the development of the hundred-ton locomotive.

I think he is saying that the technological developments of which he speaks were greatly beneficial, the coupling of these with the elimination of the tariffs–a theory which fail(ed) to work out as expected, in his view–led to a great deal of unnecessary human suffering  The Wikipedia article on this topic says that British agriculture, until 1880, “retained a kind of headship,” with its technology far ahead of most European farming, its cattle breeds superior, its cropping the most scientific and its yields the highest, with high wages leading to higher standard of living for agricultural workers than in comparable European countries.  However, after 1877 wages declined and “farmers themselves sank into ever increasing embarrassments; bankruptcies and auctions followed each other; the countryside lost its most respected figures,” with those who tended the land with greatest pride and conscience suffering most as the only chance of survival came in lowering standards.  

Books of economic history that I’ve read generally assert that the reduction of the farming population–first by enclosures and then by the imports from America and elsewhere–were an essential enabler of the Industrial Revolution. And certainly, large amounts of labor were needed to operate the emerging network of factories.  But it’s also true that the pressure on people to leave the farming life created a downward pressure on the wages which factory owners needed to offer.  While it’s often noted that people wouldn’t have taken the new factory jobs if they’d had better alternatives available, it does seem that the attractiveness of those alternatives had been considerably reduced by the combination of better transportation and the elimination of import restrictions.

Of course, railroads weren’t the only transportation mode that was achieving great efficiency improvements: improved ocean transportation was also a factor.  Sinclair also doesn’t mention the Irish Famine, which was aggravated by the existence of the Corn Laws and the consequent difficulties in increasing supplies…indeed, the Famine was itself a key motivator for Corn Law repeal.  There are certain parallels between the events described by Sinclair and the situation in our present era–for example, we now have the transportation technologies of air freight and container freight, plus the Internet and other forms of improved telecommunications. And during the earliest years of the reduced barriers to Chinese imports, the full impact of this regulatory change coupled with the above technologies was probably not fully grasped, because the Chinese manufacturers and internal infrastructure builders were merely getting ready, to use Sinclair’s terminology.

So…what do you think of Angus Sinclair’s argument and its possible applicability to our own time?


36 thoughts on “Tariffs, Trade, and the British Corn Laws”

  1. It’s important that we give some consideration to other side of the argument. Here is what Prime Minister Disraeli said during the repeal debate.

    He was concerned that the previous culture had wealth tied to the land. Landowners, through their wealth, were therefore connected to the community. This connection included responsibilities to the welfare of community, and it was uncertain what would happen to those responsibilities once wealth became tied to assets far away from the community. We now know his concerns were legitimate. His concerns still are legitimate.

    It is all very well to talk of the barbarities of the feudal system, and to tell us that in those days when it flourished a great variety of gross and grotesque circumstances and great miseries occurred but these were not the result of the feudal system; they were the result of the barbarism of the age. They existed not from the feudal system, but in spite of the feudal system. The principle of the feudal system, the principle which was practically operated upon, was the noblest principle, the grandest, the most magnificent and benevolent that was ever conceived by sage, or ever practised by patriot. Why, when I hear a political economist, or an Anti-Corn-Law Leaguer, or some conceited Liberal reviewer come forward and tell us, as a grand discovery of modern science, twitting and taunting, perhaps, some unhappy squire who cannot respond to the alleged discovery – when I hear them say, as the great discovery of modern science, that “Property has its duties as well as its rights,” my answer is that that is but a feeble plagiarism of the very principle of that feudal system which you are always reviling. Let me next tell those gentlemen who are so fond of telling us that property has its duties as well as its rights, that labour also has rights as well as its duties; and when I see masses of property raised in this country which do not recognize that principle; when I find men making fortunes by a method which permits them (very often in a very few years) to purchase the lands of the old territorial aristocracy of the country, I cannot help remembering that those millions are accumulated by a mode which does not recognize it as a duty “to endow the Church, to feed the poor, to guard the land, and to execute justice for nothing.” And I cannot help asking myself, when I hear of all this misery, and of all this suffering; when I know that evidence exists in our Parliament of a state of demoralisation in the once happy population of this land, which is not equalled in the most barbarous countries, which we suppose the more rude and uncivilised in Asia are – I cannot help suspecting that this has arisen because property has been permitted to be created and held without the performance of its duties.

