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May 10, 2009

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So this is the old argument that there's a fixed pot of income, and if we let (peasants/females/minorities) have full opportunity to access it, there's less for everyone else - and thus income drops?

In societies with little if any productivity growth, the total economic output is nearly static, essentially a function of what can be produced from the land with existing technology.

The Black Death is thought by some to have hastened to economic advance of Western Europe by increasing the economic value of surviving peasants and labourers.

Alternatively, rapid population growth in the colonised world in the early twentieth century, resulting from modern European public health measures introduced to the benefit of the indigenous populations, is thought to have accelerated the pauperisation of these societies, producing an upsurge in peasant-based revolutionary and nationalist movements.

Nancy Mitford reports arriving at Buckingham Palace to be presented in 1923, after a long cold wait in an open carriage in the Mall, and discovering that, for arriving debutantes and their escorts, the only facilities available were a chamberpot behind a screen in the hall. Mitford does not relate if the staff at least emptied the chamberpot between debutantes.

I live in a house built in 1890, which was - at that time - considered to be the best-quality working-class accommodation, because it had a flush toilet, unshared with any other household.

To reach this toilet, one would have had to go down an outside flight of stone steps: the remains of the plumbing can still be seen in the stone cupboard under the stairs. I can vouch for it that this cupboard is extremely cold and damp, and that the stairs ice over in winter. I expect the family that lived there then used chamberpots for winter nights, though at least there would have been a flush toilet to empty the slops into in the morning.

I think colonialism had a lot more to do with the wealth of northwestern Europe, than poop.

It's my understanding that the frequently alleged dislike of bathing in pre-19th century Europe was much exaggerated.

What was a problem for the poor was affording wood for heated baths in winter.

More.

More.

Smells of the Middle Ages.

On the other hand, a chamber pot isn't a great means of sanitation, and neither is living with animals in your hut.

My understanding is that, as a rule, as in most places and times, the poor had a much worse time with ability to be sanitary than the rich, who could afford servants to draw baths, and heat them, and didn't have their livestock in their bedroom.

I think colonialism had a lot more to do with the wealth of northwestern Europe, than poop.

Well, I don't know about the poop, but it's actually quite debatable whether colonialism was a net economic benefit for Europe. The high water mark of imperialism seems more like an indulgent excess of post-industrial revolution Europe.


but it's actually quite debatable whether colonialism was a net economic benefit for Europe.

Really? And yet, looking at the relative economic wealth both today, and in actively-colonial times, of the countries that were colonisers versus the countries that were colonised, I'd say the only debate could come from those who really, really want some other excuse for relative wealth and poverty: usually racist, sometimes just crappy.

I'm sorry, I don't buy this. The Black Death did improve average living conditions for those that survived and were at the lower end of the economic scale (at least temporarily). As the poorest land is the first to not be cultivated, the average yield can go up.

However, the Black Death also brought social disruption. And I'm not sure that events like the Jacquerie had much long-term effect. The end of the Roman Empire also saw a population decline (though exactly how severe is still debated), and no concomitant increase in living standards.

In a preindustrial society, more labor is good as that means more resources. If you reach a Malthusian limit that's another issue, but I don't see disease as a big brake on that. If fewer people die of disease and as a result I get overpopulation, I take those extra people, give them weapons and take the resources from my neighbors.

Of course, that's an oversimplification too, but the point is that there are a lot more factors to consider when judging the effects of certain historical trends.

"And yet, looking at the relative economic wealth both today, and in actively-colonial times, of the countries that were colonisers versus the countries that were colonised,"

Spain, Portugal, and Holland are wealthier than Canada and the U.S.?

"I'd say the only debate could come from those who really, really want some other excuse for relative wealth and poverty"

Because mindreading other people and declaring that only what you say can be "the only debate" is the best way to start a conversation; any other possible response is "usually racist, sometimes just crappy"; this is the best form of respectful and productive debate?

Let's try that again: the only response to you can be agreement, or for a "racist" or "just crappy" reason.

Honestly having a different notion just isn't possible.

Impressive omniscience and good faith. And so atypical of your style.

Hard to argue that the sanitation and general public-health conditions in Europe didn't have an effect on the colonization process -- epidemic rates among Native American populations being only the most obvious example.

looking at the relative economic wealth both today, and in actively-colonial times, of the countries that were colonisers versus the countries that were colonised, I'd say the only debate could come from those who really, really want some other excuse for relative wealth and poverty: usually racist, sometimes just crappy.

Well, if you go beyond first the assumption that bad for the colonised is the same thing as good for the coloniser, and secondly the tiresome "debate" over whether colonialism was "good" or "evil", you'll find the historical field of colonial studies to be full of exciting work at the moment, with many scholars challenging long-held assumptions for reasons neither racist nor crappy.

the tiresome "debate" over whether colonialism was "good" or "evil"

There's a debate about that?

There's a debate about that?

There always has been. Mostly, the people who want to believe it's good have been the winners.

"Hard to argue that the sanitation and general public-health conditions in Europe didn't have an effect on the colonization process -- epidemic rates among Native American populations being only the most obvious example."

I'm not clear what you're suggesting, exactly, Adam. The epidemics introduced into Native American populations were a result of being introduced to diseases they had no immunity to, not because of significantly different sanitary practices, so far as I (who am obviously know expert, and welcome correction) know. Could you elaborate a bit?

"There's a debate about that?"

Does Niall Ferguson count? Or these guys?

Please be clear that I am not agreeing with them; I'm just responding to the question as to whether anyone is still arguing.

"Spain, Portugal, and Holland are wealthier than Canada and the U.S.?"

The US is a settler colonialist state--the natives weren't exploited, but kicked out or killed off. Not that you didn't know that. That's different from the Spanish model, but comparing the one to the other doesn't answer the question about whether colonialism benefited the colonizing society as a whole because both Spain and the US were colonizers.

As for whether colonialism benefited everybody, my vague understanding is that it didn't necessarily benefit everyone, just some people. You get the same argument today regarding our (arguably imperialist) foreign policy--does it benefit everyone, or just some? And there was a similar debate about slavery--did it benefit all white people or just some?

" the tiresome "debate" over whether colonialism was "good" or "evil""

Tiresome because it's obvious that the enforced domination of one ethnic group by another is evil, even if the dominated group in some cases benefits in some ways?

Well, if you go beyond first the assumption that bad for the colonised is the same thing as good for the coloniser

I'm beginning to think that Jes' worldview is not capable of representing anything as complex as a negative sum interaction.

Gregory Clark? Isn't he the guy who claims that that the British overclass are genetically superior?

Back in the days when I used to read Commentary and National Review, I did get the impression that they thought European colonialism was a good thing, though it was no longer PC to say so. You'd think that it wasn't until the 20th century that one came across examples of oppression that caused millions of deaths. Leopold II didn't exist for them--neither did the famines under British rule in India. "Late Victorian Holocausts" paints a very different picture of British rule in the late 1800's than what I remember seeing in other books on the subject. Now either Mike Davis just made the whole thing up, or a lot of writing on British rule in India treats the avoidable deaths of tens of millions of people as relatively insignificant, sort of like writing a history of the USSR that relegates the famines under Lenin or Stalin to a paragraph or so.

