Which colonies fared best under British rule?

by on April 14, 2017 at 12:30 am in Economics, History, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

In a previous column on India, and how it suffered under colonialism, I mentioned:

If you are looking for the upside of British colonialism, you are more likely to find it in the wealthier and better-treated Singapore or Malaysia.

Why might this have been true?  Part of India’s colonial curse was its high population, which meant the British viewed it as a source of soldiers, and a captive market for goods, rather than an area whose value could be internalized through direct economic development.

When it comes the British history in India, I think of “letting the interior fester” as a big part of the core problem.  Most of India was and still is interior.  You might look at the coastal regions, but given that British policy forced India to accept free trade for British goods, without receiving the same privileges in return, the coastal regions became rent-seeking imperial clusters more than possible rivals to Hong Kong or for that matter Manchester.

Singapore, in contrast, was built around its port, and the British encouraged further developments in that direction, even as early as Raffles in the 1820s.  The city didn’t/doesn’t have much of an interior or for that matter much population (about 1,000 when the British took over).  Keeping the people servile didn’t seem worth the trouble, because they could neither fight nor buy in great numbers.  Instead, you can think of British policy as trying, selfishly, to maximize the value of Singaporean land to the British.  But that wasn’t such a nasty process, as the British Navy made Singapore more focal as a trade center, with a later boost from the opening of the Suez Canal.  Note that as late as the mid-1960s, just before independence, about 20 percent of Singaporean gdp was British defense spending.

Singapore as port and entrepot developed “the entire nation,” all the more as the induced spirit of enterprise later spread to manufacturing.  This in turn gave the territory the possibility of a relatively inclusive and egalitarian future.  Unlike with India, the British rulers never imagined a future where Singapore might threaten them economically, or politically, and so they could just let matters rip.  The British felt, more or less correctly (until the Japanese invasion), that improvements in the value of Singapore would be captured by them.

So it was “keeping an option on captive buyers and fighters” (India) vs. “maximizing the value of the land for Empire” (Singapore).  Both were selfish strategies, but the latter did better for the colony in question.  Hong Kong seems to fit comfortably into this framework, though other cases might be considered (Barbados vs. Guyana?  Ghana vs. Uganda?).

Singapore also benefited from having most of its relevant colonization come later, whereas India had a damaging East India Company period in the 17th and 18th centuries, when imperialism often was more brutal and less sophisticated.

Non-Singaporean Malaya/Malaysia would require a post of its own.  In that case, and also with Singapore more narrowly, an evaluation of British rule cannot be separated from major changes in the exports and also corresponding changes in the ethnic composition of the territory.  The Singaporean national anthem is still a song written in Malay, and by law it must be sung as such.

1 warren meyer April 14, 2017 at 12:39 am

how would you compare th fate on average of ex british vs ex french colonies

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2 GoneWithTheWind April 14, 2017 at 10:35 am

The key word is “ex”. Every nation that was once a colonial country has benefited and suffered from that event. But once they are an ex-colonial nation they should focus in what benefited them because they are now free to do that. To focus instead on what was bad or negative is what whiners and rent seekers do. Don’t be the squeaking wheel be the wheel of commerce. Be thankful for what you have; what you have been given and make the most of it. The future is yours, stop looking backwards.

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3 Kris April 14, 2017 at 11:01 am

Be thankful for what you have; what you have been given and make the most of it. The future is yours, stop looking backwards.

Tell that to your Trump voters who keep whining about lost manufacturing jobs.

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4 msgkings April 14, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Boom. Just ashes where GWTW used to be.

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5 GoneWithTheWind April 15, 2017 at 10:12 am

“Tell that to your Trump voters who keep whining about lost manufacturing jobs.”

The good news is Trump is correcting some of the many failures of past presidents and congress. He is doing exactly what I said. It’s only been less than three months. Check back after a year and two years and four years. MAGA

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6 msgkings April 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Way to miss the point, GWTW. Another genius Trump voter.

7 GoneWithTheWind April 15, 2017 at 7:37 pm

” Another genius Trump voter”

Correct on both. How does it feel to finally be right about something?

8 Sandia April 14, 2017 at 12:40 am

Nice bedtime story. Just so!

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9 Sandia April 14, 2017 at 12:43 am

I think Tyler is really an economic historian specializing in post diction masquerading as a behavioral macro-economist.

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10 TGGP April 14, 2017 at 1:08 am

Raymond Crotty’s “When Histories Collide” focused on just this subject (although much of it is a Georgist analysis of Irish agriculture). He deems Singapore & Hong Kong to be “settler colonies” rather than “capitalist colonies” intended for the export of agricultural goods.

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11 Axa April 14, 2017 at 1:23 am

This model fits Ireland. They couldn’t let them develop. Too much Irish and too close.

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12 dearieme April 14, 2017 at 7:17 am

The Irish were highly capable of not developing without anyone else’s encouragement.

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13 Axa April 14, 2017 at 10:11 am

I hope your yearly income is above Ireland’s GDP PPP 😉

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14 tjamesjones April 14, 2017 at 10:38 am

yes, ireland’s GDP grew by 26.3% during 2015, due to that remarkable Irish ability to develop themselves. Or perhaps it was the transfer of corporate assets to the low 12.5% tax rate – you pick.

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15 Axa April 14, 2017 at 11:15 am

2014 was already higher than UK.

But, since when we became more moral than priests to assess the holiness of income sources? Considering the topic is colonialism and mercantilism, offering low corporate tax is almost as innocent as a baby haha.

