Conquest, Culture, and India

I’m in the midst of biz trip hell and one book I’m plowing through is Thomas Sowell‘s Conquests & Cultures. The book is part of a trilogy where Sowell brings his considerable scholarship to the relationship between culture and socio-economic outcomes across a wide span of history & the globe. This is a mighty controversial topic, to say the least, and one which Sowell engages with aplomb.

Clearly, one factor which has shaped the fate of groups over time is, of course, Conquest. And Sowell isn’t afraid to discuss how this dynamic played out for both Worse *and* for Better.

Now, we need to be very clear that by pointing out the Better, Sowell is emphatically NOT making a case for future Conquests of Cultures. Nor is he delving into whether Conquests are / were Morally Good. And, for that matter neither am I (just to forestall some of the comments a post like this generates – let’s try to keep the discussion Type C rather than descend into Type M. One can credit how the K-T extinction helped give rise to Humanity, for example, without calling it Good or “wishing” for another one; same with the British Empire).

What he is noting, however, is that just as many of the leaps and bounds of progress in tech can be traced to conflict & competition (WWII and the Space Race, to pick a few quickie examples), cultures are similarly fluid and subject to evolution. Proof of this & a tremendous source of historical experiments to this effect is Conquest [pg ix]-

The underlying theme of all these books is that racial, ethnic, and national groups have their own respective cultures without which their economic and social histories cannot be understood. Modest as this claim may seem, it collides head-on with the more widely accepted visions in which the fates of minority groups are determined by “society” around them, which society is therefore both causally and morally responsible for the misfortunes peculiar to the less fortunate of these groups — though apparently not responsible for the good fortune of more successful minority groups. This trilogy also collides head-on with prevailing doctrines about “celebrating” and preserving cultral differences. Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives.

In other words –> Culture is a moving target & is responsible for much of our socio-economic fate(s). One source of Punctuated Equilibrium in Culture’s evolution is/was Conquest. Let’s learn how it got us to where we are today & use those lessons + our volition to further evolve moving forward…

Stud.

Sowell shares much material with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (for ex., lack of load-bearing animals in Western Hemisphere = less food per acreage = smaller towns and less disease resistence = easy conquest by the Spanish). But, he goes leaps beyond by explicitly adding the variables of culture and conquest to more satisfyingly address Diamond’s core question of why some are rich and some are poor.

Although India would seem to figure prominently in any such broad, empirical assessment, this particular work from Sowell unfortunately doesn’t spend much time there (I’m a fan of his work and some of his other books do, in fact, cover India pretty well). He does provide an example or 2 which we’ll get to in a second.

Instead the book focuses on 4 case studies in depth -

  • the British – particularly the periods when they were a band of tribes conquered by the Romans + *many* other subsequent groups (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Normans…); The Dark Ages in Britain were particularly so and overall, the country probably spent more time Colonized than as a Colonizer resulting in a potent cultural mixing. Sowell argues that it’s not accidental that the regions of Britain most externally conquered (basically the South) also eventually became the most dominant as the country became independent and expanded to absorb Wales, Scotland, and Ireland…. later creating the Empire.
  • Africa – perhaps no area of the world more readily comes to mind when you say “post-colonial legacy” so clearly Sowell spends much time here (and, uh, the fact he’s Afro-American is perhaps another reason). As with post-Roman Britain, post-colonial Africa went through a profound period of retrogression after the imperialists were tossed out [pg 173] –
    The entire period of a quarter of a century, beginning in 1965, averaged negative growth in output per capita in Uganda, Tanzania, Chad, Zamia, Ghana, Senegal, Madagascar, Zaire, Niger, Benin and the Central Africal Republican… [Thankfully] By 1997, perhaps a dozen African countries were growing at 5 percnt per year or better.
  • the Slavs of Eastern Europe – as both conquered and conquerors, the Slavs are an interesting tale. One datapoint for just how deeply & long they were “conquered” is that in most Euro and Middle Eastern languages, the word “slave” is quite literally derived from Slav. Hardcore. Why this fate? Sowell asserts that first, relative to other Europeans, Slavic people were the least Romanized. Secondarily, other conquerers (for ex., the Mongols & Arabs) were happy to simply extract tribute and slaves rather than create governance (and thus cultural) structures directly as the Romans had done in Britain. Still other interesting and persistent cultural differences (and thus economic) persist from within the Slavic community – with the ones overrun by the Germans in the Middle Ages and more modern times general fairing better than the others.
  • Native Americans. Of course. Their pre-Columbian conquests of each other, in particular, makes for fascinating reading.

