Independence and Growth
By Bryan Caplan
Garett interestingly builds on Lucas’ fact that “with the exception of Hong Kong, no massive economic modernization has ever happened in a colony.” Still, I’m unimpressed on multiple levels.
1. How about Macao? If you count so-called “settler societies,” then you need to add Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to the list of counter-examples. Or how about pre-independence Algeria? If we’re defining “modernization” and “colony” loosely, many of the Soviet republics – e.g. the Baltics – count, too. Indeed, why doesn’t U.S.-occupied Japan count?
2. More importantly, Lucas’ argument neglects the severe lack of variation in the timing of decolonization. Historians usually begin the decolonization era in 1945, and end it in the early 60s. At the beginning of this era, many independent European countries had yet to undergo economic modernization. It’s hardly surprising that even well-governed colonies failed to develop right after World War II given domestic conditions that ranged from “extremely unstable” to “civil war.”
3. We can easily invert Lucas’ argument: Out of colonies that didn’t gain their independence, what fraction enjoyed massive economic modernization? By the 80s, the answer is arguably 100%.
4. Lucas’ argument neglects all of Latin America, which gained independence over a century early, but developed poorly, with the arguable exceptions of the “settler societies” like Argentina and Uruguay.
5. Even if independence is as important as Garett claims, plenty of
colonies got their independence fairly peacefully if they showed a little patience. The right
question, from his perspective, is not whether development is worth a
horrific war, but whether starting development a few years earlier is
worth a horrific war. When you put the question that way, you’ll notice that the most brutal wars of decolonization – e.g. Algeria, Indochina, Angola, Mozambique – were especially fruitless in terms of subsequent economic growth.
Last point: Isn’t it bizarre to use the alleged failures of imperialism as an argument against pacifism? What argument for unprovoked war could be more ex ante persuasive than, “The British Empire, beacon of capitalism and democracy, the scourge of the slave trade, should bring civilization to the backward, oppressed peoples of the world?” Yet it didn’t work out as Rudyard Kipling hoped.