Sunday, October 4

Economics at Dundurn Castle

I visited Dundurn Castle on Friday with my parents, who were visiting from Vancouver. The castle, built in 1835, is a National Historic Site in Hamilton that was a former home of Sir Allan MacNab. He was a prime minister of Canada, before Confederation in 1867.

On our hour-long guided tour, I was surprised at the economic references that crept into our tour. Our guide tried to justify the MacNab family's use of child labour. She mentioned that the servant who did the dishwashing for the MacNab family was likely eight or ten years old and worked ten-hour days. But she qualified this by mentioning that her working conditions were far better than many other jobs at the time, given that it she had a brick floor, a window and running water to work with.

Our guide also gave a neat example of an unintended consequence of tax policy. In those days, taxes were assessed based on how many rooms a person had in their house, with a room being defined as having a door. Therefore, closets were considered rooms. So the house had no closets, instead making liberal use of dressers, until the law was changed so that closets were no longer considered rooms.

It's a reminder that people respond to incentives, even in the 19th century.