  2. Grurray…indeed, the “landed interest” was far too powerful in England. Yet while the abolition of the Corn Laws was positioned as a benefit to the poor, at the possible expense of that landed interest, it does seem that the immediate effect was harmful to many of the poor and the middle class (the ‘farmers’ who leased the land and hired the laborers to help work it)

    “it was uncertain what would happen to those responsibilities once wealth became tied to assets far away from the community” I recently ran across a quote by someone who observed that among the landed class, there were some who used their availability of leisure time to do seriously valuable scientific and philosophical work…he mentioned several examples. I’m kicking myself for not bookmarking the reference, now I can’t find it.

  3. “it was uncertain what would happen to those responsibilities once wealth became tied to assets far away from the community”

    I think this is what we have seen with globalization. The owner class has profited greatly while the workers are under stress.

    The argument that”retraining” would solve the problems of the workers is crap since the technology companies, like Disney and Southern California Edison and others are laying off programmers and replacing them with H1 B visa holders from India who will work for less and who have no occupational mobility. They are indentured servants.

    Aside from the defense concerns about loss of manufacturing capacity, we also have an abysmal ruling class.

    The Navy is one example. The “Zumwalt destroyer” is an example..

    Not to mention the collisions that involved female deck officers who weren’t speaking to each other.

  4. In his 1836 book about the societal implications of advancing technology, Peter Gaskell seems to want factory owners to play a role analogous to that which the Squire played in an earlier day; yet at the same time, he is very opposed to what Americans would call the Company Store.

    Speaking of Gaskell’s book, the impression one gets from it is that much of the pressure for people to leave the agricultural areas had happened *before* the elimination of the Corn Laws.

  5. I read that Disraeli quote in wonder, for it shows no recognition of the fact that “the old territorial aristocracy of the country” achieved their position through outright theft and the brazen destruction of the last vestiges of the “feudal system”!

    Oh well. One must remember that whether it be 1540 or 1846 or 1993, government policy can have devastating consequences, and historians will claim as inevitable what is actually the result of deliberate government policy decisions.

  6. Still re the territorial aristocracy…I read something by David Lloyd George, who of course was quite the Leftist, in which, discussing the situation of coal miners, he seemed rather more sympathetic to the entrepreneurs who operated the mines–quintessential capitalists!–than to the landowners on whose property the mines were located and who got substantial royalties without taking any significant risks.

  7. Perhaps the general point is that technological advances can surprise us by causing changes in apparently unrelated areas. A startling example was the so-called “Golden Age of Porn”, where the development of the VCR unexpectedly expanded the market for pornographic movies by moving them from seedy downtown theaters to suburban living rooms. The consequent increased revenues & competition resulted in a significantly better movies — even movies with actual scripts & plots! Then the internet arrived, and the industry could not compete commercially with the seemingly inexhaustible supply of young women happy to take their clothes off in front of a camera. Who would have predicted any of this?

    Also, it may be difficult to identify how different technologies interact. It may be that much of the reduction in cropland in Britain which Angus Sinclair ascribed to steel rails should equally have been ascribed to the development of the steamship, which facilitated international trade in grains.

    Further confusing the situation, politicians and economists may ascribe the unexpected results of technological innovations to the things they control — laws, taxes, tariffs — when those factors may in fact have been second order effects. Since we cannot run controlled experiments on real world societies undergoing technological change, we are left to argue about cause and effect.

    And just as technology can have unanticipated effects, it can almost be stated as an Iron Law that every political and economic theory which is put into effect will have Unintended Consequences. Activists who push for stringent environmental standards in the West never seem to recognize the damage they are doing to the global environment by driving industry to other countries with much laxer standards.

    Bottom line is that we probably often mislead ourselves about what happened and why … even long after the event.

  8. Somewhat related, this column by Larry Summers is remarkable:
    A 63 year old man, former presidential advisor, former Treasury Secretary, former president of the most prestigious university in the country, admits that until this summer he had absolutely no comprehension of the country he has made national policy for:
    “Driving across America, as opposed to looking down from a plane, makes clear how much of this vast country is uninhabited. Again and again, we encountered signs warning us to check our gas because it would be 50 miles to the next gas station. I’m sure there were moments when we were 250 miles from any place where I could have bought an iPhone charger. Often there was no mobile phone service either…Much of the land we saw was not only uninhabited but also seemed put to little economic use…We were also struck by how remote the concerns of the coasts seemed. TVs in bars and restaurants were rarely turned to news channels. No one seemed terribly concerned with the controversy over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. We saw 15 roadside signs opposing abortion for every other political sign of any kind”

  9. From the Summers article “Economists like me see the world through the prism of models, fitted to statistical data and tested against market realities….But there are other ways of gaining understanding about an economy and its workers.”

