Correcting an old mistake: Corn Laws

When I first re-wrote The Wealth of Nations in simple English, I was struck at how Smith often referred to corn as the universal food. Corn is the staple food of South America only. Asia has rice while Europe and America have wheat. After some Googling I found that ‘corn’ was the old British word for wheat and that ‘Indian corn’ was the word for modern corn.

 

However, I had no access to a real British old person to verify this, so in my posts, I still referred to Smith’s corn as modern corn, as proven by this post wherein I separated wheat and corn prices. A key factor was when I read that cornmeal was given to the Irish during the Great Irish famine before the Corn Laws were repealed.

 

I only decided to settle the old corn vs modern corn issue when I heard about the rice crisis in the Philippines which was related to import controls.  The issue is whether scrapping quotas would help or harm that country’s food security. So, I went back to Smith’s Digression on Corn word by word and realized that ‘wheat’ does make more sense than ‘corn’ especially since wheat is more hardy than corn even today.

 

So that the old translation using corn:

Excessive drought or rain are bad for crops. But corn grows equally on high and low lands, and wet or dry land. (Book 4, Chapter 5)

 

can be safely changed into wheat:

Excessive drought or rain are bad for crops. But wheat grows equally on high and low lands, and wet or dry land.

 

So I updated my simplification using ‘wheat’ here

 

An unexpected bonus of going through Smith’s Digression on Corn Laws all over again was the eureka moment when I realized that Smith’s food import/export policy is the same in nature as his immigration policy stated in Book 1, Chapter 10.

To Smith, the policy of food and the policy of immigration should be the same because humans cannot live without food, but can live without manufactured goods. This metaphysical difference should properly separate the treatment of food and manufactures within the WTO and in legal speak, and could have prevented the 2008 Food Crisis (as it would ban food speculation directly)

The problem arose when businessmen started treating food in the same way as manufactured goods simply because they could sell both at a profit. So they started to put export bounties to make money off of food as well. Smith says this policy only raised the price of food at home, which became true in the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s.

 

So as a general rule in SORAnomics, the policy for the import/export of people (immigration) is the same as the import/export of food. This can be seen within the United States where there is free transit of food and people between states, and in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy which allows EU citizens and food products to cross borders without quotas or tariffs.

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