Still, Sowell does pepper the book with a few anecdotes pertinent to India. One set tracks the fascinating tale of Peter the Great’s desire to tap desi mercantile skills for Slavic prosperity via the markets of Astrakhan (this link is fascinating read, BTW).

Desis in Africa weren’t conquerers in the military sense (they road the Brit’s coattails). However, many natives didn’t so readily separate the political and commercial and viewed Indians with much of the same scorn. Gujuratis in particular rather successfully surfed the (comparative) Free Trade Zone that was the British Empire and played a massive role in E. Africa’s economic picture [pg 136] –

[In Tanzania] Indians held an estimated 50 to 60 percent of the import-export trade, 80 percent of sisal lproduction, 80 percent of transport service, and 90% of all town property

This particular snippet, early in the book, is one I thought Mutineers might be able to fact check (and it’s the one that, a couple hours ago, started this long, rambling blog post c’est la vie) [pg 7]-

Among the millions of Telugu-speaking people in eastern India during the colonial era, some lived under the direct rule of the British conquerors while others lived under Indian princes. When these peoples were united, years after India’s independence, into a newly created state of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhras who had lived under British rule proved to be overwhelming competition for the Telanganans who had lived under Indian princes. Andhras not only bested the Telanaganans on civil service examinations, taking over great numbers of government jobs as a result, but also outperformed them in agriculture, where they were able to buy out Telanganan farmers and make their farms much more productive and more profitable.

Sowell’s 100 pages of footnotes reveals the source of the factoid as Myron Weiner’s Sons of the Soil published in 1978. Anyone got more deets? Any of our Telugu-speaking readers know to what extent this was the cause of differences between “Andhras” and “Telanaganans“? Are there similar anecdotes in India between closely related but differently “Brit-ized” groups within the Desh?

60 thoughts on “Conquest, Culture, and India

  1. Does he suggest why the conquered either ended up better or worse off? Why did Africa retrogress, while Southern England prosper? Were the nature of their colonization different in some way?

  2. racial, ethnic, and national groups have their own respective cultures without which their economic and social histories cannot be understood.
    Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everday life.

    This theses seem to be easily tenable. And also not that revolutionary at this point.

    And this is setting up the opponents’ argument as a straw-man:

    This trilogy also collides head-on with prevailing doctrines about “celebrating” and preserving cultural differences. Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life.

    The action is here:

    fates of minority groups are determined by “society” around them, which society is therefore both causally and morally responsible for the misfortunes peculiar to the less fortunate of these groups — though apparently not responsible for the good fortune of more successful minority groups.

    while i’m sympathetic to some of his sowell’s claims (indeed his honesty on certain issues is very refreshing, but then again you see ideology clouding good judgment) your presentation of theses showed clearly that this person has an axe to grind. moving on, sowell seems to be claiming incompatible things:

    (1)culture is always changing. (2)the interaction of minority culture with broader culture will change the features of both cultures. (3)minority culture is responsible for the minority’s problems/progress.

    (1) is easily verifiable and true. Same goes with (2). (3) implies that there is some ‘essential, definable’ minority culture. but that contradicts (2). So a more plausible argument would be that the quality of interactions of cultures within must determine socioeconomic fates. And that actually fits very well with the ‘Conquest’/'punctuated equilibrium’ analogy (it is a very imprecise analogy, but…whatevz).

    Assuming this is true:

    Among the millions of Telugu-speaking people in eastern India during the colonial era, some lived under the direct rule of the British conquerors while others lived under Indian princes. When these peoples were united, years after India’s independence, into a newly created state of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhras who had lived under British rule proved to be overwhelming competition for the Telanganans who had lived under Indian princes. Andhras not only bested the Telanaganans on civil service examinations, taking over great numbers of government jobs as a result, but also outperformed them in agriculture, where they were able to buy out Telanganan farmers and make their farms much more productive and more profitable.

    There is a good possibility also that explanatory work is being done not by cultural differences between Telanganas and Andhras, but between the sociocultural environment they lived in. So under British rule the best economic opportunities were available to civil servants, it’s only natural that over time Andhras gained familiarity with British political economy and acquired skills that would increase their earning potential. So, when Tels. and Ands. live together, one group has more familiarity with a particular system and has acquired more know-how and clout as a community, while the other group which lives in a completely different political economy has not. This is actually very relevant to the ‘Too Many Desi Doctors’ thread? Do desis have an increased propensity to become doctors v. other ethnicities? Is it because of their class or because of their ethnicity? The right groups to compare are affluent desis v. affluent whites, if we are to resolve that question. Similarly, to resolve the Tels. v. Ands. question, you need a group of Tels. and Ands. with similar histories over a few generations (Tels. and Ands. who have lived under British domination for a few centuries) to know if it is their cultural difference which is explaining the apparent educational disparity.

