Colonial Exploitation Did Not Fuel the West’s Economic Development
Some intellectuals, especially on the left, continue to claim that the West’s economic development would have been impossible without the resources extracted unjustly from the developing world, also known as the “Third World.” Even nuanced thinkers may automatically presume these assumptions to be true.
Certainly, overt exploitation of conquered victims occurred during the apex of Western imperialism. Yet such examples fail to buttress the claim that the West is the cause of underdevelopment in the Third World. Therefore, to determine the validity of postulates popularized by left-leaning activists we must answer three important questions: (1) Did the West need to exploit the Third World for its development? (2) To what extent can colonialism explain the state of the developing world? and (3) Are critics right to argue that capitalism is hindering progress in the Third World?
Numerous intellectuals aver that the development of the West required the harnessing of resources in the Third World. However in Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes (1995) economist Paul Bairoch aptly refutes this trope:
There is a widespread belief that the development of the Western world especially its industrialization, was based for a very long period on raw materials from the Third World….Contrary to widespread opinion, all this is a fairly recent phenomenon. As late as the immediate post-World War II period, the developed countries (even in the West) were almost totally self-sufficient in energy. Until the end of the 1930s, the developed world produced more energy than it consumed and had a sizeable export surplus in energy products, especially coal, while one of the major exporters was one of the most industrialized countries: the United Kingdom.
In fact, Bairoch describes the trading relationship between the Third World and the West as modest by Bairoch. He writes:
During the period from 1800–1938, only 17% of total exports were sent to the Third World and of those, only half to the colonies, which means that only 9% of total European exports went to the colonial empires. Since during this period total exports represented some 8-9% of the GNP of the developed countries, it can be estimated that exports to the Third World represented only 1.3–1.7% of the total volume of production of those developed countries, and exports to the colonies only 0.6–0.9%.
In reality, Third World colonies were actually quite expensive for colonial powers. Philip R.P. Coelho in his article “The Profitability of Imperialism: The British Experience in the West Indies 1768–1772,” notes that colonialism was a liability for Britain,
the costs of British colonies in the BWI [British West Indies]were borne by the consumers of sugar and taxpayers…BWI planters were the main beneficiaries of British colonialism. Their benefits consisted of a higher price for sugar than they would have received on the world market, and the protection provided by the British military.
Fellow economists Lance E. Davis and Robert A. Huttenback also agree that imperialism was a wasteful venture.
Colonial adventurism was never a source of vas
Article from Mises Wire