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16 Citi.zen April 14, 2017 at 1:57 am

Extractive colonies will be very different from those geared to commerce. In large parts of India (but also South America while it had gold, and Africa of course) the colonial powers were mostly interested in turning a quick profit; this reality lent itself to certain infrastructure and institutions, matching these goals. Singapore was developed by the British (William Farquhar) as a free port: the goal was not plunder, but attracting diverse traders from other ports.

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17 Jason Bayz April 14, 2017 at 2:09 am

“Non-Singaporean Malaya/Malaysia would require a post of its own. In that case, and also with Singapore more narrowly, an evaluation of British rule cannot be separated from major changes in the exports and also corresponding changes in the ethnic composition of the territory. The Singaporean national anthem is still a song written in Malay, and by law it must be sung as such.”

In Malaysia you had Indians and Chinese both brought over by the British, for the same reason, to do the same type of jobs. Their experiences, ultimately, would wind up quite different. Is “colonialism” responsible for that too?

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18 ChrisA April 14, 2017 at 2:25 am

Right -the Occam’s razor explanation here is that the Chinese are more entrepreneurial than the Indians, especially the overseas Chinese.

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19 Kris April 14, 2017 at 2:46 am

In Malaysia you had Indians and Chinese both brought over by the British, for the same reason, to do the same type of jobs.

This is false. most Chinese in SE Asia were not “brought in” to do manual labor by the British or anyone else. They same on their own, and their trade was trade and business.

If you make up your own facts, you’ll end up with the conclusions you desire.

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20 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 6:18 am

Actually most Chinese in Malaya were brought in as indentured labor to work on rubber plantations or in tin mines. There was a long standing Chinese community in Malaya – the Nonyas – who were mainly Malay by language. Then British deluged the country with cheap labor.

They moved off the plantations as soon as they could and started their own business. So the British turned to the Indians.

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21 Jason Bayz April 14, 2017 at 11:01 am

Nope. You’re thinking of other countries, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. In Malaysia, they were mostly brought over to work in the mines and plantations.

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22 Kris April 14, 2017 at 2:49 am

In addition, you can see Indians all over southern Africa (except for those who were driven out by the locals after the end of colonialism.) There’s a big difference between the people who were taken their as indentured laborers and the people who went of their own volition to trade and do business (mostly Gujaratis.) The latter group consists of some of the most entrepreneurial people on the planet (witness Gujarati-owned motels in remote parts of the American West, for one example.)

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23 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 6:30 am

Malaysia and Singapore are as rich as they are because of their Chinese communities. The Malays aren’t much richer than the Indonesians.

So perhaps in the cases of both the overseas Chinese and the Indians in Africa, it is a matter of local ties and impediments. Back at home they were embedded in a series of social ties that held them back. Once they escaped to a foreign clime – with British rule – they did not have to share their wealth, they did not have to consider the opinion of their extended family when making decisions and so they thrived.

Consider the Sikhs in India. At home there were and are a whole series of institutions and events that make relations with other Indians difficult and shape their life choices. Once Indira Gandhi sent artillery and tanks to attack the Golden Temple, all sort of Sikhs had their relations with the rest of India sharply re-defined. Meanwhile the Sikhs of Malaysia or Hong Kong or Canada didn’t give a damn and simply focused on getting rich.

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24 polyglot April 14, 2017 at 11:37 am

The Sikhs were doing well in undivided India. Unfortunately they weren’t a majority anywhere so couldn’t claim a State of their own. So they started ethnic cleansing such that they were a bare majority in what is now Indian Punjab. On balance they lost more than they gained. However, it was their own fractious religious politics and stupid politicians which pushed them back. Still, like anyone who migrates from anywhere to anywhere, Sikh migrants did well. However, because of irrational remittance decisions, this distorted incentives for young people back home so, on balance, Punjab lost out. To see what I mean consider a young Canadian girl trained in hair dressing and cosmetics who returns to her ancestral home in the Punjab. She can set up a chain of beauty shops and then vertically integrate into beauty products etc. Her mum, back in Canada, can help her with money and connections and later on a distribution network in America. Does this happen?
No. Her mum does send money and does use her connections but only in order to get her daughter’s throat slit because she has brought shame on the community by not having paid someone to slit the throat of her mum who was about to bring genuine shame on the community. In nuce, this is the story of the Punjab. You see, the activities of the Nirankaris were bringing shame to the community, so Zail Singh propped up Bhrindinwale to, if not slit their throats, then at least split the Jat vote. But since Zail Singh was bringing shame to the community by dancing to the tune of a Brahmin widow, obviously Hindu throats had to be slit which of course meant slitting a lot of Sikh throats coz it’s not at all easy to tell them apart. Major General Shabegh Singh who rose from the ranks but was cashiered was smarter than the regular Army which was sent in because of all the shame that was being brought to the community. Naturally the Army wanted to blow the shite out of everything in sight to avoid shame to their own community. Indira Gandhi, being totally ga ga, didn’t stop them. This brought shame to the Indian Army. A few years later a similar situation was averted by Police action without tanks and artillery. However, the police are completely shameless so that’s okay.

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25 Kris April 14, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Ha Ha!

I like your posts. But please consider breaking them into paragraphs; that will make them more readable.

26 Art Deco April 14, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Malaysia and Singapore are as rich as they are because of their Chinese communities. The Malays aren’t much richer than the Indonesians.

A source puts the income levels of Malays at 30% below the mean for Malaysia as a whole, or about 47% above Indonesian income levels levels. Chinese in Malaysia supposedly have income levels 64% higher than Malays. That would put the income levels of Malays in Malaysia about 43% of the distance between Indonesians and ethnic Chinese in Malaysia.

