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32Historically Speaking · April 2003 This last observation directs us not only to die compatibilityofcontinuingglobalizationwidi partially-closed economies, butalso to the limitations offree trade arrangements historically associated widi die pursuit ofan open global economy. Contraryto much current thinking, Ferguson wishes us to accept that the priority attached by Britain to free trade, free labor migration, and unfettered capital movements was beneficial to Britain itself, to herempire, and to dieworld atlarge. The extension ofher empire not least contributed to the global growth of GDP, because Britain was the "least protectionist" ofall the great powers. By thisyardstick, die British Empire was "a good thing," British rule "on balance conducive to economic growth." Iwould argue thatthis simple standard requires a more critical consideration than it receives in Ferguson's essay. Two points are fundamental. First, it is surelynecessaryto bearin mind diatdie pattern offree trade, particularly in the form of unlimited exchange of foodstuffs and raw materials for manufactured capital and consumer goods, generallyoperates over anysignificant period oftime to die decided disadvantage ofcommodityproducers. Free trade mighthavebeen one ofthepillarsof"Anglobalization ," but at the same time it was likely to restrict and impoverish the less economically "modernized" party. Thesecond follows from that: free trade cannot necessarily be equated with freedom ofchoice and opportunity . The time at which any territory is drawndiroughdie openingup ofits tradeinto the globalizing economy can have a critical impact on its future development. The great variety of combinations of climate, geographical position, and natural endowmentof resourcesinevitablymeans thateachterritory maybe more orlesswell placed tofinditsown niche in die range ofeconomic openings prevailing at any one time. Hence, as Donald Denoon demonstrated in his SettlerCapitalism (1983), temperate lands ofwhite settlement, faced widi exclusion from industrial and manufacturingoptions , notonlyevolved dieirown forms ofcapitalism but did so largely irrespective oftheir colonial or independentstatus . Moreover, dieir contribution to the globalization process was evidently compatible with a distribution ofany gains widiin individual states that was often very far from equalizing incomes. Ferguson is to be applauded for his realism in calling on historians to consider not ideal worlds but inescapably imperfect worlds in which the optionof"Anglobalization"was ifnotdie best dien perhaps the least bad course available. However, die realityofdieimperialismoffree tradewhichunderlaydiatoptionwas farmore constraining and less benign dian Ferguson, atleasthere, seems to acknowledge. Itwas, of course, gready to Britain's own advantage as dieworld'smajorindustrial powerformuchof die 19di centurydiatshe should insiston the expansion offree tradewhile atdie same time facing little serious competition in the new markets she was exploiting. My last comment relates still more directly to the issue ofcosts and benefits. As befits anypublic performer, Ferguson is fond ofcatchinghis audience's attentionwidistriking juxtapositions ofimages and arguments. Starkintellectual polarities, however, can be snares and delusions, especiallyin die history ofempire, so riddled as itiswidi complexities and ambiguity. In seeking to argue that die empire was not "economically bad for both Britain and her colonies," Ferguson sets up an Aunt Sally no less grand and vulnerable than thatconstructed bysome ofthe historians he criticizes. Consider his reference to Robert Huttenback and Lance Davis's Mammon and the PursuitofEmpire, a bookextensivelydebated when it appeared in 1986. Whatever the problems presented by diat work (and diey were numerous), Davis and Huttenback did not make quite the bald claim for Britain's losses and colonial benefits from empire that Ferguson's compressed opening paragraph suggests. Theyconfirmed above all die need to askofimperial commitments and colonial possessions who benefited, from what, and when. In demonstrating that fortunately placed individuals, particular social classes, and identifiable types of business in both métropole and colonies gained orlostinvarying degrees and at different times, they argued convincinglyfor a more discriminating and nuanced scrutiny of the empire's political economy dian was currently available . Theyalso proved beyond doubtdie centrality ofthe incidence of taxation and the costs ofdefense to any assessment of costs and benefits. Ferguson seems in effect to argue diatdie association ofglobal economic growdi with bodi the element ofredistribution inherent in the workings ofa free market system and die existence ofBritain's free trade empire was sufficient—as Lewis Carrollwould putit—for all tohave prizes. That surely represents a significant retreat from the ground so usefully opened up to debate some fifteen years ago. Andrew PorterisRhodesProfessorofImperialHistoryatKings College, London. He is editoro/The Oxford History ofthe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 32-33
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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