Monday, August 09, 2010

A Nail In The Coffin Of Western Guilt

One of the most widely disseminated myths is that the reason that the West is wealthier than the rest of the world is due to things like colonialism and exploitation. This idea doesn't make a great deal of sense given that Western countries that never had colonies are not poorer than their neighbours, non-Western nations that were never colonised are not noticeably wealthier than their neighbours.

This should put another nail in the coffin of the idea anyhow:

The study gathered crude information on the state of technological development in various parts of the world in 1000 B.C.; around the birth of Jesus; and in A.D. 1500. It then compared these measures to per capita income today.

As it turns out, technology in A.D. 1500 is an extraordinarily reliable predictor of wealth today.

In other words the reason some countries are more developed than others today is because they were more developed yesterday. Trying to explain differences that go back thousands of years by using factors that only apply for 10s or 100s of years is inadequate.


Mark said...

William Easterly (the academic whose research the NYT is referencing), is the C21 equivalent of Peter Bauer (Maggie's favourite development economist).

Both of them are/were critical of foreign aid programmes, and both know their economic history better than the likes of G Brown esq.

Unfortunately,when it comes to the 'International Development' budget, the outgoing PM seems to have more leverage over the current Govt. than experts like Easterly.

Mark Wadsworth said...


AFAIAA, the only Muslim country that was never properly colonised is Afghanistan.

Ross said...

Mark- the Cameron team decided that pledging to ring fence the aid budget was a cheap and easy way of showing that the were new style Tories. It may have made sense as a brand detoxification strategy back in 2005/6 when the economy was growing but it looks absurd now.

Mark Wadsworth- Surely Turkey has never been colonised.

Furor Teutonicus said...

It is painfully obvious, and I have been writing, commenting so, for some years now.

IF you believe the theory, that humans all crawled out of a cave in Africa (A bloody BIG cave if you ask me!), then we must assume we all started off with the same chances.

Whilst we were building water irrigation systems, cities, and inventing all sorts of things, like wheels,and trading" and ships, BEFORE colonisation was even THOUGHT of, what were the bloody lazy arsed Africans doing with THEIR "same born with opportunities"?

I tell you what they were doing, sitting under a tree with a rumbling, empty belly, waiting for us to invent the great God, with the wonderous white chariots with a big U.N painted on the side, that provided TOTALLY free of charge anything the heart desired to stay sitting under that tree with a slightly fuller stomach.

Sod em, don't give them a penny. They are the equivalent of the Chav doleite, living off the tax payer.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Good one re Turkey. Apart from a few years after WW1, you would appear to be correct.

FT, it's simpler than that. It's natural selection. People with drive and ambition are more likely to wander a bit further afield in case there's something better. And each generation, the most ambitious wander a bit further, maybe only five or ten miles. For many, there is nothing better and they die out or return. But for many, it is in fact better.

Which is why the most advanced societies are in N America, Australia, Japan and, presumably, the Eskimos, i.e. those countries that are furthest from Africa.

W Europe is probably the all worse for all the people who left it for N America, Australia etc.

Furor Teutonicus said...

MW. I could agree to some point. But I would disagree that The colonies and Japan are "more advanced" than us. Up until recently, all Japan did was copy what came out of Europe and the U.S. And as to The U.S and other colonies, as I remember, we sent all our nutters and shitbags there.

The influx of scientists to the U.S from Europe after 1945, is a different matter.

Ross said...

"as I remember, we sent all our nutters and shitbags there."

There is a fine line between nutterdom and genius, the puritans were quite bonkers but also incredibly industrious and clean living.

Edward Spalton said...

I heard one interesting theory that the great leap forward in the 16th century Netherlands could be ascribed to optics. Spectacles increased the productive life of skilled craftsmen by anything up to 20 years and , in the days before mass production, that was an enormous advantage.

With regard to sending our less wanted citizens to the colonies , I thought people might like this.

Aggressive Australian Immigration Officer to a very upper class ENglish visitor: "Have you got a criminal record?"
Visitor: "My dear fellow, I'm terribly sorry. I didn't realise it was still necessary".

Ross said...

The theory about the optics certainly sounds plausible.