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Hardy Free Trade

One of my favorite novelists is Thomas Hardy.  He was no one’s idea of a capitalist’s lackey; more importantly, he was certainly no lackey for protectionists.

In the Preface to his 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy felt obliged to help his readers understand the precarious economic conditions of rural England in the early 19th-century, where the story is set.  He began:

Readers of the following story who have not yet arrived at middle age are asked to bear in mind that, in the days recalled by the tale, the home Corn Trade [grain trade], on which so much of the action turns, had an importance that can hardly be realized by those accustomed to the sixpenny loaf of the present date, and to the present indifference of the public to harvest weather.

And what accounted for the ordinary Briton’s happy ability, by the late 19th century, to enjoy a reliable supply of inexpensive bread?

Hardy knew an important part of the answer: "the repeal of the Corn Laws" – Britain’s great step, taken in 1846, toward free trade.


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