"Gregory Clark? Isn't he the guy who claims that that the British overclass are genetically superior?"

Apparently (I haven't read him), he's more ambiguous.

For what it's worth:

[...] Dr. Clark says the middle-class values needed for productivity could have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation. “Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world,” he writes. And, “The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.”

What was being inherited, in his view, was not greater intelligence — being a hunter in a foraging society requires considerably greater skill than the repetitive actions of an agricultural laborer. Rather, it was “a repertoire of skills and dispositions that were very different from those of the pre-agrarian world.”

Reaction to Dr. Clark’s thesis from other economic historians seems largely favorable, although few agree with all of it, and many are skeptical of the most novel part, his suggestion that evolutionary change is a factor to be considered in history.

[...]

The natural-selection part of Dr. Clark’s argument “is significantly weaker, and maybe just not necessary, if you can trace the changes in the institutions,” said Kenneth L. Pomeranz, a historian at the University of California, Irvine. In a recent book, “The Great Divergence,” Dr. Pomeranz argues that tapping new sources of energy like coal and bringing new land into cultivation, as in the North American colonies, were the productivity advances that pushed the old agrarian economies out of their Malthusian constraints.

Robert P. Brenner, a historian at the University of California, Los Angeles, said although there was no satisfactory explanation at present for why economic growth took off in Europe around 1800, he believed that institutional explanations would provide the answer and that Dr. Clark’s idea of genes for capitalist behavior was “quite a speculative leap.”

Dr. Bowles, the Santa Fe economist, said he was “not averse to the idea” that genetic transmission of capitalist values is important, but that the evidence for it was not yet there. “It’s just that we don’t have any idea what it is, and everything we look at ends up being awfully small,” he said. Tests of most social behaviors show they are very weakly heritable.

I'm not clear what you're suggesting, exactly, Adam. The epidemics introduced into Native American populations were a result of being introduced to diseases they had no immunity to, not because of significantly different sanitary practices, so far as I (who am obviously know expert, and welcome correction) know. Could you elaborate a bit?

There's a fairly compelling argument in Wilson's The Earth Shall Weep -- and later in Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (and probably in many other books I haven't read) -- that living together in close quarters exposed Europeans to significantly more strains of disease and immunities to those diseases.

This is supposed to be an explanation for the fact that Native Americans suffered extraordinarily high fatality rates from European diseases and the reverse apparently wasn't true for the Europeans.

At any rate, what does seem clear is that the epidemics brought to the New World by the colonizers raced across the continent much faster than colonization itself -- by the time the settlers reached most Native American communities they'd already been decimated by epidemics that wiped out huge swathes of their population and social structures.

Ah -- I can't find my Wilson but it's in chapter 11 of GGS, along with some other interesting arguments: e.g. that domesticated livestock was the source of many nasty European diseases (think swine and bird flu) that the Native Americans were never exposed to because they didn't domesticate many animals.

Turbulence: I'm beginning to think that Jes' worldview is not capable of representing anything as complex as a negative sum interaction.

Ad hom is always a useful alternative to citing facts. Now if you could show that the UK became a poorer nation as a direct result of colonialist activities in India, etc, that would be a useful argument. Merely telling me I'm just too simple to understand is not.

"...and later in Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel [...] that living together in close quarters exposed Europeans to significantly more strains of disease and immunities to those diseases."

Ah, yes, I should have recalled that. Also that they, as I mentioned earlier, lived in close quarters with their animals.

"...by the time the settlers reached most Native American communities they'd already been decimated by epidemics that wiped out huge swathes of their population and social structures."

Vastly more than decimated (one-in-ten):

[...] Estimates of mortality rates resulting from smallpox epidemics range between 38.5% for the Aztecs, 50% for the Piegan, Huron, Catawba, Cherokee, and Iroquois, 66% for the Omaha and Blackfeet, 90% for the Mandan, and 100% for the Taino. Smallpox epidemics affected the demography of the stricken populations for 100 to 150 years after the initial first infection.
That's just smallpox.

Wikipedia also notes:

[...] other deadly diseases included typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, mumps, yellow fever, and pertussis (whooping cough).
It seems more likely that disease did what one might regard as the inversion of decimation, killing as many as nine out of 10 Native Americans.

So, if the neocons really want to see America continue to dominate the world, they ought to be encouraging people in this country to start defecating in the streets.

Maybe William Kristol would be willing to blaze the trail by pooping on the desk the next time he appears on TV.

Tiresome because the statements that "colonialism was not all bad" and "colonialism was evil" are equally trite and vapid, and there's usually something rather unpleasant about those that feel the need to make such statements, unless they are young.

"Ad hom is always a useful alternative to citing facts."

"I'd say the only debate could come from those who really, really want some other excuse for relative wealth and poverty: usually racist, sometimes just crappy."

Or better yet, Kristol could insist that all his future WaPo columns be smeared with his own excrement. That seems appropriate, somehow.

"Now if you could show that the UK became a poorer nation as a direct result of colonialist activities in India, etc, that would be a useful argument."

Perhaps no one can call the U.S. involvement in Iraq a colonialist one, then?

Jes, I haven't studied the scholarly literature on this question, but I think it is quite possible that people in the UK were both sufficiently stupid and sufficiently desperate to dominate that they would have continued colonial policies even if those policies were a net loss to their society. I have tremendous faith in both the stupidity and amorality of people in the UK. So much so that I think the question of whether colonialism was a net benefit or loss could plausibly go either way.

Now if you could show that the UK became a poorer nation as a direct result of colonialist activities in India, etc, that would be a useful argument.

But that's not an argument I'm making. All I'm saying is that it is plausible that colonialism was a net loss to colonizing societies. It seems like a pretty massive net loss to colonized societies. That plausibility suggests that we cannot immediately dismiss scholars who claim that colonialism was a net loss to colonizing societies as racists or fools without looking at other evidence.

Its silly to talk about "net loss"--people have been arguing about this for quite a long time and neither colonized societies nor colonizing societies were homogenous entities that we can understand as "benefitting" from something as complex as colonialism. For one thing--colonialism benefitted certain classes in each country while actively harming other classes. And that was as true for the colonizers as the colonized. That is to say in England, for example, colonialism gave good jobs and prospects to lots of people who, left to their previous social status and prospects, would have lived and died in relative squalor in England. It expanded the very field of government and civil service which were pretty damn good jobs. In some places colonization opened up new markets and new market oppportunities for some castes or classess (famously the toddy tappers and other low castes associated with alcohol production did OK under british rule) but did in some local industries in the home country.

aimai

"Now if you could show that the UK became a poorer nation as a direct result of colonialist activities in India, etc, that would be a useful argument."

I'm not clear that France became richer as a direct result of colonialist activities in Indochina. I'm about as unclear on the economic benefits of the Italian colonial empire, as well.

Colonial empires, I daresay, have had different economic effects upon their mother countries depending on circumstances.

I could, of course, be wrong, and in every single case in world history they've always benefited the colonizer.

One might also question whether it's ultimately ("net") more economically beneficial to colonize, and then lose one's colonies, as you appear to be claiming, Jes, or to simply never colonize at all.