    Wonder if Larry ever heard the phrase “The map is not the territory” ??

  10. To me this is the Platonic ideal of the clueless liberal:
    “I’m sure there were moments when we were 250 miles from any place where I could have bought an iPhone charger.”
    I’m not sure what is more amazing, the notion that this would be a useful metric for civilization, or the cluelessness to believe that it could be even remotely accurate.

  11. IIUC, one of Hayek’s (and Sowell’s) arguments around central control of the economy is the inability of the central planners to incorporate all of the economic signals present.

    This thread to me illustrates another area where lack of knowledge would confuse those signals, though i perhaps uncritically conflate “central planners” w/a country’s legislators. That point being that “things” are so entangled that understanding the consequences of a law cannot be done beforehand.

    OTOH, we have the famous Pelosi-ism, “we have to pass the law to see what’s in it”, consequences, intended or otherwise, be damned.

  12. The central point is that government is a hammer trying to make fine directional adjustments to things based on a politrical concenus of what we want to believe is where things should go (or stay) and often in reaction to what has already happened. The market makes tiny adjustments virtually instantly as the innumerable factors changing continuously in all our lives. In this way it performs more accurately to reconcil our various wants and resources as well as technological options. The more the politrical process is empowered to intervene in these market outcomes, the slower and more costly adjustments will happen. Of course there is an undeniable role for government to play as well as social institutions. Without common security, individual rights and rule of law, decisions can not be acted on without considerable risk. The refinement of property rights as a universal human right is vital for market efficiency.

    I find it strange that we expect market adjustments to require time to happen. The market is not at rest (equilibrium, having reconciled the suppliers and buyers separate, competing desires with perfect efficiency) because it is a process, not and end state. It moves use toward a moving end state which literally everything is constantly in motion.

    I also find it strange that we expect adoption to change in economic conditions should be virtually painless. Adjustments are painful for many, but ultimately result in increasing living conditions. Often, I perceive, government intervention on behalf of those caught in the throes of change slow the process of adjustment, decrease efficiency and reduce the benefits of the adjustment. Additionally, they set the stage for increasing governmental economic intervention and concentration of power. The incentive to corrupt the political process is increased as well. The regulatory state is what we end up with. If you combine this with vastly increasing ability to monitor our private lives, you see where this can be headed.

    The elite class is attracted to the government action because it magnifies their power to direct society in its pursue of happiness in accordance with their perception of what is best for us (and for them). Additionally they are quick to figure out that dressing up governmental curbs on effective competition can be sold as beneficial regulation for a variety of desirable protections of the public at large. Voila, the mercantilist and crony capitalist concentration of economic power through political power which would not be possible in a market environment.

    Are there natural monopolies? Yes, but precious few. Many cases of transitory monoply power are based on conditions of economic advantage that are temporary and which competition could and would reduce and eliminate. That is the power of free market incentives attracting technological development and financial support. on ther other hand, “What about the children, the poor, the sick? What is the governments policy to fix everything?”

    I agree with Brian.


  13. I do appreciate the high level of commenting here. I have some sympathy will several sides of this discussion. It seems to be an issue where one must weigh benefit versus cost along different axes. Every gain has a real cost.

    Tolkien’s Shire and Bree captured the ideal of the old system, which he remembered from the rural areas just outside Birmingham in his youth. Though he remembered with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia (he did not actually work on those farms nor live in those cottages), his vision was not entirely illusion. The interactive rights and obligations of feudalism or the Great Chain of Being may have been romanticised, but they were not false. Lewis also noted that it might be spiritually bad for the squire to have others defer to him, it was likely good for the rest of us to have a squire. The tanistry of the Tooks and Brandybucks had no equivalents in British reality, but the intent was sometimes there and people did try – and the trying brought good out of all of us.

    Noblesse oblige was not a myth, however much it might be ignored. When the connection of the nobles to those they had charge of was removed, Disraeli and others were right to fear that many would abandon obligations to their fellows altogether. Many did.

