Colonialism Doesn’t Explain the Developing World’s Problems
There is an abundance of studies postulating that colonialism explains the character of the developing world. For instance, in their seminal paper aptly titled “The Colonial Origins of Development: An Empirical Investigation” (2000), Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson advance the audacious claim that in regions where the environment was conducive to settlement, Europeans built inclusive institutions promoting property rights, innovations, and long-term development. This was unlike settler colonies in places where the climate was inhospitable to large-scale settlements, where extractive institutions were established to achieve short-term gains. Imposing rent-seeking institutions to extract resources for personal enrichment was deemed a practical alternative to maneuvering the harshness of an unwelcoming environment. Many have raised objections to this thesis on methodological grounds. But even critics assume that colonialism has immense explanatory power. Research, however, is more fruitful when scholars assess development over a longer period. Prior to colonial rule, countries already had institutions of their own, so it is appropriate to suggest that precolonial institutions are a channel through which we can understand challenges in the developing world.
Warfare has long been touted as an explanation for the emergence of the modern state. Military historian Bruce D. Porter exhorts this argument in the opening paragraph of his book War and the Rise of the State:
States make war, but war also makes states. The origins of the modern state, its rise and development, are inextricably linked with violent conflict and military power. There are few states in the world today whose existence, boundaries, and political structure did not emerge from some past cauldron of international or civil war.
Warfare may have been bloody, but it spurred institutional reforms in fiscal administration and entrepreneurship. For example, to finance a war, the state requires taxes, thus war generates demand for bureaucracies.
So, it would not be outlandish to imply that in some countries, precolonial warfare may have had an impact on development. According to Mark Dincecco, James Fenske, Anil Menon, and Shivaji Mukherjee (2020), this framework can be applied to India. The authors note that the prevalence of warfare in precolonial India fostered the rise of bureaucratic and fiscal institutions that facilitated economic development over the long term:
Districts that were more exposed to pre-colonial conflict—and hence may have developed more powerful local government institutions, and have eventually provided greater domestic security—may have been better placed to make local investments in physical capital….Our study shows that the “military competition” framework applies beyond the paradigmatic case of Western Europe. This parallel between Western Europe and
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