One might look at, perhaps, Japan, among other possibilities to examine this question.

Aimai, I'm not sure I understand your point. The Iraq war has been great for Haliburton but has also been a huge net loss for the US. The clear benefits to Haliburton do not make it impossible to say that the US as a whole has taken a large loss from the war. I mean, almost any policy is going to have non-uniform benefits across the population but that doesn't mean that we can't say that policies have clear net benefits or losses for society as a whole.

Turbulence: All I'm saying is that it is plausible that colonialism was a net loss to colonizing societies.

And while AIMAI and Donald Johnson both make good points that there were British people who did not benefit from British colonialism, the idea that it was a net loss to the UK as a whole looks pretty implausible from where I sit.

"Tiresome because the statements that "colonialism was not all bad" and "colonialism was evil" are equally trite and vapid, and there's usually something rather unpleasant about those that feel the need to make such statements, unless they are young."


I'd have more sympathy with this argument--in fact, quite a lot of sympathy with this argument--if it wasn't for the fact that it is still a live issue. People who defend British colonialism are often the same people who say that America should pick up the white man's burden. Niall Ferguson for one, or at least he was saying this a few years ago.

I don't mind people arguing that communism had its good points, since there aren't that many people these days who think Lenin had the right idea and I could read debates about the good and bad aspects of the Roman Empire with total equaminity so long as I didn't think their Empire was being set forward as a model for us to follow. (I was once accused of vicious imperialist sympathies for repeating what I have read--that the Romans, for all their brutality, also brought some benefits to their conquered subjects. Decent roads, anyway. But I might have been wrong.)

All I'm saying is that it is plausible that colonialism was a net loss to colonizing societies.

That doesn't matter. That's like saying that "the United States" took a net loss on Halliburton contracts without noticing the enrichment of Halliburton.

It doesn't matter if "Britain" or "France" overall lost money on paying for colonial ventures if the people and companies benefiting gained more.

As Parenti once said, "The rich will gladly spend any amount of your money to protect and increase their money."

you have more patience than I, Aimai, but I would add that it's problematic even to take constructs like France, Algeria, Britain or India for granted.

That said, you can talk about "net loss" in a strictly economic or strategic sense, certainly in the late colonial period at least, as this was in fact a very active debate at the time. Generally speaking, French and British elites eventually decided empire was just a money hole, but many would argue that this was equally true much earlier.

Certain imperial possessions, such as India and South Africa, were extremely profitable, whereas most seem like they were not. Even for those profitable ones, however, an argument can be made that the economic value can be extracted from those places without paying to occupy, administer and defend them directly.

Indeed this later observation feeds into left wing criticisms of the global capitalist system, arguing that imperial powers simply found a way to extract the same economic value from the developing world without bothering to pay the military expenses to occupy those countries directly.

Of course, as Aimai points out, imperial powers co-opted and ruled with the cooperation of local elites even during the 'classical' colonial period, reminding us that colonialism was in fact a very complicated phenomenon. Neither more good nor more evil than "monarchy", "industrialisation", or "revolution", the only certainty of empire is that it dramatically changed societies on both ends of the relationship.

There is a strong argument that the first colonial power -- Spain -- lost big from colonialism, despite profiting more from it than everyone else: their dependence on gold and silver expropriated from the Americas made them rich for a while, but when the supply ran out they had no domestic industry left and got run over by the other European powers. All the European empires eventually overreached and fell apart.

Gary: That's just smallpox.

Indeed, and those are "just" the death rates. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to live in any society where every survivor would have seen 9 out of 10 of their closest relatives and friends die of an epidemic within just a few short years -- only to be followed by a bunch of marauding conquerors just a few years after that.

What a strange post, Publius. I actually had to read it three times to see what your point was. Which seems to be: "it was better when people were living in filth, because it killed off the useless with disease, and the survivors had a better life because of this". Or something.

I find your unique twisting 'round of what you read completely narrow, ahistorical, very American- as if "standards of living" were some eternal verity and not a modern construction.

You failed to prove how people dying of disease from filthy conditions led to "the historical success of Western Europe", possibly the most reductive, stupid, meaningless thing I've ever read from you. How do you feel about the many failures, "Western Europe" has had, how do crap-pots figure into that?

It reads to me like right-wing eliminationism, what you quoted had nothing to do with your narrow, mean-spirited premise that less population means more spoils for the rest. Why do you seem so assured you wouldn't have been a casualty of such a situation? You seem to think it's a good thing, as if death and disease didn't cross classes. Really smug article .

If colonialism in fact stimulated the Industrial Revolution -- which seems likely by the routes mentioned (international competition, intranational safety valve, greater social mobility) -- then the amount or allocation of loot is a red herring. The poor in the industrialized West enjoy luxuries medieval barons could not have dreamed of. Anything that got us to that point was a net gain.

Unless, of course, it turns out that we self-exterminate via climate change or any of the other dooms made possible by the Industrial Revolution. But I retain hope that we can keep inventing out way forward.

arundel - this was sort of a tongue in cheek post. i read this section, and posted it. don't read it too seriously.

but regardless, a description isn't necessarily a normative justification of anything. just thought it was an interesting tidbit from this book, which is getting a lot of buzz. (he does go to argue though that higher death rates -- plague, urbanization -- helped material standards). I say this as a description not an argument.

for instance, i'm not calling for the end of sanitation systems. :)

"I was once accused of vicious imperialist sympathies for repeating what I have read--that the Romans, for all their brutality, also brought some benefits to their conquered subjects. Decent roads, anyway. But I might have been wrong."

Or not.

"I don't mind people arguing that communism had its good points, since there aren't that many people these days who think Lenin had the right idea"

Indians and Nepalese affected by the communist insurgencies might differ.

That doesn't matter. That's like saying that "the United States" took a net loss on Halliburton contracts without noticing the enrichment of Halliburton.

It doesn't matter if "Britain" or "France" overall lost money on paying for colonial ventures if the people and companies benefiting gained more.

Doesn't matter to who? Things don't inherently matter to anyone: only specific people can care about things.

If all you're saying is that colonial profit mattered to those who profited by it, you're simply stating a tautology that I wasn't aware anyone was disagreeing with. Who are you disagreeing with?

"Why do you seem so assured you wouldn't have been a casualty of such a situation?"

Where did Publius write anything saying anything of the kind? Was there a part of the post written in invisible ink, or something?

I actually had to read it three times to see what your point was. Which seems to be: "it was better when people were living in filth, because it killed off the useless with disease, and the survivors had a better life because of this".
I don't see how you derived that point from what Publius wrote, rather than from your imagination.

"How do you feel about the many failures, 'Western Europe' has had, how do crap-pots figure into that?"

What?

"You seem to think it's a good thing, as if death and disease didn't cross classes."

You seem to be responding to the voices in your head.

"There is a strong argument that the first colonial power -- Spain"

I'm pretty sure Rome came earlier.

It's hard to imagine what it would be like to live in any society where every survivor would have seen 9 out of 10 of their closest relatives and friends die of an epidemic within just a few short years -- only to be followed by a bunch of marauding conquerors just a few years after that.