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27 ChrisA April 14, 2017 at 2:47 am

Given that the explicit purpose, at least initially, of colonialism was exploitation it seems a little strange to ask if it succeeded as a social welfare project. I guess the real question being asked is whether a foreign occupation of a country could succeed if it has an explicit goal to improve the country. I think it would be hard to argue that many subsaharan African countries would benefit by being ruled again by a western democracy, the ending of the civil war in 2000 in Sierra Leone by British and Indian troops is one example of this. I don’t think India actually falls into this level of dysfunction though. Hong Kong up to Independence is also a good example, obviously the people there would have faired much worse if they had been part of the mainland during the cultural revolution.

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28 ChrisA April 14, 2017 at 3:23 am

* wouldn’t be hard to argue….

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29 ChrisA April 14, 2017 at 2:52 am

This debate about how colonialism is bad is reminiscent of the one that goes on between people as to why we should give the Russians more credit for ending WW2 and their sacrifices in doing so. They are both Cold War memes started then and sustained for political purposes. They are not really relevant for any policy discussions today as there are no colonial empires anymore and the USSR doesn’t exist but the memes carry on with a life of their own generating heated debate with no purpose.

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30 Hazel Meade April 14, 2017 at 9:32 am

And the Rosenbergs. Some people just won’t let it go.
If ever there was a group of people who can’t admit they were wrong, it’s the communist-sympathizing left.
Wierdly, some people on the alt-right seem to have the same problems regarding British colonialism.

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31 Art Deco April 14, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Not the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss. I think the Hiss die-hards consist of a small circle around Victor Navasky and Hiss’ son. The complaint about the Rosenbergs concerns Ethel’s role, not their guilt per se.

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32 JWatts April 14, 2017 at 10:10 am

That’s actually a good comparison, and both have a similar reason. There is a kernel of truth in both these ideas that people use as a basis to inflate the overall merit of the issue.

The Soviets did fight the bulk of the German army. They fought and won against 2/3rd to 3/4ths of German fielded manpower.

But the Soviets “won” the war advocates, ignore the massive amount of lend lease they were receiving from the other allies, the largest strategic bombing campaign in history, the Italian army that was destroyed by the Western allies (along with a significant amount of German forces in the Med), the destruction of the German navy and the entire war against Japan.

Regarding British Imperialism, it is true that British Imperial rule was probably better than rule by the other major powers. But it was still imperial rule, it was conquest of a foreign people to extract resources from their native lands. Even if being under British rule were better, it doesn’t matter, it’s a form of slavery.

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33 M April 14, 2017 at 11:20 am

There are debates to be had about what the real effects of the various foreign conquests through history were, economic and political.

We can ask, on economic trajectories: Where is Mexico compared to if the pre-Columbian Mexicans had never encountered Spain? Where is England compared to if the Norman conquest had never taken place? Where is Spain compared to if the Moorish invasion had never taken place? Where is France compared to where it would be without Rome’s expansion? What is Siberian Russia like today compared to how it would be in a world without the Russian expansion?

This stuff (economic history and counterfactuals) is not only interesting, it also matters because it allows us to think long term and cross society about policy, government, economics.

For one example, if, as is claimed by post-colonial theory, the societies of the Asian periphery (the Ottomans, Mughal India, Qing China) which were wholly without Enlightenment ideas *were* economically equivalent to Western Europe and only diverged from the West due to malign impositions by post-Enlightenment European colonizers, that givers rulers like Erdogan a much better pretext to downplay and discard those post-Enlightenment ideas and norms of government and secular culture (at best, Enlightenment, secular ideas can be seen as “like a train” where “you get off once you have reached your destination”).

Now, if that’s true, it’s one thing, but if it’s not true, then claiming it is without evidence, or in direct contradiction to the academic evidence… there’s an intellectual responsibility there.

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34 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 5:49 pm

JWatts April 14, 2017 at 10:10 am

Since Independence India has been ruled by native rulers who do nothing but extract resources for their own enrichment. How is that any better?

Government is nothing but extracting resources for the rulers. Some times it pretends to be otherwise. Some times it spreads those benefits a little more widely. The British Empire certainly did. The Indian National Congress said they would but they didn’t. On what basis do you say one is superior to the other?

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35 Art Deco April 14, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Since Independence India has been ruled by native rulers who do nothing but extract resources for their own enrichment. How is that any better?

Real GDP per capita has trebled since 1990. Adult literacy rates now stand at 72% of the population and youth literacy at 90%; 15% of the population is now proficient in English Life expectancy at birth is 68 years, a level not seen in the U.S. until the 1940s. They’ve also managed to keep parliamentary institutions bumping and grinding along for nearly 70 years and have suffered political violence only in circumscribed areas (e.g. the Punjab and Assam) since the partition was completed. The rent-extractors appear to be accomplishing something.

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36 John Hutnyk April 14, 2017 at 3:26 am

Are you going to ignore the fact that Malaya – not ‘Malaysia’ in the colonial period – included Singapore and only after a hard fought for and won independence did Singapore break away from Malaysia?

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37 Kris April 14, 2017 at 4:35 am

Singapore did not fight for independence from Malaysia. It was expelled from the Malaysian federation.

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38 Chuck April 14, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Lee Kuan Yew cried on TV after being kicked out of Malaysia.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj6iKXMIiOg

Is this the only time in history where a new polity was created against its own will?

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39 M April 14, 2017 at 4:31 am

Data free opinion. (Not even so much as a per capita GDP comparison of India and Singapore at independence!).

And somewhat irrelevant. It’s not British *views* of India that made them *see* India as a poor vehicle for investment. It’s not fear and desire to keep people “servile” that prevented investment. India was (and is) India.

