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April 2003 ยท Historically Speaking27 16CaUi and Hopkins, British Imperialism, 439, 567. 17Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Faminesandthe Making ofthe Third World(Verso, 2001). l8See e.g. Tapan Raychaudhuri, "British Rule in India: An Assessment," in RJ. Marshall, ed., The Cambridge IllustratedHistory ofthe British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 361-64; Simon Schama, A History ofBritain, vol. HI: The Fate ofEmpire (Miramax, 2002), esp. 359-364. 19Tirthankar Roy, The Economic History ofIndia, 1851-1947(Oxford UniversityPress, 2000), 42ff, 250. 20Angus Maddison, The WorldEconomy: A Millennium Perspective (OECD, 2001), table 2-2lb. 21Roy, Economic History, 241, 22, 219f., 254, 285, 294. 22Roy, EconomicHistory, 32-36, 215, 258-263, 46f. 23Daron Acemoglu, SimonJohnson, andJames A. Robinson, "Reversal ofFortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making ofthe Modern World Income Distribution,"NBER WorkingPaper8460 (2001): 5. 24They are: Lesotho, Pakistan, Egypt, Botswana, Malaysia, Malta, Barbados, Cyprus, Israel, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, and the United States: figures from Maddison, WorldEconomy. Beneficial for Whom? P.J.Marshall As is inevitable in any piece of historical and beyond diat sees it as far from a force for writing, NiallFergusoninterprets the past good. The case usually made is diat die free through the preoccupations ofthe present. trade order was a damagingly unequal one, The dominant tendency in contemporary stunting the economic, social, and even die thinking about the wealth and poverty of political developmentofdiose countries diat nations is diat economic growth can best be exchanged primaryproducts for British manassured by: maximizingdie free circulation of ufactures. They became societies ofpoorly trade, capital, and labor; keeping inflation rewarded peasantproducers, whose liveswere undercontrol; rnamtainingproperstandardsof dominated by landlords and by the great lawand orderand financialand governmental import-export merchants of the port cities, probity; and Hmiting taxation. All countries should dierefore seek to take dieir place in a global order dedicated to diese principles . The role ofthe state in die economyis ofnecessitya limited one. Itshould provide the infrastructure for an open economy, butmustavoid damagingintervention , even ifit is aimed at promoting growdi. Ferguson argues diat die British Empire from die mid-19di century generally enforced die principles ofdie contemporaryglobal orderdiroughoutmuch oftheworld. "Astrikingnumberofdungs currendyrecommended byeconomists to developingcountrieswerein factimposed byBritishrule."Hencedie BritishEmpire was on balance a force for good. That the British Empire was in some senses a global system before "globalization" is not a proposition thatwill strike historians as novel. It is, for instance, analyzed at several places in the recent collection on Globalization in WorldHistory, edited byA. G. Hop The free movements oflabor merely meant . . . opportunitiesfor improvement through increasedparticipation in world trade brought about by British rule were available to toofewpeople the transportation ofimpoverished Indian and Chinese rural laborers under dire conditions to become semi-slave labor on plantations or the uprooting from their land of Africans to be consigned to the mining compounds of the South African Rand. Moreover , it is often argued, the British colonial kins.1 There is, however, a long tradition of state took so negative a view ofits responsiwritingaboutthe economic ordermaintained bilitdes that it utterly failed to mitigate the by later 19th-century Britain in its empire damage free trade wrought by encouraging development in anyform. Whatwas needed were vigorous "national" governments, as in the United States, Tsarist Russia, orJapan, capable ofbuilding up an appropriate infrastructure and initiating positive policies to foster a diverse economy, includingindustry. Ferguson's case for a relatively benign imperial economic order has much to commend it, especially ifhe rests his case on the period from the mid-19th century to 1914, and dius avoids the depression years ofthe 1920s and the 1930s. Ferguson is fond ofposing counterfactual, what-ifquestions . It would certainly strengthen his case were he to ask what ifBritish capital , British financial services, die demand of British markets, British technology, and British skilled personnel had not been diffused throughout the world largely through the mechanism of empire? Odiersources ofsuch things are hard to envisage. Needless to say, international agenciesdid notexistJapanwas, ofcourse, the great counterexample ofa non-European state thatcould deal with the world and take what it wanted from international contacts on its own terms. How manyotherpotentialJapanswere diere, however , in the later 19th-centuryworld? The British imperial economic order assumed specialization of functions and offered export-led growth in primary...


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