Louise Erdrich makes an attempt to imagine this, and its aftermath, especially in The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.

Gary, thanks for the fascinating link about Medieval bathing customs. I always had some doubts about the popular image of unrelenting filth. I note that there is still a lot of room for debate about the actual cleanliness practices. For instance,
a) the etiquette books cited felt it necessary to specify daily face-washing, so that was probably considered a bit high-falutin' by some;
b) we cannot assume that all those paintings and woodcuts were intended as realism. Nudes are usually symbolic, and we don't always recognize the symbols several centuries later. (Tho that mixed-sex bath picture looks like simple soft porn.)

"There is a strong argument that the first colonial power -- Spain"

I'm pretty sure Rome came earlier.

Sure, but it seemed clear to me that we were talking about post-Roman Europe; etymology notwithstanding, Rome wasn't the first colonial power either, even in Europe.

If all you're saying is that colonial profit mattered to those who profited by it, you're simply stating a tautology that I wasn't aware anyone was disagreeing with.

What a stupid, idiotic response garbed in philosophic dress.

And I think on this point, you know you're full of shit, because though I've inherently no specific interest in engaging in debate with such a tedious responder, are you really going to argue that it has been rare in the historiography of discussions of colonialism for people to generalize on how colonialism cost or benefited such abstract, non-specific entities as "Britain"?

El Cid:

(a) Could try to be a bit more civil there.

(b) are you really going to argue that it has been rare in the historiography of discussions of colonialism for people to generalize on how colonialism cost or benefited such abstract, non-specific entities as "Britain"?

Depends on what decade(s) of scholarship you're talking about, frankly. But the fact that it's rare to distinguish the classes in the British Empire that did and didn't benefit from colonialism doesn't necessary mean that the distinction is a bad thing.

To relate that point back to the original post -- publius is correct in that there is not necessarily a normative judgment involved in saying that population reduction led to an expansion into the available resources; it's simply a more fine-grained analysis.

It is, in fact, entirely correct to point out that it was the great famine and the Black Plague that led directly to peasant mobility in Britain (there was actually a demand for their services), which in turn was a spur for the Peasant's Revolt, Magna Carta, the Industrial Revolution... that's obviously not a way of saying that the Plague was an unalloyed good, but rather than the consequences of catastrophe are not necessarily black-and-white.

Those who benefited wouldn't have wished for the Plague, but that doesn't mean that they were prohibited from taking advantage of some small silver linings.

What publius' post proves is that this place needs more open threads. There's an analogy to be made about the location of the facilities in relation to the living quarters, but I will leave that to others.

"...are you really going to argue that it has been rare in the historiography of discussions of colonialism for people to generalize on how colonialism cost or benefited such abstract, non-specific entities as
'Britain'?"

I'm sorry: I thought you were responding to something written in this blog thread, rather than to all possible generalizations "in the historiography of discussions of colonialism." My mistake.

And, to be sure, all those thousands of books, and countless discussions "in the historiography of discussions of colonialism" don't "matter." Thanks for clearing that up, and saving us all a lot of time.

Eep. Lots to digest here (har!).

The historiography of public health has been going on for a while now. But, yeah, our ancestors lived in squalor, and Europe was probably worse than a lot of other civilizations. (Some of that was caused by contact with Islam: Muslims bathe ritually, so therefore good Christians shouldn't. Queen Isabella was said to have bragged about having bathed twice in her life: one of those being the night before her wedding to Ferdinand. Doubtless Ferdinand was appreciative.) There also seems to be some relationship to the Black Death: bath houses were reputed to be morally questionable, and by the 1400s had become much less common since people blamed immorality for the Great Mortality.

Adam: it's hard to blame the Black Death for the Magna Carta, given the chronology involved.

Standards of sanitation were still pretty bad by the 19th century. Victorian standards of sanitation, for example.

"Despite its wealth and social prominence the family found that it was unable to isolate itself from the stinks, pollution, and health hazards of the day. As newly-weds they had wanted the latest sanitary appliances, but the inexperience of the workmen putting in the water closet resulted in the waste overflowing into the rainpipe and down the dressing-room window. The cesspools beneath their Thames-side residence were notoriously foul, even by the standards of the day and when, at last, they had a new drainage system installed, the stench from the old cesspools remained and made parts of the dwelling almost uninhabitable. Some twenty years later the sewers blocked up after heavy rains and became 'most offensive and putrid.' Although living by the Thames was certainly most scenic, whenever the river rose their lawns were saturated with the raw sewage, which habitually floated on the surface of the water. Resigned to this inevitability, they simply had the lawns raked and the filth shovelled back into the river. In dry weather, on the other hand, the Thames' muck was left high and dry along the banks and gave off an appalling odour."

"But, yeah, our ancestors lived in squalor"

As I just got through posting links documenting, this is myth perpetuated in popular literature, not fact.

Adam: it's hard to blame the Black Death for the Magna Carta, given the chronology involved.

Yes -- my bad -- I was thinking of settlement of Parliament into a permanent institution under the Edwards -- specifically the requirement that taxation changes get approved by Commons. Those were direct follow-ons from (or contemporaneous with, at any rate) the demographic implosion.

Gary:

My European ancestors were almost certainly peasants. They lived in dirt-floored, one-roomed buildings large enough to house their extended family and many of their animals too. Their homes had no chimneys before the 1600s; the smoke was valued for its insect-killing and meat preservation properties. They wore woolen and linen clothing which was rarely washed.

Now, arguing that bathing as a social custom was more common in the 1200s than we have come to believe is one thing -- and a rather non-controversial thing at that. But attitudes toward bathing changed over time, and in the European context people became more hostile to it. For various reasons: the climate was cooling after about 1250, population decline made furs more available after 1360, moralists warned against baths, and so on ad infinitum.

Shorter me: German peasants lived in squalor in 1600, by any reasonable American definition from 2009.

From about 1300 to 1800, the city with the reputation of being a plague-pit was Cairo. Most of the big virulent outbreaks travelled from East to West.

Europe didn't get cholera until 1831-32. (That one is really cool to track real-time in contemporary newspapers.)

Cholera at least is dependent on public sanitation and population density. More so than plague, it seems.

""I don't mind people arguing that communism had its good points, since there aren't that many people these days who think Lenin had the right idea"

"Indians and Nepalese affected by the communist insurgencies might differ."

Yeah, Gary, but as you might have heard, something happened a couple of decades ago that led a great many people, probably most, to think that Leninism was a dead end. I have no idea if you think you're informing me that there are still communist insurgents in the world or what--you surely aren't claiming that communism has quite the same appeal these days that it once had.

My main point is that in America over the past several years and arguably longer, defenses of British colonialism come from people like Niall Ferguson, who say America should take over their old role. And that in turn means that I don't think it's childishto make moral judgments about British colonialism. I don't actually think it's childish to use moral judgments when evaluating communism either, but I think that since that ideology has been largely discredited, there's more room for taking a dispassionate approach to the subject, as I tend to do when talking about the Roman Empire. (Now if you inform me that there are insurgents trying to reinstall the Roman Emperor, I will admit to some surprise.)