    Yet the poor have more rights now than they did then, and have better access to power, to prosperity, and to social mobility. The ideal of the old way was noble, but it only worked part of the time – not enough to much improve the lot of the poor. On the other hand, in times of economic dislocation on the way to more efficiency, it is the poor who suffer most, and their suffering is quite real. I would not like to be told “yes, you will be hungry, and not able to feed your children, but in the long run it will be better for your great-grandchildren.” I mentally add the word “comrade” to such sentiments.

    Pat Buchanan’s POV has long been that money isn’t everything, and preserving the jobs and lifestyle of our fellow citizens has an importance of its own.

    As for Larry Summers, he saw new things which surprised him, saw that he not understood much of what has happened around him all his life – and didn’t change his mind in the slightest.

  14. Small point: To my knowledge rails were never made from cast iron. It’s too brittle. They were made from wrought iron before steel rails became common.

  15. It’s important to remember that the present tariff war with China is intended to end when it has served its purpose. It’s also important to realize that the purpose extends beyond trade imbalances.

    No analysis of 19th century agricultural demographics that neglects the widespread introduction of farm machinery can be complete. A great deal of British money was invested in America. The British system with complicated tenancy rights and small cut up fields made similar investments impractical at home.

    At the same time, the textile technology that greatly expanded the demand for cotton that couldn’t be grown in Britain or Europe, largely curtailed demand for flax that could. Wool also became more profitable. WE are seeing the same thing happen as production of many crops that require significant hand labor have moved to Mexico or further south.

    Then the spindles and looms moved closer to the cotton fields because finished cloth could be transported more cheaply than the raw cotton to produce it. It’s actually the developed infrastructure in the U.S. that allows bulk commodities to be exported cheaply enough to make finishing them where labor is cheap economic.

    The good news for us is that as production becomes more automated, infrastructure and safety of investment become more important as labor costs diminish. China is still a country where your investment is only as safe as your choice of whom to pay off.

  16. I find it strange that we expect market adjustments to require time to happen. The market is not at rest (equilibrium, having reconciled the suppliers and buyers separate, competing desires with perfect efficiency) because it is a process, not and end state. It moves use toward a moving end state which literally everything is constantly in motion.

    I’m well into a biography of de Gaulle, by Julian Jackson and have arrived at a section (600 pages in) about his economic policies. de Gaulle was an expert on politics and history and international relations. He spoke four or five European languages but his knowledge of economics was primitive. His advisors described his economic theories as “Medieval” and concerning a peasant understanding. However, he did recognize that modernization of agriculture would result in a diminished rural population, anathema for much of the French rural smallholders.

    His economics ministers were Keynesian but not all. I am still reading the section but it is of an era when Richard Nixon said “We are all Keynesians now.” de Gaulle was an incredible man and I recommend the biography,

  17. Several years ago, I ran across a book (Steve Dunwell, “Run of the Mill”) about the movement of the American textile industry from New England to the South. The author identified six decision factors as drivers for individual mills, and whole industry segments, in making this decision. I summarized them in a draft for a post I never got around to finishing. They were:

    Raw Materials…clearly, the raw material for a cotton mill is cotton, favoring the South. (Dunwell says this was less of a factor for products made of the more expensive long-fiber cotton, for reasons I can’t remember at the moment)

    Power…one of the reasons this industry emerged in New England in the first place was the availability of water power. However, there were only a certain number of good waterpower sites, and once these were all taken, further industry expansion depended on coal-fired steam engines…again favoring the south, given better proximity to coal mines. As electricity displaced direct use of steam in the mills, this energy source was also cheaper in the south, probably mainly as the indirect effect of coal transportation costs.

    Skills…lower-skilled operations tended to move to the South first, taking advantage of lower wage rates, with higher-skilled operations remaining in New England for a longer time…the skill differential, though, was of course not permanant.

    Location & Climate…Dunwell says that New England had initial advantages in textiles due to proximity to the New York markets (I think he means “market” in a trading sense as well as an end-user consumption sense) and to a climate which was well-suited to the needs of the production process. These advantages were negated by three technologies: the telegraph, the artificial humidifier, and the water softener.

    Incentive…”The South *wanted* the textile industry, of which the North had grown tired.”

    Age…”New England’s first century of textile experience had brought it the wisdom and inertia of age.”

