Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Taste of the Hard Stuff

There some great Blogs out there (and much mortifying rubbish too) and occasionally my search for posts on Adam Smith (a 24/7 task, yes, Sir), I come across the very best in Blog journalism. Today I readan absolute gem about the unlikely subject of moonshine whiskey (US version), and, Adam Smith gets a mention too.

My knowledge of moonshine is restricted to a glass I drank many years ago on Benbecula, in the Western Islands off the mainland of Scotland (go west after that and you hit North America, or an iceberg). We were visiting the mother-in-law’s relatives and the obligatory glass was offered; after two I was very much not in control, never normally drinking whisky (nor anything else much).

This Blog is called: “Hillbilly savants”, which describes itself as:

This blog is about our Appalachia - the real one, not the Hollywood-stereotype nor the third-world nation-esque stereotype being sold by do-gooders, or even the neo-Romantic sylvan stereotype that Rousseau would probably buy into.”

Now, that grabbed my attention and then my eyes were drawn to the following:

Another key subject in this chapter is that it explains clearly and elegantly why Appalachian farmers, both Scotch-Irish and their neighbors who adopted this part of the Scotch-Irish tradition, often turned to moonshine. Ultimately, moonshining in the Appalachians (at least from the colonization period up through the tide or Prohibition) was a product of three converging structural elements: (1) inadequately developed transportation infrastructure, (2) the high resale value of processed corn (as liquor) versus unprocessed corn, and (3) the predominance of small, yeoman farmers (as in New England) rather than large-scale plantation-style agriculture (like that which dominated the rest of the South) thereby redoubling the relative costs of trying to rely on unprocessed goods for their monetary incomes. In other words, to paraphrase one of my favorite Scotsman (fellow by the name of Adam Smith), the moonshiners rationally interpreted their relative economic advantages and disadvantages and acted accordingly.”

It hardly needs a comment. Anything said would spoil the moment. The extracts given on the Blog cover so much that is interesting, and you will, like me, be tempted to look for the book on Amazon, and, hopefully, it should arrive next week.

Perhaps, one brief comment is in order. The sentence, “the moonshiners rationally interpreted their relative economic advantages and disadvantages and acted accordingly”.

Well, that is how markets appear to start (and probably the early ones too in pre-history). Individuals see an opportunity and act in pursuit of it. They neither realize, nor care, if what they are doing that is of great historical importance; they pursue their interests as they see them that will make them better off. That motive also encourages others to be willing to exchange something to acquire a mouthful or two of the liquid they may have tasted as a gift earlier. Nobody plans these incidents, nobody orders them. They occur naturally. Markets are like that. They emerge, if you let them.

Smith knew that, and said so. Whether he tasted the golden nectar, is not recorded, though we know he frequented the ‘Oyster Club’ in Edinburgh, where lassies of a willing disposition served food, beer and claret, and occasionally danced, and such like, and he watched the dancing and with his friends, then retired to a side-room for conversation, merriment and diversion, and put the world to rights, as philosophers do.


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