Perhaps I have a dog in this fight, but given the fact that all foreigners who came to Japan were absolutely astonished by the attention to bathing and cleaniness that took place, perhaps we might grant that European standards of cleaniness have evolved quite a bit. Of course, squalor is something that can be defined upward or downward.

Ding Ding Ding
Jesurgislac pulls the race card in 1 hour and 9 minutes at 4:27.

In fact, she seems to use it as the basis for disbelieving an alternate to her view of whether colonialism was a success. She prefers to believe that racism bred wealth rather than squandered it.

Perhaps as a side-note, perhaps not:

Palace of Versailles, completed in the 1680s: most magnificent royal palace in all Europe, perhaps the world.

Number of toilets included in the original building: zero.

Reports from, as I recall, the Persian ambassador were pretty bracing as to the surprises which lurked in the stairwells and hallways.

"Yeah, Gary, but as you might have heard, something happened a couple of decades ago that led a great many people, probably most, to think that Leninism was a dead end. I have no idea if you think you're informing me that there are still communist insurgents in the world or what--you surely aren't claiming that communism has quite the same appeal these days that it once had."

I'm claiming that the news hasn't gotten through to the Naxalites, who keep killing people in India and Nepal, is all. That's tens of thousands of fighters of whom it's estimated that "the guerrillas control an estimated one fifth of India's forests, as well as being active in 160 of the country's 604 administrative districts."

In Nepal, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led the coalition government until last week.

[...] Government estimates provided in early 2003 on the CPN-M strength indicated that there are approximately 31,500 combatants, 48,000 militia, 150,500 active cadres and 100,000 sympathizers.

[...]

April 10, 2008 - The CPN (Maoist) participates in the 2008 Constituent Assembly election. The party gained around 30% of the vote, giving them 220 of the 575 elected seats (38%)[12] and were nominated for 9 additional seats by the council of ministers, giving them a total of 229 of the 601 seats overall.

In the worldwide sense, that's not "many people," but in those two countries, it's a serious threat, which was my only point: that many people there wouldn't share your lack of worry, because many people in Nepal and India don't share the belief that Leninism is a dead end, or that "that ideology has been largely discredited."

So what I thought I was "informing" you of (I figured "reminding," actually) was what I wrote: "Indians and Nepalese affected by the communist insurgencies might differ."

That's all. I didn't think it was a terribly argumentative or inflammatory point.

Oh, criminy. Before I attempt to butt horns with Gary Farber, perhaps I should double-check that the original html link appeared. The quote in my first comment up there was from Anthony Wohl, _Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain_ (1983). Found at this link:

http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health2.html

The family in question found it advisable to rename themselves "Windsor" in 1917.

Palace of Versailles, completed in the 1680s: most magnificent royal palace in all Europe, perhaps the world.

Number of toilets included in the original building: zero.

The modern flush toilet was invented in 1775, so this is unsurprising.

Okay Gary. But I think this thread has become one of those Obsidian Wing specialties where several of us go off on our own particular tangents, making the points we think are important, and not responding to the point the other person is making. I agree that Indians and Nepalese directly affected by communist insurgents are not going to see Leninism as a dead issue.

And I think I'll bow out of this thread--not that I'm particularly irritated, but maybe lurking is a better option for me. It often is.

Ding Ding Ding
Jesurgislac pulls the race card in 1 hour and 9 minutes at 4:27.

And yet, for all my frustrations with Jes, I'd still rather have her on my side than anyone who would spout this kind of childish nonsense.

Thanks for the reminder.

given the fact that all foreigners who came to Japan were absolutely astonished by the attention to bathing and cleaniness that took place, perhaps we might grant that European standards of cleaniness have evolved quite a bit.

Or we might not, since the disparity still arguably exists today -- narrower, perhaps, but there. But that was essentially your point :)

I have a request in to the library for Clark's book. An older, not terribly scholarly book that's a good read is David Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Sort of Guns, Germs and Steel on a much shorter time scale. Like many of the people in this thread, he's not afraid to make judgements, some of which seem to wear well and some not.

Is it even accurate to claim that medieval Europeans had a high standard of living? I mean, sure, some elites may have done, and things changed starting in the late medieval/early renaissance period, once wealth started flowing from colonies and global trade, and starting particularly in trade-intensive nations such as the Netherlands and England (though perhaps changing more slowly for other parts of Britain). Certainly what I've read seems to support a fairly grim life for the thirteenth century European peasant, compared to their Chinese, Japanese, or Kwakwaka'wakw equivalent; and the last of these didn't even have metal tools.

The success of Europe in taking over the Americas and the convenient parts of Africa and Asia depended on a number of factors, including technology, diseases, and the ability to exploit local political differences. And poor hygiene may have contributed to the rich inventory of diseases the Europeans spread to Americans they contacted (and indeed I thought this might be the theme of the post from its title). Still, contrary to the thesis of the post, the evidence from European colonialization doesn't seem to suggest low population pressure or abundant local wealth. Rather the opposite: people were so desperate to earn a livelihood that they signed on to voyages and foreign postings with truly appalling survival rates.

There is of course one striking case that appears to some degree to support the post: the Black Death, which so depopulated much of Europe that there was a subsequent wave of reforestation, and the generation immediately after the Death indeed found themselves with more wealth than the generation before. But I'm not sure this works as a generalized principle, especially as they were essentially inheriting the wealth that had previously sustained a significantly larger population.

jackmormon (hey (^_^)/) mentioned cholera, I highly recommend Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 by Richard J. Evans. It's in paperback and an excellent read.

Really? And yet, looking at the relative economic wealth both today, and in actively-colonial times, of the countries that were colonisers versus the countries that were colonised, I'd say the only debate could come from those who really, really want some other excuse for relative wealth and poverty: usually racist, sometimes just crappy.

Really? No debate is possible, except from racists? Because this argument seems to be begging the question. We can obviously see that ex-colonizers tend to be doing better economically than ex-colonizeds. That doesn't prove causality one way or the other. It could be that countries became colonizers because they were already economically strong - and given that there's any number of potential reasons that this might be the case, it's ridiculous to claim racism as the only possible one.

Beyond that, it seems as though if we compare developed countries, it's simply not true that colonization made them do better. For example - Switzerland, Austria, and the Nordic countries basically had no real involvement with colonization (Denmark had the U.S. Virgin Islands for a while, but that's pretty minuscule. Sweden briefly had the even tinier Caribbean island St. Barthélemy). Germany had only a very brief colonial venture, and I don't think anyone really argues that Germany got much of any economic benefit from its colonies in Africa and the Pacific. But those countries are all doing pretty well, economically. The Scandinavian countries, in particular, with minimal colonial history, are generally seen to be doing among the best of any countries in the world.

On the other side, Portugal and Spain have the longest history of colonialism in Europe. Portugal, in particular, was the first great European colonial power, and the last to give up its colonies. And what did it get for it? Only to be the poorest country in Western Europe. There seems little evidence to suggest that colonial powers in western Europe did better than non-colonizers - if anything, it is the non-colonizers who have done the best.

Ack, sorry, my post was in response to this comment from Jesurgilac, early in the thread:

Really? And yet, looking at the relative economic wealth both today, and in actively-colonial times, of the countries that were colonisers versus the countries that were colonised, I'd say the only debate could come from those who really, really want some other excuse for relative wealth and poverty: usually racist, sometimes just crappy.

