Today We're All Irish.
March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, when people of all national origins raise a glass and declare, "Today we’re all a bit Irish!" This may be truer than we know. The Irish were driven to America by debt, and they are leading the Western world in household debt today.
The London Daily Telegraph reported on March 13, 2008 that household debt in Ireland has reached 190 percent of disposable income, the highest in the developed world; and that the Irish banking system is suffering such acute strains from the downturn in the housing market that it may have to nationalize its banks.1 The same may soon be happening in the United States, and for much the same reasons.
Debt Drives the Irish to America
A short review of the history of the Irish in North America reveals that few were here before 1845, when a disease struck the potato crops of Ireland, wiping out the chief or only source of food for many poor farmers. Famine continued for the next five years, killing over 2.5 million people. "God put the blight on the potatoes," complained the Irish farmers, "but England put the hunger upon Ireland."
Farmers who were heavily in debt were shipped to England to pay the rent owed to their landlords. Impoverished Irish immigrants saved what little money they could to send family members across the Atlantic, traveling on overcrowded ships on which many died of disease or hunger on the way. When they arrived, the Irish men had to fight – often physically – to get labor jobs involving long hours and low pay; while the women worked mainly as servants (called "Brigets") to upper-class families. Despite their very low wages, they managed to send a bit of money back to their families, until other family members had enough to buy the ship tickets to America. In the American South (mainly New Orleans), the Irish lived in swamp land infested with disease.
Here, Irish men were looked upon as actually lower than slaves. As one historian put it, if a plantation owner lost a slave, he lost an investment; if he lost a laborer, he could always get another. Because the Irish workers were plentiful and expendable, they were often sent in to do dangerous jobs for which the slave-owners were reluctant to send their valuable slaves.2
"Debt Slavery" Replaces Physical Slavery