Bryan Caplan  

Growing into Freedom

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Heard of the Magdalene Asylums? Long story short: They were quasi-prisons in Ireland for "wayward" girls and women, run by nuns. To sustain themselves economically, the inmates ran Magdalene Laundries. Check out the movie The Magdalene Sisters; and if you think it's just anti-Catholic propaganda, think again.

The last Magdalene Asylum closed in 1996. The standard story is that this was a response to changing sexual mores. But some experts give partial credit to economic growth:

Given Ireland's conservative sexual values, Magdalen Asylums were a generally accepted social institution until well into the second half of the 20th century. They disappeared with the changes in sexual mores - or, as some say, as they ceased to be profitable. "Possibly the advent of the washing machine has been as instrumental in closing these laundries as have changing attitudes," according to Frances Finnegan.

I doubt that any of the Magdalene inmates thanked God for economic growth when they were finally let out. But perhaps they should have.


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COMMENTS (1 to date)
Martin Kelly writes:

Professor,

The Magdalenes may have been unpleasant places, for sure - however, their closure is much more likely to be the result of factors other than growth.

At the time of their heyday, Ireland was to all intents a closed, almost totalitarian, society. Eamonn de Valera ran it as a fiefdom as much as a nation, abetted, to the shame of the Church, by clerics such as the late Dr. John McQuade, sometime Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The passing of the de Valera/McQuade era, which had seen, inter alia, the Irish become one of Europe's greatest consumers of white bread for no reason other than Dev's insistence that they grow wheat instead of potatoes, was as much responsible for the end of the Magdalene culture as economic growth.

You may not be aware that Peter Mullan, the Scottish director of 'The Magdalene Sisters', is a committed Trotskyite and close political associate of Tommy Sheridan, the former 'convenor' of the Trotskyite Scottish Socialist Party. That's another prism through which his movie should be viewed.

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