Not even a major market for exports of finished goods. (Whatever “captive markets” means). Investment in anything other raw material production unprofitable (and even then, the major inputs for British industry were never Indian).

(Remember, there’s no significant public investment story before the mid-early 20th century; private investors, who are not calculating for state power and longevity, have made these decisions not to invest in India.)

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40 Kris April 14, 2017 at 4:38 am

India was (and is) India.

All economics historians say that India was doing rather well economically before British rule (and the Industrial Revolution.) Why else would the British bother to invest to much in building and maintaining trade lines (almost entirely to buy goods) to a land halfway around the world?

When exactly did India start to be India?

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41 M April 14, 2017 at 4:53 am

IIUC, India had a big advantage in production of textiles goods (cotton, jute) and spices because, well, it could grow the materials for textiles and spices. Europe couldn’t. India also made a great waystation for trade to China, which is where the really good finished goods of the time were. Of course Indian had some technical skills in working the materials too, but this was not the big edge.

Europe had an excess of cheap silver (from the Americas, via Spain, redistributed through Europe through trade), so it was profitable for Europeans to engage in arbitrage and trade in Asia. It made sense to set up trading stations.

But the volumes of international trade in this period were very low and not as strongly linked to underlying strength of the economy or the wealth of a country’s people. Freight was relatively expensive. They don’t tell us a lot about prosperity.

Cultivation of cotton in the Americas largely obviated any Indian advantage in production of finished cotton goods and further limited exports of raw material. (Though there are signs that the disruptions and developments in China during the death throes of the Mughal era prior to British rule had already changed the calculus in production to shift away from Indian production, towards Chinese and towards exports of raw materials.)

It’s not so much that India wasn’t doing well in international trade, as that doing well in international trade didn’t mean as much, and there were reasons for that doing well that did not lie in technical and economic structural advantages that would last.

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42 Kris April 14, 2017 at 5:47 am

Some of your information is not correct. India by the early 19th century did become almost entirely a source for raw materials like cotton, but throughout the previous two centuries, it had a thriving textile industry. And it was not just a waystation for China. Finished textiles were made in India, especially in Bengal, and these were known for quality. Tharoor in his recent book mentions how shopkeepers in England would put a “made in India” stamp on their goods to signal their quality. The East India Company, throughout the 1600s and much of the 1700s, bought and shipped finished products to Europe. And what could they have done before that with raw cotton anyway, before the growth of factories back home?

It was only after the Industrial Revolution got going AND the British conquests (as opposed to maintaining trading posts) that the purchase of raw materials became lucrative for the EIC, and Indian small-scale manufacture (even it might be of better quality than European-made goods) became completely unprofitable.

Though there are signs that the disruptions and developments in China during the death throes of the Mughal era prior to British rule had already changed the calculus in production to shift away from Indian production, towards Chinese and towards exports of raw materials.

I don’t know about this. Perhaps you can provide a source? My understanding of the situation is that Indian industry collapsed due to competition with factory-made products in England, and that China had nothing to do with it. Before the European colonization of the Americas, India was the only place in the world that produced cotton AFAIK (not sure when Egypt started cultivating it), so it would make sense for fabric to be manufactured in India as well.

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43 M April 14, 2017 at 6:10 am

Kris: throughout the previous two centuries, it had a thriving textile industry. And it was not just a waystation for China.

I would agree with all of this. Thriving by the standards of the time, which were tiny in total volume compared to the 19th century and industrialisation. If it’s not too combative to ask, What’s the bit in my information that you think contradicts this? I said specifically that India did export textiles, and that another benefit was as a waystation to China, not that it didn’t export textiles or that it’s sole benefit was as a waystation to China.

Kris: Perhaps you can provide a source?

Sure, I won’t give a synopsis but read – http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/Research/GEHN/GEHNPDF/Conf7_Williamson.pdf:

Our narrative account of India’s deindustrialization embraces the three contending deindustrialization hypotheses, and traces the roots of deindustrialization well back into the 18th century… We believe the dissolution of Mughal hegemony affected manufacturing through several channels… A decline in 18th century agricultural productivity in India suggests that even before factory-driven technologies appeared between 1780 and 1820, Britain was already beginning to wrest away from India its dominant grip on the world export market for textiles.

Also: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/events/seminars-schedule/conferences/econchange/programme/williamsonvenice.pdf

Kris: it would make sense for fabric to be manufactured in India as well.

The thing is the main markets for finished cotton goods for British merchants at the time were in the US and Europe, where the high nominal per capita incomes were. PPP things were more equal but nominal incomes were affected by the glut of silver to Europe (from the Americas) for one. So shipping is involved either way. You either ship the raw cotton or the finished goods. Shipping the raw cotton makes more sense if the local producers are better at manufacturing, which England of the time appears to have been, and the US southern states had raw material production advantages (whether due to plant breeding, slavery, etc.), so there was little place for India in the whole system.

If the finished goods were mostly consumed in India, then yes, you could’ve probably avoided a major shipping cost. But that wasn’t where the consumption was.

44 Axa April 14, 2017 at 4:53 am

India is (and was) India……. thus the UK wants a free trade agreement with them. http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN17619C

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45 M April 14, 2017 at 4:57 am

There is great scope for development in India, that lies within the character and culture of its people. But it was not a particularly developed place at the time of colonialism, nor did any British private investors have the institutions or reasons to invest and so develop the country.

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46 Axa April 14, 2017 at 8:34 am

If you read any United States history book you’ll find ideas like these: “British colonies were expected as a source of raw materials and market for British goods”.

