Jonathan Salem Baskin

Corn Prices

Today, a market was a conversation.

It was the early 1800s, the world was changing, and the UK was in crisis. Costs were going up for basic commodities, like bread and grains, while they fell for the output of industries that were becoming industries, like textiles. Parliament passed import tariffs that set corn prices in 1815 (known as the Corn Laws), hoping to avoid the starvation that had prompted the French Revolution (while simultaneously protecting the interests of aristocratic landowners). Mobs took the streets anyway; hundreds were killed or injured. A conspiracy to murder much of the government — and replace it with a “Committee of Public Safety” modeled on the French — was broken up in 1820. The Six Acts were passed to prevent social unrest by deeming it illegal, and included a special tax for newspapers that dared to publish what the government deemed opinion, not news.

Everyone had problems with the tariffs at one time or another, but what pushed their repeal was a crisis in domestic production (and a potato blight in Ireland that threatened the lives of millions). The Corn Laws were completely abolished on this day in 1849. Interestingly, prices had stayed constant during their reign, and would stay so for another twenty years thereafter, since every other country in the world passed their own corn tariffs while exporting their products. A quarter of the UK’s corn-producing farms would be lost, and many thousands of former farmers migrate to work in city factories.

Economies continue to “hedge” their production to this day via tariffs or other regulation, whether agrarian or industrial. The debates over their efficacy continue, too.

Markets are examples of conversations and social collaborations. They’re never free, though.

Here’s the link to Today in the Histories of Social Media, and this is the latest edition of Histories of Social Media