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21 The Price of Subsidy Ifa nation values anything more thanfreedom, it will lose its freedom; and . .. ifit is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too. W. Somerset Maugham, Strictly Personal When asked about his ancestry, Corbett would say "ScotchIrish " and that would end the interview. Not until I learned more about the history ofthose people did I associate Corbett's frugal nature with his ancestry. For time unknown before Columbus, the Grahams had held a place among the people of the Scottish Highlands. Like other Highland clans, they wore a plaid design peculiar to the family name. They gained their sustenance from herding stock and from planting wheat. The modest quantities of beef and grain produced in that cool and foggy land kept the Highlanders lean and their numbers sparse. Shortly following Columbus's landing in America, a different kind of crop made its way across the sea to Europe. It came from the high valleys and plateaus of the Andes Mountains. It proved supremely suited to the moist climate and organic soils of Scotland and Ireland. Corbett grew this crop in his Peachtree garden but probably had no idea where it came from. He called it Irish potato. Potatoes first showed up in Ireland in the early seventeenth century and within fifty years had become the staple food of the common people. It yielded much more food than traditional crops, fueling the fires of human reproduction. It boosted the population like a rocket. Over generations, the Irish country people grew more and more dependent on this single crop. One observer noted that the sole food of Irish farmers often amounted to "potatoes and milk for ten months, and potatoes and salt the remaining two." The same observer estimated that each Irish man consumed a whopping twelve pounds of potatoes a day. Soon the dependence on potatoes spread to Scotland. Some people worried about the burgeoning populations and their dependence on a single plant. Local potato crop failures prompted the Select Committee on the Advances for Public Works in Ireland to warn as early as 1835: "If the potato crop be a failure, its produce is consumed long before the peasantry can acquire new means of subsistence...." Disaster struck in summer 1845. Without warning and over wide areas, robustly growing potato plants shriveled, and, within days, nothing remained in the fields but black and withered stalks. A potato blight, caused by a kind of fungus infection, spread across the land. Fear clutched at the mothers of ten and eleven as they clawed at the ground, only to find the tubers as well beginning to rot. The next year 197 the disease spread to the Scottish Highlands. The Price Over the next few years a million Irish and Scottish people starved ofSubsidy to death. Travelers in the countryside saw the aftermath: "ten dead bodies out of eleven ... in one cabin," "seven putrid corpses in another ," and "dogs and swine quarrelling over, and fighting for, the dead carcasses ofChristians." The subsidy had given out. The greatest losses had fallen on the farmers who had depended almost exclusively on potatoes. Those remaining buried their dead, gathered up stray animals, and replanted their fields ... to potatoes. ~The 1994-1995 edition ofthe Texas Almanac shows that in 1850, when Texas had been open to Anglo settlement for thirty years and had been a state in the United States for five, only about two hundred thousand people lived within its borders. By the time Corbett's grandfather , Isaac,joined the army of immigrants into Texas just ten years later, the populace had tripled - to six hundred thousand. By Corbett 's fifth year, it had hit the three million mark, and by 1950 it had passed seven million. Now there are seventeen million, with no end in sight. The same growth pattern prevails in Jasper County, the United States, and the world. Such an unprecedented abundance of people came about because we learned to harness subsidies of energy from oil, gas, coal, and uranium . Applying corporate management and sophisticated technologies to the acquisition and application of this energy, we rearranged materials and managed plants and animals to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves. World War II and the industrial surge it generated kicked us into the final, ultimate technological orbit, and we flew higher than a people had ever flown before. Corbett and Fannie cautiously tested the magic of this industrial journey. They bought automobiles and a tractor. They subscribed to REA...


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