Any real American should know about the British Iron act that “prohibited the colonies from producing finished iron goods.” https://www.landofthebrave.info/iron-act.htm

“At the time, the US was the world’s biggest exporter of cotton but did not have the technology to process it. Britain knew this and passed laws in 1774 banning textile workers from travelling to America.” http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-derbyshire-15002318

The history of Tata steel is very curious. British colonial regulations obstructed mineral prospecting and made concessions almost impossible. Tata could set a steel mill until the British allowed it after they realized steel made in India could help to make the Empire stronger. The British reluctance to local steel production was based on fears of local gun production. So, poverty, tradition and culture were not a problem when developing a large rail network or an Indian owned cotton industry. Steel was blocked by British security concerns.

The issue is, why a non-controversial topic for the US (British colonialism sucks) is so controversial for India (British colonialism is not that bad)?

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47 Hazel Meade April 14, 2017 at 9:39 am

Totally this. British merchantilism was absolutely about banning manufacturing of finished goods in the colonies so they would remain export markets for British manufactured goods. This was a major motivation for the US revolution. The Tea thing was just the last straw. The colonies couldn’t even import their own tea. They had to buy it from the British East India Company. They were using the colonies as captive markets and sources of raw materials while simultaneously preventing them from developing their own industrial base.

48 M April 14, 2017 at 9:42 am

Maybe, but India still wasn’t important as a market or source of raw materials, and deficits of local technical knowledge were inherent, not enforced.

Wikipedia on the Iron Act – “The Iron Act, if enforced, would have severely limited the emerging iron manufacturing industry in the colonies. However, as with other trade legislation, enforcement was poor because no one had any significant incentive to ensure compliance.”

“Part of the reason for lax enforcement may be due to the involvement of Colonial Officials in iron works. Virginia Governors Gooch and Spotswood were both deeply involved in iron manufacture. Gooch was a part owner of the Fredericksville Ironworks. Spotswood owned Tubal Ironworks (a blast furnace and probably finery forge) and the double air furnace at Massaponnax. Other prominent members of the Virginia aristocracy and House of Burgesses involved in the iron industry included John Tayloe (Bristol Ironworks, near Fredericksburg; Neabsco Ironworks; and Occoquan Ironworks), Augustine Washington, George’s father (Accoceek/Potomac Ironworks), and Benjamin Grimes (Grimes Recovery and a bloomery near Fredericksburg).”

Limitations on emigration of skilled mechanics and equipment also unlikely to have proved a major constraint to the development of American industry.

49 abs April 14, 2017 at 7:56 am

“India was (and is) India.”

Servile?

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50 Steven Sailer April 14, 2017 at 4:59 am

India was, for its immense size, relatively easy to rule and exploit. The bulk of the population was not very warlike and was used to paying taxes to rulers.

One interesting question was why the British Empire never really quite succumbed to the March Lord phenomenon: the hard men from the frontiers of empire take over the imperial capital.

It’s implicit in Kipling’s memorable short story “The Man Who Would Be King:” Peachey and Danny are suddenly the Queen’s richest subjects. Will they remain subjects?

Robert Clive was heavily criticized in Parliament before winning approval for his piratical actions in Bengal. Perhaps Edmund Burke’s persecution of Warren Hastings was part of the capital’s immune reaction to the huge wealth being acquired out in the Empire?

Closer to home, the hard men of Protestant Ireland, such as the Duke of Wellington, did very well for themselves in Westminster, but typically on an individual basis. Perhaps Protestant Ireland would have overthrown the British government in late 1914 if other events hadn’t interfered?

South African mineral wealth played a sizable if shadowy role in British government from Rhodes and Jameson onward.

In general, the English system did a good job of incorporating its imperial adventurers into the system rather than being overthrown by it the way the Roman Republic fell, just as the Soviet system resisted military coups. But I suspect the British paid other prices for this accomplishment.

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51 Kris April 14, 2017 at 6:04 am

Protestant Irish and Scots were overrepresented among the conquerors of India, especially in the earlier days as East India Company officers. Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) earned his military cops in India, fighting Tipu Sultan and then the Marathas. I believe he referred to the Battle of Assaye (in central India) as the toughest battle he fought (and that included Waterloo.) The Lawrence brothers and John Nicholson (a rather brutal man who fought in Punjab and in the early quelling of the 1857 rebellion) were also Irish Protestants. Thomas Munro, John Malcom, Elphinstone, were Scots. Perhaps these men didn’t fit in easily into the class system of the early UK, which led them to prove themselves abroad.

The bulk of the population was not very warlike and was used to paying taxes to rulers.

I’m skeptical of these broad judgments. There were (and are) lots of aggressive and warlike people in India. The ease of conquering India has depended a lot on the prevailing system of political alliances, and geography. It took Muslim (mainly Central Asian) invaders a few centuries to break through into the Indian plains because even after getting through the Khyber pass and marching past the Indus, they encountered great resistance (like Alexander did 2300 years ago.) Only after Muhammad Ghori’s armies defeated the Rajputs around the Delhi area (in the 1190s) did conquest of the subcontinent begin in earnest. And it was just geography after that; there’s nothing to stop invaders going east once they establish footholds around eastern Punjab. Even after that, people like the Rajputs never completely submitted to foreign rule, and where the population was pacified, it was where the new rulers offered generous terms. The south was harder to conquer (also because of geography), so Muslim rulers in Delhi never really managed to do so in a sustainable way. Aurangzeb tried, but his conquests were reversed immediately after his death and his descendants became puppets of the Hindu Marathas. At that point, the British just happened to take advantage of a set of fortuitous political circumstances, rather than exhibit strokes of military genius.

