Colonialism made much of the world more stable, prosperous, and free

Colonialism made much of the world more stable, prosperous, and free

Being colonized by Western countries benefited much of the world. Third World countries that were not colonized are usually less economically advanced than those that were colonized, as the father of modern Liberia, William Tubman, noted. Tubman, who served as Liberia’s president from 1944 to 1971, observed that Liberia was economically poorer than its neighbors because it had not had “the benefits of colonization.” Ethiopia, which was never colonized, is poorer than most African countries that were, and less free, recently suffering at least 600,000 deaths in the bloodiest war of the 21st Century. Colonization of Third World countries usually made them more agriculturally and economically productive, eventually curbed the practice of slavery, and led to the abolition of barbaric practices like suttee (the burning of widows on their husband’s funeral pyre).

Through colonization, Western countries exported stable, innovative forms of government to the Third World, including democracy, individual rights, government accountability, and separation of powers between different branches of government. The governmental-stability benefits are described in a recent study in Kyklos, the International Review for Social Sciences, by economist Trung Vu. As Intellectual Takeout points out,

the West’s history of imperial conquest is also frequently presented as a grievous sin of which we should be ashamed. Yet Westerners brought major benefits to the territories they colonized. Economist Trung Vu calculates that European states tend to be more politically stable the older they are. In contrast, non-European states are less stable the older they are.

What could cause this discrepancy? Vu’s explanation is that when nations outside Europe had longer histories of independent statehood, colonizers were less able to impose European political institutions on them. Such institutions “would eventually become central to shaping countries’ ability to establish politically stable regimes outside Europe.” In other words, societies seem to run less smoothly the less they are shaped by Western Civilization. That alone points to a more balanced view of colonialism.

As Vu points out, European colonial powers transmitted innovative forms of government that worked better than those previously present in the Third World: “The onset of innovative institutions in European centralized states resulted in dramatic increases in output per capita by fostering private property rights and the accountability of political institutions. This provides a modern society with the ability to maintain social order, enforce rules and regulations, and allocate vital (scarce) resources efficiently, leading to less political instability. By contrast, socio-political unrest tends to proliferate in non-European countries characterized by the early formation and development of historical states.”

As Intellectual Takeout observes, “Another core part of Western Civilization is capitalism,” which has provided many “blessings” to the world:

Economist Hendrik van den Berg writes that worldwide real GDP per capita has “increased nearly ninefold” since 1820. “In the most capitalistic countries,” however, it has grown “twenty-fold or more” over the same period. Strikingly, before the 19th century, this growth was almost non-existent….Regardless of how capitalism began, it can now be applied just about anywhere with similar benefits. In an article titled “National Prosperity Is No Mystery,” economist Alan Reynolds compares famous “economic miracles” from the 20th century. He argues that “all successful economies” share certain capitalistic features, including privatization, “secure property rights,” and unrestricted “wages, prices, and interest rates.” The African nation of Botswana is one example, and Reynolds notes that its “economic growth has long been the fastest in the world.” It can hardly be argued that Botswana’s prosperity came from pillaging colonies.

Western colonialism helped export capitalism throughout the world, making it more prosperous.

Western colonialism also helped eradicate disgusting practices such as slavery. The British abolished slavery in parts of Africa and Asia where it had existed for time immemorial, such as Nigeria. Most people in many pre-colonization African societies were slaves: For example, the slave population accounted for two-thirds to three-quarters of the total population of Songhay-Zarma people, who created the Songhai Empire. That empire was the successor of the similarly heavily-enslaved Mali Empire celebrated in progressive high-school textbooks, whose most famous leader, Mansa Musa, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca with an entourage of 12,000 slaves to cater to his every desire.

Liam Bissainthe

Liam Bissainthe is a real estate investor and recovering attorney.


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