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34 Historically Speaking · April 2003 Globalization without Gunboats? Niall Ferguson In November 2002 British foreign secretary Jack Straw made some remarks to the New Statesman magazinewhichseemappositehere: I'm not a Uberai imperialist. There's a lot wrong widi liberalism, widi a capital L, although I am a liberal with a small L. And mere's a lotwrong with imperialism. A lot of the problems we are having to deal widi now are a consequence of our colonial past Reading the comments on my essay by AndrewJ. Bacevich, Robert E. Lucas,Jr., RJ. Marshall, and Andrew Porter, I was sometimes reminded of Straw's words. His misunderstanding ofBritain's imperial legacyis, ofcourse, absurdly crude. Yet at least two of the commentators' criticisms seem to be based on the same underlying assumption diat diere was, from a liberal standpoint, a "lot wrong" with the British Empire. Central to my argument is that diere was such a thingas Uberai imperialism and diaton balance it was a good diing. From the 1850s until die 1930s die British approach to governing their sprawling global Imperium was fundamentally Uberai both in theory and in practice. Free trade, free capital movements, and free migration were fostered. The rule of lawwas iristitutionaUzed. Colonial government practiced die strictrules ofGladstonian fiscal and monetary poUcy: balanced budgets and a stable currency. This poUcy"mix" encouraged British investors to put a substantial portion oftheir capital in what we would now call emergingmarkets. Newtechnologieslikerailways and steam power were therefore spread across the world, reaching countries they would not have reached had those countries been self-governing orundersome odier less Uberai form ofimperial rule. The results of liberalimperialismweremixed, to be sure.Not everywhere grew as rapidly as die colonies of white settlement But even diose countries dike India) diat achieved onlyvery slow increases in per capita income fared better than they would have fared under alternative regimes. In short, Peter Marshall is right to infer from the essay a counterfactual question: "WhatifBritish capital, British financial services , the demand ofBritish markets, British technology, and British sldUed personnel had notbeen diffused diroughoutthe world largely through the mechanism of empire?" I have Uttle doubt that die global economy would have grown less rapidlyin such an alternative 19th century. I certainly do not diinkit plausible that diese things would have happened on the same scale widiout die "mechanism" ofempire. Andyes, as Portersays, thatmechanism did indeed rely on "war" and "strategic calculation" to promote the growth of a "global economy." This was, as I have written elsewhere, "globaUzationwith gunboats."1 Political Independence and Economic Growth Robert E. Lucas,Jr. admits that "in common widi many British thinkers from Adam Smidi onward" he "diink[s] ofimperiaUsm as almost an opposite ofUberaUsm." Thiswas certainly true in Adam Smidi's day, when die empire was thoroughly mercantiUst in its poUcies.2 Less than a century later, however, Smith's Wealth ofNations had been enshrined as one of the sacred texts of Victorian liberalism. Policy makers took it for granted that laissez faire was superior to state intervention and monopoly. This was not true in other European empires, which from the late 1870s onward steadily increased the level of both agricultural and industrial protectionism. In failing to make this distinction, Lucas errs. He further errs when he imputes to me the argument that "die economic growth of the successful societies in the post-colonial years can beviewed as a continuation oftheir economic performance under the British Empire." This is the very reverse ofwhat I say. By comparing the economic performance of Britain's former colonies before and after British rule, I show that a majority—27 out of41—fared worse under independence dian dieyhad fared under British rule, in that die economic gap between Britain and diem widened after the 1960s. Because he uses highly aggregated data in assessing die economic performance ofAfrica and Asia, Lucas fails to distinguish between the economic performance of British colonies and those of odier empires, to say nothing of China. To saythat "diese colonial subjects had die same living standards at the end ofthe colonial period as theyhad had two centuries earUer" is therefore to miss the point that (for example ) in South Africa they rose while...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 34-36
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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