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52 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 6:34 am

Steven Sailer April 14, 2017 at 4:59 am

Perhaps Protestant Ireland would have overthrown the British government in late 1914 if other events hadn’t interfered?

I expect you know but they came close:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curragh_incident

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53 CMOT April 14, 2017 at 9:03 am

The national sport of India isn’t soccer or cricket, it’s screwing over other Indians. Individual Indians do fine out in the wider world, but whenever there’s a critical mass of them they revert to using, abusing, and refusing each other, and once they are in that mode they’d rather do that than get rich.

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54 Ali Choudhury April 14, 2017 at 9:33 am

There were plenty of war like inhabitants in the Indian subcontinent. The British won India because 1) they were militarily and politically the best organised and most unified force 2) when it came down to it, rule by the British was seen by the local elites as preferable to having one of their local rivals lord it over them.

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55 Andrew Pearson April 14, 2017 at 5:08 am

My apologies if this is not too clear, the thoughts are still in the process being formed. I’m also deliberately erring on the side of overstatement:

It’s very easy to talk about colonialism as something which was done by European countries to other countries, but it makes every bit as much sense to talk about the colonisation by Paris of the rest of France (see Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen). This was less true in the UK, but even so the functional role played by India does not seem especially different from that played by the vast majority of the UK. The Empire was operated for the benefit of a minority of Britons; outside of the government and aristocracy, most Britons fulfilled a similar functional role (so far as HM Government was concerned) as Indians: a source of taxes and manpower for the promotion of the interests of the British state.

A puzzle to be explained, then, is why for India this led to the neglect and perhaps even deliberate suppression of its economic growth, while back home there were deliberate (if heavy-handed and intrusive) attempts by government to improve the human condition.

Some obvious hypotheses:
(1) an ideology – call it liberalism, call it ethnic solidarity – which led Parliament to voluntarily give some weight to the interests of native British and to British settlers, but which did not apply to non-Anglo-Saxons.
(2) due to being richer or geographically closer to the seat of power, native British were effectively able to threaten Parliament if it ignored their will.
(3) having the franchise and a competitive political party system provided genuinely effective protection for British people’s interests.
(4) Britain was considerably more legible, in James Scott’s sense, than India; thus economic growth would actually increase government revenues, whereas in India economic growth would increase the power of Indian people without any commensurate increase in the ability of the Empire to keep them under control.

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56 Kris April 14, 2017 at 6:07 am

We can consider English rule of Ireland to be a form of colonization too, and there were massacres (e.g., by Cromwell) and famines (in the 1840s) that the Irish are still mad at the English for. Many Irish nationalists in the late 1800s and early 1900s made common cause with Indian nationalists.

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57 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 6:48 am

Cromwell’s massacres are largely fiction with little to no evidential support. And Ireland’s famine only happened because British rule enabled a massive expansion of the Irish population.

Ireland still has not achieved as large a population as they did before the Famine.

This is hardly evidence of oppression.

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58 chuck martel April 14, 2017 at 7:06 am

Cromwell was famous for being particularly nice to vanquished Catholics, even to the point of distributing their property to English absentee owners that could mind it better than the Irish themselves. It’s difficult for the Irish population to grow when they insist on emigrating to the US, Australia, and other places.

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59 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 7:14 am

There was a wholesale redistribution of Catholic land to Protestant owners. Who did, actually, farm it better than the Catholics did.

But that is beside the point. If you want to make that claim, make that claim. It is not true that because the British handed over a lot of land they must have also massacred people.

It is true, however, that the Irish continued to prefer life anywhere but Ireland. There are certainly more people of Irish descent in Britain than in Ireland. That continued after independence – an idea based pretty much on un-doing everything the British had done. Returning Ireland to a medieval “pure” Celtic Catholic Ireland of small farms and little industry. Eventually the Irish rejected that view in the 1990s. They did what the British had been urging them since the Famine at least. They dumped the twee Celtic gloaming, they essentially dis-established the Catholic Church, and they embraced the British economic and social model. They are not immigrating in much lower numbers.

60 Millian April 14, 2017 at 8:17 am

When you are not being discriminated against, it is easy to farm well.

That is like saying planters got better productivity per acre than sharecroppers.

61 pseudoerasmus April 14, 2017 at 6:12 am

“You might look at the coastal regions, but given that British policy forced India to accept free trade for British goods, without receiving the same privileges in return, the coastal regions became rent-seeking imperial clusters more than possible rivals to Hong Kong or for that matter Manchester.”

But this is historically inaccurate. After 1850 or so, nothing prevented Indian goods from entering the British market on the same terms British goods entered the Indian market. India was not, de jure, a captive market. I don’t see how you can say the Bombay & Ahmedabad cotton textile industries, or the Calcutta jute textile industry, “became rent-seeking imperial clusters”. Bombay-Ahmedabad did become a competitor to Manchester in both the domestic (50% of the domestic market by 1914) and some nearby international markets (e.g. China), and Calcutta did become a competitor to Dundee for jute textiles. Also, after 1919, Lancashire lost most of its market share in India to Japan.

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62 pseudoerasmus April 14, 2017 at 6:46 am

Admittedly this was not true in steel until the 1880s. But cotton and jute textiles were the major industries in British India.

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63 chuck martel April 14, 2017 at 6:27 am

How does Gibraltar fit into this?

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64 dearieme April 14, 2017 at 7:20 am

“the British viewed it as a source of soldiers”: largely bollocks. Indian soldiers were used overwhelmingly on Indian duties. The Hindu soldiers in particular were extremely reluctant to leave India, even to serve in such nearby places as Burma and Afghanistan. I suspect Cowen is suffering from “recency bias”.

