Wednesday, 31 August 2011
It's a standard part of the anti-European discourse of the Left that we bear some burden of historic guilt for having grown rich through imperialism and the slave trade. But did we? The short answer is no. A good paper - "Slavery and Imperialism Did Not Enrich
Europe" by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey - exploring these questions can be read here. The truth is it was probably a net drain on our resources. We were paying through the nose to help the rest of the world become more civilised. Did they appreciate us for it? No.

A few highlights are quoted below.

On slavery:
It follows from the unimportance of foreign trade that parts of foreign trade were unimportant, too—at any rate in explaining the doubling of per capita real income in the eighty years from 1780 to 1860 and especially in explaining the subsequent explosion on the way to the factor of sixteen. For example, the trade in slaves, quite a small part of Britain’s or Europe’s trade, could not have been the cause of British or European prosperity. As Stanley Engerman and Patrick O’Brien showed, contrary to Inikori, the so-called profits were too small.

To attribute great importance to a tiny trade would make every small trade important—we are back to the brass industry as a cause of the modern world. As another leading historian of the trade, David Richardson, puts it, “comparisons between earnings from slaving voyages [which Richardson himself has researched on a large scale] with general estimates of eighteenth-century British investment generally suggest, almost without exception, that slave-trading profits could have contributed at best only small amounts to financing early British 4industrial expansion.”

As David Eltis and Stanley Engerman concluded in 2000, in a thorough review of the possible influences, “if the value added and strategic linkages of the sugar industry are compared to those of other British industries, it is apparent that sugar cultivation and the slave trade were not particularly large, nor did they have stronger growth-inducing ties with the rest of the British economy.”


On European imperialism:
Imperialism, too, was another part of trade, and again an obviously evil one. But imperialism, it can be shown, did not much help the British, or the First World generally, to an Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth. True, the doctrine that imperialism made the West rich at the expense of the East and South is held passionately by the left in the West, and by nearly everybody elsewhere. But understand: the counterargument does not praise imperialism, or excuse it. The counterargument claims that it was economically stupid.

The simplest and historical argument is that the West did not really get going in its imperial adventure until it had innovated in steam, steel ships, cartridge rifles, 6and machine guns—that is, after the Industrial Revolution, not before. As Goldstone puts it, “It was not colonialism and conquest that made possible the rise of the West, but the reverse—it was the rise of the West (in terms of technology) and the decline of the rest that made possible the full extension of European power across the globe.

British imperialism:
...even if the trade with India contained some element of exploitation, which is unlikely, and certainly has never been proven, the trade was lower than Britain’s trade with rich countries like France or the German Empire or the United States. In 1899, Angus Maddison reckoned, the U.K. exported goods (that is, excluding services and bonds) to Imperial India of $153 millions worth (9.5 percent of all British commodity exports). Exports to Europe and the U.S. at the time were $728 millions, nearly five times the Indian total.

What were the vaunted benefits to the British people? Essentially nothing of material worth. They got bananas on their kitchen tables, as I said, that they would have got anyway by free trade—the Danes did, via London or Amsterdam—or at a slightly higher cost if trade had not been entirely free. They got employment for unemployable twits from minor public schools. Above all—to go beyond the material realm—they got the great joy of seeing a quarter of the land area on world maps and globes shaded in British imperial red.

Economically, materially, it did not matter. Standards of literacy exceeding those of Southern Europe mattered a great deal more to later British economic growth, as did a tradition of industrial and financial innovation exceeding those of Germany, and a free society in which to innovate exceeding that of Russia, and above all an early shift to a rhetoric of bourgeois virtues exceeding most of the world. Look at the accounting and the magnitudes. Most of British national income was and is domestic. This is true of all countries much larger than Luxembourg or Singapore. And what income there was from abroad was largely a matter of mutually advantageous trade having nothing to do with empire—Britain invested as much in places like the United States and Argentina as in comparable areas of the Empire, and there is no evidence in any case that returns to investment in the Empire were especially high.

4 comments:

V said...

Muslims and african people says they have the right to stay in Sweden because we used them and built a wealth. We didnt, we had our own natural Resources and had almost nothing to do with this countries. I dont understand why our politicans let muslims and african people change the Swedish history and let them tell lies about us. Very sad!

Cheradenine Zakalwe said...

The European guilt argument is especially ridiculous in the case of the Scandinavian countries that didn't have overseas empires.

AKUETTEH SOWAH said...

we should not pretend there are no facts , what happen after the Nathaniel Bacon's rebellion? what about John Punch conviction? Why expansion of British collonies? why the monopoly on the African Royal Company? what was carried from Europe to West Africa, from West africa to the Americas and North America to England? Who later worked on the Tobacco farms in Virginia, who worked on sugar cane plantations in Barbados, Antiguah, Jamaica, Brazil and Mexico? what about in South Carolina?

AKUETTEH SOWAH said...

There is no justification for anyone, rational being to kill or bomb a nation, kill innocent people , in the mall, schools , market places in the name of a religion. dont know what your read in the bible or koran but you are guilty.

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