    These factors seem relevant to location decisions for manufacturers in general. The next-to-last point…”The South *wanted* the textile industry, of which the North had grown tired”…is I think particularly relevant to American manufacturing over the past few decades.

  18. I just spent five minutes reading this Zero Hedge post, which is excellent.

    Zero Hedge is not always reliable but that one is on this topic.

    Sears (originally Sears, Roebuck and Company) is the iconic store of the American modernization experience. As a relative latecomer to the world stage, Americans got in on the industrial revolution significantly after most Western European nations. The vast majority of Americans lived on farms until late in the 19th century. Urban Americans had access to manufactured goods, but in rural regions most people made their own clothes and tools – or tapped the expertise of craftsmen in local towns. Most of these in-town purchases were managed via general stores where managers, knowing farmers had no alternatives, gouged on pricing, credit terms and selection.

    Enter Sears.

    A good discussion of technology up to and including Google.

  19. The Zero Hedge article is interesting, but when he says: “Algorithms and robots don’t pay taxes, but their profitable outputs still accrue. This concentrates the income of what used to benefit human laborers to the operators and designers back in San Jose. Politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are fundamentally correct when they assert this is a leading reason for America’s deepening economic inequality.”

    …this is way oversimplified. Looms and spinning machines never don’t pay taxes, either, nor do locomotives or construction cranes. The author doesn’t explain why current technology is any more inequality-deepening than were these earlier technologies.

  20. I might short Google, but not yet, timing is everything.

    The mills didn’t move south until after the Civil War. Steam power was well established by 1860, what was lacking in the South was labor, both skilled to build and maintain the mills, and mill hands.

    The opening of the Ohio Valley destroyed a lot of New England agriculture and created a labor supply at the same time Americans were pirating English textile technology. Few immigrants chose to settle in the South because of a general antipathy toward slavery, and the overall backwardness of the non-agrarian economy. This changed after the Civil War. There was plenty of unskilled hands and the relatively small number of highly skilled wrights and mechanics were more willing to relocate. The general improvement in transportation helped immensely.

  21. The general improvement in transportation helped immensely.

    The presence of rivers going west had a huge influence as did the opening of the Erie Canal.

    My great grandfather moved to Illinois about 1855 and the family legend is that he had worked on the Erie Canal before moving and worked briefly on the Illinois and Michigan Canal that opened in 1848.

    His brothers also moved and settled in La Salle, IL which is abutting the canal.

    The Illinois and Michigan Canal was first thought up by French explorer, Louis Joliet. Much later, when Illinois became a state, the idea of a canal connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River was supported by many, including Abraham Lincoln. The 96 miles long canal was finally constructed between 1836 and 1848. Upon its completion, Chicago became the eastern terminus and LaSalle became the western terminus. LaSalle boomed as a transshipment point from canal boats coming from Chicago to steamboats going to St. Louis and New Orleans. It became a place where Northern and Southern culture met.

    He also worked as a city constable and in a glass factory. When he quit his job to go back to New York state and marry my great grandmother, he made himself a glass cane. I have that cane.

    His brothers joined the Union Army as part of a group called “The La Salle Boys” in the 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

    Both died in the war. My great grandfather did not return to Illinois until the war ended. The eldest of his 9 sons was born in New York. The others in Illinois.

  22. An ancestor of mine was noted to have made the journey from Kentucky to Missouri at the age of three days in the early 1800’s. The corollary that his mother started the trip three days after giving birth was left unstated. They traveled by horse back.

    The river network was, in a way, an impediment to development. It kept a national road network from being established until well into the 20th Century. Water transport greatly distorted the commercial map. Tidewater Virginia was closer to Britain and Europe than to Pittsburgh.

  23. The river network was, in a way, an impediment to development. It kept a national road network from being established until well into the 20th Century.

    A national road network was the railroad. The railroad to the west was built after the Civil War, and before that political realities would have prevented anything else.

    The automobile led to the highways. I drove from California to Chicago in 1957 along highway 30, still “The Lincoln Highway,” and it was two lanes from Colorado to Missouri. I drove back on 66 which was much better, especially in Oklahoma which had built the “Will Rogers Turnpike and “The Turner Turnpike.” Both were toll roads and well done.

    Eisenhower finally built the “National Defense Highway System” to move military supplies in war. We now call it “The Interstate Highways.”