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65 Kris April 14, 2017 at 7:41 am

There was indeed some (religious) reluctance to fight in Burma on the part of Hindu soldiers, but most ended up going anyway. The taboo was limited to crossing seas, so that didn’t apply in Afghanistan, where a lot of Indian soldiers fought and came to a very bad end in the war of the late 1830s.

Apart from that, there were hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh) who fought in Mesopotamia and in Flanders during WW1. Two and a half Indian soldiers fought on the Allied side in WW2; since there was very little fighting on Indian territory, most fought abroad, both in North Africa and in Eastern Asia (and a few in Europe as well.)

I believe Indian soldiers were used in the fight against the Mahdi in Sudan too. And they were definitely used in China as part of Lord Elgin’s forces in the mid-1800s.

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66 Kris April 14, 2017 at 7:42 am

Two and a half Indian soldiers fought on the Allied side in WW2

Sorry, that should be “two and a half million”.

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67 msgkings April 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Was gonna ask, which half?

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68 dearieme April 14, 2017 at 7:23 am

“whereas India had a damaging East India Company period in the 17th and 18th centuries”: for Christ’s sake, man, can’t you get your history right at all? India wasn’t taken over from the EIC until after the Mutiny i.e. in the second half of the 19th century.

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69 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 7:25 am

They were also not particularly enthused about fighting. The only important mutiny by the British forces in World War One was a group of Pathans in Singapore.

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70 Chip April 14, 2017 at 10:26 am

I don’t understand this either. The EIC in the 17th century had trade agreements with the Mughals and their footprint was both isolated and subservient. From wiki:

“In 1689 a Mughal fleet commanded by Sidi Yaqub attacked Bombay. After a year of resistance the EIC surrendered in 1690, and the company sent envoys to Aurangzeb’s camp to plead for a pardon. The company’s envoys had to prostrate themselves before the emperor, pay a large indemnity, and promise better behaviour in the future. The emperor withdrew his troops and the company subsequently re-established itself in Bombay and set up a new base in Calcutta.[18]”

In fact, it’s strange to speak of pre-colonial India before the British because India was at the time colonized by the Mughals, who were Muslims who had earlier arrived at the head of Turkic-Mongol armies.

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71 rayward April 14, 2017 at 7:27 am

The Singapore economic miracle is due almost entirely to its proximity to China and the China miracle; absent the China miracle, there is no Singapore miracle. Reciprocity is the key: Singapore became a safe haven for China’s billionaires to store (hide) their newfound wealth, while the Singapore sovereign funds returned the favor by investing heavily in China. It’s win, win. Until it isn’t.

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72 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 5:46 pm

I am curious Ray, on what planet in Singapore “near” China? In what planet did Singapore slum along at a GDP of $550 per capita until China took off?

How do you reconcile this claim with the most basic of economic facts?

Singapore’s economic strategy produced real growth averaging 8.0% from 1960 to 1999

Or this:

Year GDP Nominal (Billion) GDP Nominal Per Capita

1970 US$1.919 US$925

1975 US$5.789 US$2,559

1980 US$12.078 US$5,004

That is, before reform had even started in China, Singapore has increased its national income per capita by a factor of ten.

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73 polyglot April 14, 2017 at 8:51 am

If Britain had made its Presidencies- Bombay, Madras and Calcutta- autonomous they would have continued to eclipse Singapore and Hong Kong which in any case only came up because of the type of immigrants they attracted or got landed with, and the pro-trade policies they were obliged to follow. A separate matter is that the power of the criminal Triads was effectively curbed, unlike in KMT Shanghai, so populations could be transferred from slums to new housing projects in a rational manner.

Economics as Samuelson is either ergodic or not at all. If you adopt good policies, you do well even if you have a horrible history or no history at all.

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74 Strausiyanin April 14, 2017 at 10:02 am

HBD

HBD!

You must account for HBD!

If you don’t account for HBD

Your theory will wind up crappy!

HBD

HBD!

Libs won’t tell you ’bout HBD!

The reason they don’t tell you ’bout HBD

is they want to make the white man guilty!

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75 Kris April 14, 2017 at 11:33 am

The HBD school’s theories are entirely based on observations of current states of societies, without any other ground truth. So you can’t then turn around and use HBD as an explanatory factor for the states these societies find themselves in. That would be a circular argument.

As for white guilt, when you people stop defending guilty white people, we will stop complaining.

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76 jorgensen April 14, 2017 at 11:27 am

What about: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as former colonies? They turned out ok.

India became independent 70 years ago. It is long past time for them to stop blaming the temporary British colonial veneer for their current problems.

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77 Kris April 14, 2017 at 11:49 am

It wasn’t temporary and it wasn’t a veneer.

As one of those that regularly posts critiques of colonial rule, especially of the British Raj, I agree with your other point. This is not, and should not be, about blaming the British for our (India’s) current problems. 70 years after Independence, it’s pretty much on us at this point. I would blame our indigenous leaders for having stuck with crappy colonial institutions which the British bequeathed to us, prime among those being a top-down unaccountable bureaucracy that treats the population as children to be shepherded.

My critiques are all about making sure that the current revisionist attempts to paint empire is a glorious light receive some pushback. It’s about showing why a lot of white people in the 17th-19th centuries were not angels and heroes but rather barbarians and marauders; it’s not at all about targeting white people today, who are among the most liberal people on the planet. Such pushback is needed when populist alt-right movements are gaining ground in Western countries, whose vision of history has moved away from a 20th century academic scientific quest to understand the past to pretty much the glorification of white people.

The settler colonies had a very different history. The people there were allowed freedom to build responsible accountable institutions for themselves (excluding natives, of course.) The population of India was not afforded that courtesy until 1947.