//And yet, for all my frustrations with Jes, I'd still rather have her on my side than anyone who would spout this kind of childish nonsense.//

Enjoy the company.

I believe the current understanding is that humans originated in africa and migrated from there to other parts of the world. Neanderthal and Cro-magnon disappeared in the process.

Most of the rest of the world is now better off than africa.

This suggests that colonies benefit more from colonization than colonizers.

By the way Adam, children are the most delightful of humans. 'Childish' is not really an insult. In my experience, people who use the term as an insult are pompous stuffed shirts who are more concerned about their carpets and furniture than other people.

Just for kicks, I present my great-great grandmother (Swedish side), in 1920:

Photobucket

That last: in re hygiene, and European living standards.

I think it's terrible that Hilzoy's great-great-grandmother was worked so hard that they couldn't let her stop knitting and making tea long enough to take a photograph. And get that woman a comfy upholstered chair!

P.S. D'd'd'dave, I assume your 12:32 is meant to be humorous?

WT. re 12:32. Yes.

I don't care what you say, Hilzoy, I'm not going to kick your great-great grandmother.

The problem with Publius' original post is that the historical success of Western Europe is normally taken to be due largely to the Industrial Revolution, and it's not clear that a high average income was what kick-started that. There has been a lot of recent work looking at how industrialisation and imperialism reinforced one another, by providing cheap raw materials, slave labour and additional markets. One interesting take is 'The Day the World Took Off: the Roots of the Industrial Revolution', a TV series which is available via the Cambridge historian Alan Macfarlane's website.
(Link is at http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/global/day.htm, if Typepad has swallowed this again).

Just a collection of random comments:

Scandinavia becoming wealthy is a rather new development.
---
The Viking expeditions were likely a result of (over)population pressure (and some Vikings were extremly successful, cf. Normandy, the "Rus", Sicily).
---
Germany was according to some studies not that far from the break-even point in East Africa at the start of WW1 (after the reforms instituted as a result of the Maji-Maji uprising). South-West Africa was for settling (making the genocide committed there quite popular with some people), not as a cash cow. All other colonies were unprofitable to the end (although Bismarck made a good longterm deal getting Heligoland for Sansibar).
---
Spain bought inflation with the sudden gold from America. It failed to control the flow and to invest it properly.
---
Colonization got rid the countries of origin of lots of troublemakers and thus acted as a vent.

It doesn't matter if "Britain" or "France" overall lost money on paying for colonial ventures if the people and companies benefiting gained more.

Just wanted to say this comment caught my eye.

With the caveat that my understanding of the details is limited, IMO it's worth noting that colonialism in many cases was a very good deal for *some* citizens of the colonial powers, far less so for others.

East India Tea Company, for example, comes to mind. United Fruit, from our own history, also.

So, if we want to discuss colonialism being "not all bad", it's useful to ask "not all bad for whom?"

I've ordered up a cost-benefit analysis of sewage systems throughout the United States.

Egalitarian sewage treatment has led to a hollowing out of our moral fiber. Better that cholera and the taxes paid to ameliorate the scourge be voluntary choices among a free,dehydrated people.

If cholera ends up on the plus side of the ledger, the Republican National Committee can list this along with "shade" as a cheap, practical solution to our Nation's problems.

Can dysentery be far behind?

The only remaining question should be whether or not "cholera" as a policy choice is administered by the Federal government and its faceless and fecesless bureaucrats, or by the States, thus moving it closer to the people who will contract the disease, or by a dynamic, entrepreneurial private sector, where it originally and rightly belonged, and dare I say, flourished.

Meanwhile, the city of Calcutta shall suspend all sewage mediation forthwith, pending the results of our analysis.

Hello, Jackmormon.

There are plenty of counterintuitive arguments to be made about putative benefits in general. Agricultural revolution is one common target, for example..

However, arguing that sanitation improvements had counterintuitive results is a complete nonstarter. Changes in sanitation for the worse has typically ended states, not prepared them for greater things. Rising marcher states tend to have better personal sanitation. Lastly, cities as a nexus of humanity rather than a mere depot for government redistribution are rather critically differentiated by having sanitation.

Another thing, you should always have red flags up when anyone starts talking about how great it is to have other people's shit, of which claiming that property turnover through high death rates is a member of. It never works out that way, because it's the same stupid idea that Esau had, to discout abstraction and opportunity costs for the concrete. Even if you can't see or touch it, opportunity costs are real, and realizable by those with an awareness of it.

I wonder why it wasn't transparently obvious that this is bullshit from Amazon reviews? Anyone who has some familiarity with genetics, ecology, and neurology would laugh this one off. Rich people aren't ubermensch. They don't even have a superior culture. Just check out early Byzantine culture and compare this with classical Rome and Athenian culture for a very direct rebuttal of the thesis in the book. This is some kind of sociobiology book in economist format. With the usual attractiveness of Evolutionary Biology for the usual assholes. Read the *actual* economic historian materials like Kenneth Pomeranz, ok?

Anarch has urged me to jump into this (dying?) thread, perhaps because he knows I've spent most of the last 40 years dealing with issues like these. That is, in fact, one of the reasons I was reluctant to: it's a bit too reminiscent of work (back in the days when I worked). However, here are a few observations, in no particular order.

I. On the history of health and sanitation: I do not speak for the Middle Ages (we have "magistra" for that), but by the early modern era, when Europe was taking over the world, the Europeans were, by and large, a pretty rancid bunch. Throughout the tropics (particularly in Southeast Asia) they encountered, and were astonished by, people who bathed regularly. They (the Europeans) thought this unnecessary at best, possibly unhealthy, and - if they were Spanish friar missionaries - presumptively immoral. They also wore too many clothes, ate too much of the wrong kinds of food, and lived, when they had a choice, in the wrong kinds of housing. It is little wonder that their health was poor (although often better than those to whom they introduced new germs).

European medicine was basically useless against most of the fatal diseases of the tropics until well into the 20th century, with sulfa drugs, then penicillin and other antibiotics. Exceptions were surgery - Europeans were adept at bone-setting and cutting people open, in part because of their history of warfare - and smallpox vaccination, beginning at the end of the 18th century. But as for actual "medicines," none worked, except insofar as some of the actual concoctions imbibed as, say, "cholera drinks," contained enough fluid to help hydrate the sufferers.

And though it is quite true that in their efforts to provide health care via doctors and hospitals they almost always favored those that served white men (understandably, perhaps), which is noted (rightly) as a sign that the colonies were not designed primarily for the benefit of the colonized, the fact is that these institutions, however laudable in intent, were by and large inefficacious. Even in Europe itself, through the end of the 19th century, sick people were more, not less, likely to die if they were hospitalized. (The hospital had no means of curing them, and meanwhile they were exposed to other infections.)

