David R. Henderson  

Surviving on the Margin

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In response to my recent post "A Game of Margins," in which I emphasized the importance of thinking on the margin, Facebook friend Marshall Beerwinkle sent me the following story:

David, I just read your post, A Game of Margins. I thought you might appreciate this anecdote. 30 years ago, I knew an old Irishman who told me a story about the Irish famine. He said that before the famine, the small farmers who grew potatoes would harvest them and inspect them for quality.Those potatoes that did not pass inspection were discarded on an area of land that surrounded the productive field called the "marge" or "marg," short for margine.The "marg" was the bit of land used to walk around the field. But during the famine, people desperately dug up the "marg" looking potatoes that grew from the discarded ones. This saved some families.

I remembered a phrase he used: "They survived on the 'marg'". After he told the story, I told him that was a great example of marginalism in economics. He looked at me unknowningly; he had never heard of it.


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Shane L writes:

Fascinating story, I'd never heard that term before regarding the potato famine. Also it strikes me that subsistence farmers are classic examples of those affected by the margin. If they are only making enough to survive, a very slight dip in productivity means starvation.

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