  3. 3 · Rahul S said

    I read in one of Sowell’s book of Guju’s participate in the entrepreneurial/risk taking spirit.

    Now, it is hard to determine whether the Gujarati entrepreneurial spirit has cultural origins or more geographic/natural endowment origins (or both). Living on the coast where the land is not so fertile makes trading a lucrative activity. You carry on that activity for generations and your community develops in response to sustaining that livelihood (migration, building ships, mechanisms of finance — moneylending, remittances). now since it becomes a dominant activity for making a living ever greater numbers of the community get involved. poor kids look at rich kids and realize that the wealth lies in trade. patters of migration and trade routes create ever stronger networks of diasporic traders. trade and cultural practices become intertwined. so, did the geography create the gujarati entrepreneurial spirit or did inherent cultural traits? anyway — i hope i’m making sense in these 2 comments. the original post wasn’t that clear in its objectives; but it seems very interesting, so i’m throwing some preliminary ideas out there.

  4. It may be that conquest may be a way of gaining access to technological, scientific, environmental and cultural knowledge for ‘backward’ regions (In fact, I agree with this; conquest can produce positive consequences). But aren’t these exchanges with civilizations better facilitated through peaceful means? Conquest could mean war of the Mongol variety that produced disastrous consequences for both those perpetrated and bore it. On the other hand, you have the Indian ocean trade network or the Arab civilization which acted as a bridge between the East and the West during the Abbasid era for transmitting science and philosophy, both examples where non-coercive cultural exchanges produced beneficial consequences.

    [Although modern warfare does seem to incidentally encourage technological advances (WWI and WW2 produced some neat insights in technical and medical knowledge], but I would argue that it is peace-time which is crucial for their development into civilian-friendly applications and mas diffusion, both of which are far too expensive to accomplish during wars. In the modern era, I would argue that wars also increase volatility in markets, clamping down both investment and aggregate demand for non-essential goods and services. At least, in pre-modern times, some societies which depended on war as a means for sustaining their economies would have been forced to innovate, if only in warcraft]

  5. Portmanteau said :

    There is a good possibility also that explanatory work is being done not by cultural differences between Telanganas and Andhras, but between the sociocultural environment they lived in.

    In rebuttal, I would draw your attention to the Paris riots in summer 2006.

    Both Vietnamese immigrants (presumably from French Indo China) and arab immigrants (presumably from French North Africa) lived in the dreaded Banlieus (housing projects) of Paris.

    However, the Vietnamese were conspicuously absent during the rioting. In fact many conservative French politicians held them up as an example of how the problem was not the sociocultural environment, but rather the cultural differences between the two immigrant groups.

  6. “Telenganan” is an awful word and possibly something Sowell coined.

    All over India, people living under direct British rule had greater access to education (especially the kind the post-Independence government jobs were looking for) so the difference he identifies is not unique to Andhra Pradesh.

  7. 4 · portmanteau said

    This theses seem to be easily tenable. And also not that revolutionary at this point.

    I was going to post exactly this. I find some of the honesty refreshing, as you do, but I also think the agenda of the author tends to drown out some of the important things.

    Two major disagreements of mine:

    “the fates of minority groups are determined by “society� around them, which society is therefore both causally and morally responsible for the misfortunes peculiar to the less fortunate of these groups — though apparently not responsible for the good fortune of more successful minority groups.”

    I do believe this is something of a strawman, as I think most reasonable scholars on all sides of the political spectrum would be willing to admit that influence between majority cultures and minority cultures goes both ways, and that one couldn’t place the entirety of the blame for a minority’s misfortunes on the majority, just as one couldn’t place the entirety of the praise for their good fortune on them. Any of those two extremes would be unreasonable, as all evidence points to a mix between the two, keeping the fluid nature of “culture” in mind.

    “This trilogy also collides head-on with prevailing doctrines about “celebrating� and preserving cultral differences. Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives.”