Sanitation as a health measure only becomes a major issue in the latter half of the 19th century. When the concept sinks in, within a generation or so, Europeans adopt it and start spreading the "gospel of sanitation" [sic] in their colonies, although usually starting their efforts by cleaning up places where Europeans themselves lived (e.g., the Western quarter of Batavia/Jakarta) or invested (e.g., Malayan rubber plantations) before allocating any serious resources to the general "native population." The Americans, coming relatively late to the colonial game (1890s for most purposes) were big on sanitation from the outset, which made it easier to assume that we as a people had always been that way.

By the end of the 19th century, therefore, Americans and Europeans had convinced themselves that they were not only superior to other ethnicities in intelligence, creativity, strength of character, etc., etc., but also in cleanliness. It is within the aftermath of this meme that we were all brought up, and to some extent are still living. I am glad to see some reaction against this, even though, as Gary Farber pointed out very early in the thread, the intellectual "counter-revolution" on this point has often gone far too far.

OTOH, Clark's assumption that it is in general a benefit to have poor sanitation and health is simply silly, except as it points us to the commonplace observation that unexpected benefits occasionally rise from devastation. (E.g., most of the industrial plants of Europe and Japan were destroyed in WWII, but rebuilt afterwards, which meant that by the 1970s they were using more modern technology than US plants, still using machinery from the 1930s. Interesting, but as an intellectual insight: BFD.)

I've rambled enough for one post - further thoughts will be coming along shortly.

II. On comparative colonialism: Others have pointed out that there are many kinds of colonialism and that the costs and benefits are unevenly distributed. Certainly those of us who have taught courses on imperialism know that from the outset we need to define and differentiate clearly, or we wind up with a free-for-all in which everything can be asserted and nothing can be proved.

With that caveat, let me observe:

1) Considering the profit and loss entailed by colonialism is an ancient pursuit, but not one easy to resolve. We should start by realizing that it is not necessarily a "zero-sum" game, in which the profits of the colonizers are automatically equivalent to the losses of the colonized. (Our mercantilist ancestors tended to subscribe to this fallacy - there was only a limited amount of "wealth" in the world, so the aim was always to maximize one's own share of it at the expense of others.)

On the other hand, it is also clear that

(a) there was considerable variation among colonies as to profitability. As King Felipe II of Spain memorably put it, when being pressed to get rid off the then-unprofitable Philippines: "A king has some countries because he needs them, and others because they need him."

Having said that, most colonial ventures came to be dominated, in the second generation if not the first, by bean-counters, and the custom of assessing the costs and benefits (to the metropole) of empire was assiduously maintained, even if some of the calculations turned out wrong. (Just like similar attempts by corporations today.)

Much modern scholarship in this field is given over to re-assessing these calculations, although the parameters are not, and probably cannot be, standardized. But in some of the major cases, it is clear. The Spanish Empire in the Americas was hugely profitable at first. The problems arose when Spain didn't know what to do with all the gold and silver it stole from the "Indios." What the Hapsburgs decided to spend it on, besides general pomp, was subsidizing all the anti-Protestant wars in Europe (the "Spanish Armada" was just one aspect of this), borrowing more money if necessary. The Fuggers and others were happy to lend it to them, taking the revenues from the Americas in exchange. So Spain, as others have noted, wound up poor, but it is as wrong to say that this proves colonialism was unprofitable as it would be to say that some lottery-winner who blew all his winnings and wound up in the gutter never actually won the lottery at all. (Cf. the oil "windfall" to some modern states - it's not just the money, it's what you do with it.)

The Dutch, when they obtained huge profits from the "Cultivation System" in early 19th-century Java, were much wiser, and wound up investing a sizable chunk of this in the industrialization and modernization of the Netherlands. Britain (from India) and Belgium (from the Congo) are other examples of modern colonizers making much of the profits they gained from empire - which is not to say that they didn't make bad choices as well. One of the problems with all empires is that the cost of administration, including peace-keeping, tends to rise over time - Brett Bellmore, here's your opportunity to jump in! - so that the annual "nut" cost of just maintaining an empire can become a drag on the profits.

(All of which is simply to note that just as corporations designed for profit may go bankrupt, and many do, so may colonial empires. It's bad management, not altruism.)

(b) within the metropole the profits of colonialism were always greater for some sectors than others - certain industries or firms (cf. the East India Company, Halliburton), the government itself (or certain branches within it, such as the military), even whole classes. James Mill alleged that the whole British Raj in India was a system of "outdoor relief [welfare] for the middle class."

But this does not mean that many of the benefits of colonialism did not trickle down, indirectly, to others of the colonizing nations who were not directly involved in colonialism, producing for colonial markets, or processing raw materials obtained cheaply from the colonies. George Orwell does not prove it, but expresses it nicely: We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are "enlightened" all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our "enlightenment", demands that the robbery shall continue.

Excellent comment Dr. Ngo!

One question:

The Americans, coming relatively late to the colonial game (1890s for most purposes) were big on sanitation from the outset, which made it easier to assume that we as a people had always been that way.

I'd be curious to know whether America was ahead or behind Europe in this respect. There was a lot of wide open space, so fewer of the population-concentration problems, but, on the other hand, the disparity between the European and American armies in the Revolution was pretty wide.

On yet a third hand, that's at least partially attributable to the difference in professional discipline -- but it was an obvious problem to the American generals, many of whom were running the country in just a few years, so it's clear that they were aware of the issues before the 1770s.

OTOH, Clark's assumption that it is in general a benefit to have poor sanitation and health is simply silly, except as it points us to the commonplace observation that unexpected benefits occasionally rise from devastation.

One other comment -- this is a good, concise response to Clark's thesis (i.e. it's just an observation on resource distribution), but two other theories were suggested in this thread that don't strike me as being purely zero-sum:

1. The Diamond thesis ("Europeans as walking disease vectors")

2. The point I was making earlier (despite the slight continuity error) about the political effects of demographic collapse on feudalism -- the Great Famine and the Black Plague didn't just free up available resources, they arguably tipped the balance of power in Europe (and especially in England) by increasing the demand for serf labor --

One could make a decent argument (though I'm not qualified to flesh it out) that the rise of the European middle class ended up being a significant advantage for the colonizing nations (this is somewhat parallel to the cost-of-administration point dr ngo raises).

That's somewhat orthogonal to Clark's point, but not exclusive with it -- i.e., poor living conditions that stretched the working population to the breaking point also set the stage for rebalancing whenever there was a serious disruption in the established order.

II. On comparative colonialism, cont.

(2) for the world as a whole, the colonizing countries came out ahead of the colonized, primarily through a net transfer of wealth toward the metropole. This is virtually undeniable, yet there are those who would deny it.

Jesurgislac is wrong to imply that anyone who suggests that all the profits of all colonies went to the metropole, and all the costs were borne by the colonized, but her suspicion is rooted in a certain contemporary reality. We all recognize, I hope, that the "states-rights" argument in the USA has been primarily deployed in our lifetimes by those whose interests lay in preserving institutional racism; those who would like to venture there for non-racist reasons need to walk warily. Similarly economic re-assessments of imperialism that reach the facile conclusion that because the colonial powers don't monopolize the world's wealth today nobody really exploited anybody have been primarily deployed by those who want to justify - or even just ignore - the impact of imperialism on the world. Those of us (definitely including myself) who try to assess "costs and benefits" in a dispassionate way are similarly advised to be hyper-aware of the implications of our argument.

