I have been reading for a while about post-colonial world and how colonies were able to turn things around. The blog post from Jyoti Rahman made me think twice. Was it all correct?
Being Indian, the version I read and heard a hundred times from my childhood, was that Indian subcontinent along with a lot of other former European colonies were hammered quite heavily by colonialist masters. The sole reason of our current state of poverty seems to be related to our history, which has a couple of hundred years of colonial rule in its timeline. During this period, our raw resources were taken away and were used in factories across Europe to produce items for consumption of rest of the world. On the other hand, our local small industries were bulldozed with high restrictions and they soon mired into oblivion – leaving us a nation full of poor people. Little or no investment in Agriculture and food-distribution caused several famines during colonial rule. No effort for public education system left a bunch of illiterate people. To add on top of that, ever since we became independent, we are doing better and better, with more food, some industries and now the services industries to cheer about. There are multiple examples around us to justify this pattern. (Read an article by Amartya Sen on this topic)
To question this understanding, the first graphics I would refer to, is simply of growth of some of the countries post-independence. If I have to assume that it was raw materials from colonies that caused the growth in masters, then there should be an economic effect of increased availability of those resources in colonies post independence. And a scarcity of the same should be causing growth to limp in the masters.
But the graph above shows absolutely the opposite. In last 50 years, colonies might have got little improvement of per-capita growth, but the gap between colonies and their former masters has expanded at a rapid pace. This makes me comment that rather than we demanding our independence, the masters should have voluntarily freed our nations.
But then comes the next question, why is this disparity, even after the decolonization? There are two answers – one in the side of the masters, the other was from the colonies. After world-wars, the European nations were better of without colonies because they avoided one of the core reasons of their disputes – ownership of colonies. Post-world-war, Germany developed rapidly and this time they didn’t have a problem with other European countries, as they didn’t vie for colonies. There are no intra-state war (not even a proxy one) among Western European colonialists after the colonialism ended. Rather the cold-war kept them united.
The second reason would probably be attributed to a successful shift of their economy to tertiary one, which these countries already doing good at. With higher level of average education and skills in Science, they were bound to lead the world in services and innovation driven economies.
On the other hand, most of the colonies inherited better institutions than their previous native rulers have built (Indian institutions were far better in 1947 than what was left by Mughals in 1757). However, for most of these countries, strong nationalist sentiments drove them to success in the form of independence. These sentiments, coupled with fear from recent-past experiences, made these countries extremely business-unfriendly. They became inward looking, anti-foreign-investment and invested most of the resources into less-productive sectors such as Agriculture and small-scale industries. However, standard of living were improved in these countries in the form of health, education and social indices went up and towards the end of the graph, those start to yield some good results for them.
Now going back to where I started, were these colonies better off being never fallen into the grips of masters? I see point for and against it clearly. The points in favor of this view are discussed in the beginning. The points against it are also becoming clear. For example, between 1750 and 1947, the growth in the World economics were mostly fueled by manufacturing. There were new innovations all along the Europe and an active patent system to protect interest of investment on innovation. Indian rulers before the British did never thought of value of innovation, nor did they encourage it with more business. The culmination of pre-Raj Indian empires were said to be Akbar’s rule that created space for peaceful existence, but not even an iota of industrialization and literacy drive that one would expect in contemporary Europe. If you look at Akbar’s EU contemporaries, you’ll find Elizabeth of England and she appears to be much more farsighted than Akbar. Long later in 1857, Indians started their first war of independence with an objective of getting their old Mughal-Maratha rulers back but not for democracy, literacy, separation of church and state or modernization of infrastructure and institutions. India didn’t yet have enough decision-makers to think in those terms.
In summary, I feel we got what we deserved. Even if there were no such thing named colonization (which again was inevitable) or we were never colonized, we were having roughly the same standard of living that we have today. Whether we named our country as India, or were we have 20 different countries instead of three – are different questions and I can not address them. Guided by democracy with no political setup or autocracy with an extension of Mughal-Maratha-like empires would not have taken us far beyond where we are today.
Bangla Version with a lot of discussion.