    I 95 is still a toll road from Massachusetts to the state liquor store in New Hampshire. Maybe the Democrats have changed that since I lived there but it always struck me as practical. Make the Taxachusetts residents pay a toll to buy booze.

  24. I lived 25 years in a dry county, it was 8 miles one direction and 13 the other to legal booze. Late Saturday night, you were sure to see numerous examples of impaired driving. The Texas prohibition on beer sales before noon on Sunday still keeps bootleggers in business.

    I was thinking mostly of before 1840-1850 when the railroads developed. They followed the pattern of settlement that was already established along waterways east of the Mississippi. Transporting anything much or even just yourself from the rail head remained a problem.

    The railroads were especially sparse in the South. through the Civil War, large portions of the south were dependent on creeks and sloughs that were navigable seasonally at best.

    In the West outside of the coast, railroads drove development because there was no established development outside of a few cities like Denver and Salt Lake City. The town I lived in was moved more than 12 miles in the early 1900’s to be on the railroad.

    It’s interesting that the first 300 years of settlement (1600-1900), when land transportation was truly harrowing, produced a bare handful of passable roads between cities, while it took about 50 years from the appearance of the automobile to the Interstates.

  25. it took about 50 years from the appearance of the automobile to the Interstates.

    One of my favorite characters, Sarah (Wiborg) Murphy toured Europe with her mother and two sisters. about 1910 by auto. Imagine what that trip was like.

    It may have been earlier as I am relying on memory but it is had to imagine a useful auto before 1910 ca[able of such travel.

    I can remember auto travel in 1948 and that was an adventure beyond local travel.

  26. MCS…”The mills didn’t move south until after the Civil War. Steam power was well established by 1860, what was lacking in the South was labor, both skilled to build and maintain the mills, and mill hands.”

    There were actually a few people in the pre-Civil-War South who built mills, and attempted to inspire others to do the same—William Gregg was one. But there was little enthusiasm among the moneyed classes of the South, who just didn’t see themselves in the role of factory owners. Plus, skilled workers both from the North and from Europe were reluctant to move to a slaveholding area.

    There was also a black guy who started a mill in North Carolina, circa 1901, with investment coming partly via small subscriptions from local black people, and intended to be operated primarily by black workers. Got the business going, but unfortunately the only machinery they could afford was low-reliability, plus there were unfavorable economic conditions.


  27. Around 1948 my Mother who was an RN and 4 of her nurse friends decided to drive from Wisconsin to California. They were run off the road by some local big wig in northern New Mexico and the car was wrecked. The local cops, corrupt then as now, were no help.

    My Mother and her best friend heard of a hospital in the southern Colorado mountains needing nurses and ended up there. the other 3 finally made it to California.

    I don’t think things would work out the same way now. I think a lot had to do with the end of the war, a lot of people were looking for a change and willing to roll the dice. They weren’t worried about being able to find a job at the other end.

    My father told a story about replacing the head gasket on a Dodge in the middle of Arizona with a pair of pliers and a crescent wrench about the same time.

  28. The Wiborg girls’ trip in Europe was in 1902. I looked it up and they had two mechanics that went with them.

    I don’t think the car make is included.

  29. “I looked it up and they had two mechanics that went with them.” I’ve owned vehicles like that.

    I recall that mechanics rode along in the Indy 500 in the early years.

    In the 80’s, I used to see convoys of Guard units headed to Ft. Sill for “summer camp”. There were always wreckers bringing up the rear. Often in use.

  30. #METOO is going to make offices over all much nastier as open cube farms are pushed by coprpoate HR departments reduce the number and scope of female professional sexual harassment claims

    See the comment below found at the linked Instapundit discussion thread —


    Bill de Haan egg0 •

    Actually, I’ve been told by a few HR and Facilities people (off the record, of course), that this is one of the reasons for the push to the much-hated open office concept.

    Companies know that people hate the open office. And the executives actually do know that they are less productive than closed offices and cubicle farms. They are noisy, distracting, and there is no personal space, or privacy.

    That’s by design. No privacy means no place for an accusation to be made.

    Companies aren’t really keen on the open office for the reasons that they use to justify them. They are keen on the “no rape accusations in your workplace” justification, but of course, they can’t exactly say that in public, can they?

    As one of the installers I was talking to told me last year, his business has gone up over 800% since the “MeToo” movement.

    Amazing coincidence, there..

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