I've been working most of my adult life to try to assess colonialism - both Spanish and American - in the Philippines. It's tough, primarily because there's no agreement as to how to weigh the variables (besides economics itself [including some assessment of "opportunity costs"] what's the cost/value of education? health benefits? loss of life in conquest? distortion of political culture? etc.). And this is, by most criteria, one of the relatively most benign(*) cases of colonialism in the modern world, since the US didn't really care all that much (e.g., compared with the French in Indo-chine). Yet even so, the fact remains that the USA is rich and the Philippines is not, and it is impossible to exonerate colonialism entirely from that comparative reality.

(* Please please please note that word "relatively." I'm NOT saying US rule in the Philippines was "benign." I'm saying that by and large it was better to be a peasant in the American Philippines than in French Vietnam. That is all.)

III. If Clark does in fact suggests that there is some possible genetic component in Western supremacy in the world today, then he's an idiot. (I can't be bothered to track down what he actually said.)

For a start, assuming a likely genetic base for just about any complex human phenomenon is pretty silly. There are so so so many social and historical variables coming to bear on any given situation that to throw in "race" (or some variation thereof) as the key factor bespeaks a mind that likes "racial" categories and distrusts socio-historical analysis. As above, it doesn't prove the proponent of this view is a racist, but it raises questions as to why he's using the kind of argument that racists love so much.

Second, it privileges the present. Looking at world history, the dominance of the West is really quite recent. It is hard to discern any general superiority (economic, intellectual, technological, whatever) that Europe enjoyed over the rest of the world prior to about 1500, which is next to nothing in terms of human history. Even then, Europeans proved only to have a real advantage only over the Amerindians, who were cut off from the Eurasian disease pool and therefore hyper-susceptible to imported diseases. In Asia, the European advantage is not clear until sometime in the period 1760-1840; arguably China, rather than Europe, was the richest, strongest, and most technologically advanced society in the world prior to that time.

There then came a stretch of a century or so in which the West, benefiting from early industrialization, superior military technology, and perhaps an "organization revolution" as well (corporations, nation-states, etc.), clearly controlled the world. Yay us?!

But then by the middle of the 20th century, this advantage began to dwindle. Japan industrialized and took a place among the great powers, even though they lost in WWII. After the war, Westerners failed to impose their will in Vietnam (twice!), China, Indonesia, India, and Korea. In the economic and technological sphere, East Asia was competing with (and in many cases surpassing) the West before the end of the century. Most Asians, seeing this trend, tend to assume that the 21st century will in fact be the "Asian century."

This may or may not happen, but even the possibility that it might should derail any theory of genetic superiority. If Europeans were inherently "better," why did this not show up for the first several millennia of human history? Why did it emerge only about 150-250 years ago? And why is it in danger of disappearing now? Unless one is willing to posit something crazy about the detriments of miscegenation (?!??) it is hard to think of any genetic theory that would explain the specifity of an advantage that lay hidden for millennia, emerged in a remarkably short period of time, and then simply sank back into human ordinariness again.

Sheesh.

I've said enough for now. This is my last (current) post on this matter. Are you happy, Anarch?

PS for purposes of clarification:

dr ngo: The Americans, coming relatively late to the colonial game (1890s for most purposes) were big on sanitation from the outset, which made it easier to assume that we as a people had always been that way.

Adam: I'd be curious to know whether America was ahead or behind Europe in this respect. There was a lot of wide open space, so fewer of the population-concentration problems, but, on the other hand, the disparity between the European and American armies in the Revolution was pretty wide.

Ah . . . it seems my writing was ambiguous. When I wrote "from the outset" I meant to denote "the outset of American colonialism [in the 1890s]," not "the outset of America itself." Sorry not to be more clear.

I have no idea as to whether Americans in general were cleaner than other Europeans (or Amerindians, or anyone else) during the 17th-19th centuries. My point was just that the "gospel of sanitation" had taken root in the US, especially in the military, by the 1890s, when we started serious colonizing of overseas possessions. So we didn't have a history of old "dirty" colonial practices to reflect on, as the Spanish (in Manila, prior to 1898) or the Dutch (in Batavia) might have. We could thus jump to the improbable conclusion that we Americans were somehow naturally clean, whereas the Spanish and Filipinos were naturally dirty.

PSS for further clarification (sheesh!)

I now see that I totally screwed up one of my convoluted sentences above (in my 4:46 post). I fear. I've tried to indicate the changes by the use of bold lettering:

Jesurgislac is wrong to imply that anyone who challenges the assumption that all the profits of all colonies went to the metropole, and all the costs were borne by the colonized, is racist or otherwise intent on avoiding social analysis, but her suspicion is rooted in a certain contemporary reality.

Thanks dr ngo for sharing a nice summary of a lot of research and thought.

'Even then, Europeans proved only to have a real advantage only over the Amerindians, who were cut off from the Eurasian disease pool and therefore hyper-susceptible to imported diseases. In Asia, the European advantage is not clear until sometime in the period 1760-1840; arguably China, rather than Europe, was the richest, strongest, and most technologically advanced society in the world prior to that time.

There then came a stretch of a century or so in which the West, benefiting from early industrialization, superior military technology, and perhaps an "organization revolution" as well (corporations, nation-states, etc.), clearly controlled the world. Yay us?!'

Interestingly, Kenneth Pomeranz's book The Great Diversion presents evidence and arguments that the three main points in your paragraphs I quoted above (the impact of European diseases, China's prior economic superiority, and the emergence of Western dominance in the late 18th to early 19th Cen.) are all connected with each other.

Prior to the mid- to late-18th Cen. the macro- and micro-economic data for that period, unreliable and sketchy though it may be, suggest that the Jiangnan macro-region in China was at least as highly developed economically and suitable for a takeoff into industrialization as were the regions of Northwestern Europe which eventually did take off. A contemporary observer would have been hard pressed to predict which would go first.

On the other hand both China and NW Europe both faced very similar barriers to an industrial takeoff - an inability of their ecological base to support an increase in per capita production of food, fuel and fiber crops, without investing more (rather than less) labor into those sectors, which necessarily would inhibit the movement of surplus labor into manufacturing. Basically there was no way for them to take large numbers of people off the land and put them into factories while still maintaining necessary levels of production of essential resources need to keep their economies going.

This deadlock was broken in England first rather than in Jiangnan because the Atlantic triangle trade and the use of coal as a fuel source enabled the English to escape from these ecological constraints, something the Chinese were unable to do. And the English were able to do this in part because of their ability to exploit the natural resources of North America and the Carribbean which were there for the easy taking because of the depopulation of those areas which occurred in the wake of European diseases being spread thru them, and because they were able to exploit the labor pools of other regions (e.g. via the slave trade) in ways which were unconstrained by mutual membership in a common polity or wider ethnic community, as was the case in China.

Aww crud, typing-fail. Make that "Kenneth Pomeranz's book The Great Divergence"

dr ngo: thanks. That was fascinating.

and read a history of the Meiji Restoration as well as Mike Davis's Late Victorian Holocausts for a more comprehensive view of the Great Divergence (davis covers India Subcontinent and Brazil).

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