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10 - Colonial Inequalities, post colonial and modern states

10 - Colonial Inequalities, post colonial and modern states...

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Excerpt from: Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, “Colonialism, Inequality, and Long Run Patterns of Economic Development,” NBER Working Paper 11 57, January 2005. The study, if not the practice, of colonialism is again in fashion. Over the last few years, the institution, especially as pursued by Europeans, has enjoyed a revival in interest among both scholars and the general public. One reason for this reexamination may be sentimentality for a simpler ordered world, as a number of these new accounts cast colonial empires in a more favorable light than has generally been customary. Deepak Lal, for example, argues that those nations that established empires merit praise, as their creations normally brought about lower levels of conflict and costs of carrying out long-distance trade, as well as promoted greater prosperity in the affected societies. Niall Ferguson highlights progressive sides to Britain’s oversight of her colonies, such as the introduction of efficient civil services and rule of law, as well as the abolition of slavery. The image of kinder and gentler imperial powers also has some foundation in the work of Lance Davis and Robert Huttenback, who in their meticulous and detailed estimates found that Britain was not nearly so aggressive or successful in extracting returns from its colonies as she could have been, and indeed that her Empire generated little in the way of returns for the home country overall. Quite a different motivation, however, has been behind the recent proliferation of studies by economists of the European effort to colonize most of the rest of the world. Inspired by the goal of improving understanding of the processes and institutions of economic growth, these scholars have been attracted by the quasi-natural experiment generated by a small number of European countries establishing many colonies across a wide range of environments. The logic is that the historical record of these different societies can be analyzed to determine whether there were systematic patterns in how their institutions or economies evolved with respect to initial conditions. For example, have colonies with a British heritage, or those in a particular sort of physical environment, realized more economic progress over time than their counterparts have? In other words, the history of European colonization provides scholars with a rich supply of evidence, or a laboratory, that can be used to study economic performance and the evolution of institutions over the long run. Because some of the characteristics of the colonies were in place at or near the time of settlement, and thus can reasonably be treated as exogenous, many economists have been hopeful that the data generated by their later development can be used to get at causal relationships or mechanisms.
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