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78 jorgensen April 14, 2017 at 1:05 pm

I do not say that there was some glorious period of colonialism.

A quick search suggests that under the Raj, Europeans (men, women, soldiers, civil servants) made up roughly 0.1% of the total population. In cultural terms, that is a veneer.

Anyway, the future of India has been completely in its own hands since 1947. And I expect that Indian elites had significant opportunities to influence what their country would be like well before independence.

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79 Kris April 14, 2017 at 2:46 pm

And I expect that Indian elites had significant opportunities to influence what their country would be like well before independence.

Yeah, and the tragedy of it is that there was far more ideological diversity among those elites before Independence, and a lot more serious debating. Whatever Indian industry and finance existed before 1947 was grassroots entrepreneurial, no help from the state (which didn’t care.) But the Fabian socialists (headed by Nehru) captured the ideological high ground after Independence and never let go. We are still living with that legacy.

As I mentioned above, at this point it’s all on us. Very few of us blame the state of 2017 India on the British.

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80 Jon April 14, 2017 at 12:13 pm
81 Kris April 14, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Thanks for linking.

Yeah, Tharoor’s book is flawed. I believe it was written as a polemic to shore up his nationalist bona fides and further his political career. But I see its main value in bursting the bubble of revisionist historians who regard empire and colonization as being beneficial on balance to the subject peoples.

But this review is quite flawed as well. I am too tired to deal with all of its points, but one of them is the assertion that India cannot be regarded as a singular entity because it only had centralized rule twice before the British (once under the Mauryas and another under the Mughals.) Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have struck the reviewer that both those things can be true: that India is a singular entity AND that it was composed of multiple states/statelets. The fact that India was not a singular entity would have been news to all Asians from the Chinese to the Arabs and Persians, who took that for granted from the time of Darius. And the review regurgitates other completely non-original talking points.

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82 M April 15, 2017 at 8:25 am

To inject some realism back into the debate, John MacKenzie’s counterargument against Tharoor is a good read – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-33647422

(Being an historian and not a nationalist politician tends to be useful in coming to the correct result in these things…).

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83 Jacques René Giguère April 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Hong Kong and Singapore are not sui generis. They are coastal enclaves in the larger China. As if the International Settlements had survived.

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84 So Much For Subtlety April 14, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Are you serious? The distance from Singapore to Beijing is about 4500 km. The distance from Singapore to the nearest big Chinese city, Guangzhou, is about 2,500 km.

Singapore is a coastal enclave of China in exactly the same way Moscow is a coastal enclave of the UK. The distance London-Moscow is also about 2,500 km.

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85 John Smith April 14, 2017 at 2:33 pm

I find it odd that Tyler seems to have neglected the obvious fact that India is filled with Indians, whereas Singapore is filled with Chinese.

This probably accounts for much of the economic disparity.

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86 Kris April 14, 2017 at 2:48 pm

What accounts for the economic disparity between Singapore and, well, China?

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87 Jason Bayz April 14, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Undoubtedly it’s that Singapore was held down by colonialism!

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88 Kris April 14, 2017 at 3:17 pm

I thought it was pretty clear that I was comparing Singapore favorably with China.

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89 Chris April 14, 2017 at 5:22 pm

Several important things to know about the British colonial empire in India.

1) A large part of the Raj was not administered by the British. These were the Princely States that had local rules that cooperated with the Raj andf followed general British policy (mainly foreign policy), but governed internally. British India was the territory once ruled by the East India Company and directly administered by the British. The Princely States make up a huge part of modern India – about 40% of the country.

2) The British definitely tried to develop/change India, but there were limits to what they could do because of the size of India and the local rulers. British policy changed after the Sepoy Rebellion in 1858. It tried to leave much of Indian culture alone except for those parts that truly offended their moral sense.

So I don’t agree with Alex’s statement that British “choose” to let the interior “fester”. There were actual constraints put on the British by the Indians themselves on what happened in much of India.

Certainly not all of the British policies were designed to develop India. The negative effects on India’s textile industry is well known. However, Britain certainly did not exploit India like the Belgians did the Congo. A lot of investment occurred there, and British policy in general was benevolently oriented. It had its share of oppression and problems, but so too did the native states both before the arrival of the East India Company and after independence. Given how few British troops were actually in India, a good argument can be made that much of their rule was based on some manner of consent by rulers and people for a long time.

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90 Chris April 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Sorry, this post should have said Tyler’s statement, not Alex’s.

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91 Kris April 15, 2017 at 12:10 am

Point #2 is dubious at best. Many of the native states, by all accounts, were better governed than British India, and more accountable to their people. And wherever the British decided to allow any development activity (roads, railways, canals), they just went ahead and did it without regard for states’ borders. If you look at the railway map of British India, lines go through various territories regardless of who ruled them.

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92 Adrian Ratnapala April 15, 2017 at 8:53 am

*Singapore also benefited from having most of its relevant colonization come later, whereas India had a damaging East India Company period in the 17th and 18th centuries, when imperialism often was more brutal and less sophisticated.*

No shit Sherlock!

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93 çeşme transfer April 19, 2017 at 9:40 am

After 1850 or so, nothing prevented Indian goods from entering the British market on the same terms British goods entered the Indian market. India was not, de jure, a captive market. I don’t see how you can say the Bombay & Ahmedabad cotton textile industries, or the Calcutta jute textile industry, “became rent-seeking imperial clusters”. Bombay-Ahmedabad did become a competitor to Manchester in both the domestic (50% of the domestic market by 1914) and some nearby international markets (e.g. China), and Calcutta did become a competitor to Dundee for jute textiles.

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