    I do agree that cultures aren’t museum pieces. That being said, the opinion of the author reflects a strong pragmatist viewpoint that I believe is flawed for a few reasons. To claim that culture is (or should be) grounded in any single purpose or meaning denies the vast array of meanings and purposes that have been ascribed to cultural artifacts, or even whole “cultures” themselves by the people who participate in their generation. I find this claim particularly bizarre when it opposes aesthetics, because so much of culture is related to aesthetics and not just use-value (I think this evokes the problem with positing or delimiting a singular, essential culture in the first place.) I also think it is strange to associate culture solely with use-value specifically, because such an argument would impose a system of quality whereby things are valued according to this utility alone (who decides what is “useful”? who decides what the goals of a society are, so that usefulness can be defined?)

    I think both of these disagreements are generally related to a desire for more specificity and context.

  8. 8 · brown_girl_in_the_ring said

    Telenganan” is an awful word and possibly something Sowell coined

    Isnt there a telangana province in andhra pradesh. Axually I just checked – here’s vot the omniscient ouiki oracle orates, O oblocutor. Osculate. Osculate.

  9. Is there a princely state in India with better socioeconomic indices than British ruled India. One comes across rants and tirades against British rule on the internet from Indian nationalists and Hindutva propagandists. Why are they unable to cite a single example of a princely state with better development indices than British ruled India?

  10. Sowell argues that it’s not accidental that the regions of Britain most externally conquered (basically the South) also eventually became the most dominant as the country became independent and expanded to absorb Wales, Scotland, and Ireland…. later creating the Empire.

    I can grant that it’s not “accidental,” but that needn’t demonstrate causation from conquered–>economically strong. I would think a strong alternative hypothesis would be that the “best” land is both (a) conquered more often than “marginal” land and (b) leads the way economically (at most points in time). At least, that’s true in Civilization (the game). ;-)

    I thought that the conventional wisdom for England’s emergence to dominance included as a positive factor that it wasn’t conquered since 1066, in contrast to continental Europe, which kept getting conquered/disrupted (e.g., by Napolean, 30 years’ war, etc. etc.). Maybe Sowell is on to something here (I’d have to read the book), but he’s certainly swimming against some common intuitions.

  11. Why are they unable to cite a single example of a princely state with better development indices than British ruled India?

    Not quite.

    They were princely states that far better ruled than the British, even though total number is small.

    Example 1: Baroda Baroda banned polygamy and made education free and universal before the turn of the century (20th). Ambedkar was given scholarship to study in Columbia University by them. Baroda was forefront in the campaign for removing untouchability.

    Example 2: Bikaner One of the finest irrigation system in India at that time.

    Example 3: Bhopal Women equal status made formally first by the princely state of Bhopal

    Example 4: Mysore Funded the best scientific labs in India at that time. Made hydroelectric dams

    Example 5: Jaipur Patron of the development of astronomy in India.

    ……..there are some more, like Maharaja of Gwalior married a commoner, and moved out of palace. Sure, they are a minority in 650 princely states, that were present in 1940s. A tiny fraction of them (princely state were safe havens for freedom fighters, as much as they could without invoking wrath of British. True, majority were really debauched.

    Read Freedom at Midnight for more details.

  12. 10 · khoofia said

    Axually I just checked – here’s vot the omniscient ouiki oracle orates, O oblocutor. Osculate. Osculate.

    You should know that it was me on Ub the other day asking for biographical details. You crack me up, khoof.

  13. Oops.. i just realized BGITR – your q was not about the province, but about te use of the word. mea culpa.

    Why are they unable to cite a single example of a princely state with better development indices than British ruled India?

    riksha, i suspect disingenuousness [a.ka. trollery] on your part, but i’ll bite. india – as the sum of the princely states had higher gdp than western europe up through the industrial revolution.

    vinodh – this book is quite a discovery! vel done and that’s no praise from the peanut gallery.

  14. 11 · desi riksha said

    Why are they unable to cite a single example of a princely state with better development indices than British ruled India?

    Even if all princely states in India had worse population outcomes wrt British rule, it does not automatically make the case for British invasion :)

    In fact many conservative French politicians held them up as an example of how the problem was not the sociocultural environment, but rather the cultural differences between the two immigrant groups.

    How about the Vietnamese conduct during Vietnam War? It’s not like they are a people inherently incapable of aggression. It may be that the Vietnamese are far shrewder than the French politicians seem to understand. In comparison to the Arabs, the positive Asian stereotype gives them an edge in French society. So by not participating in rioting they conserve their political and social capital within French society versus the Arabs. A better strategy in the long run. And what if the Vietnamese were assured that the rioting would succeed and produce better outcomes for them? Would they have pursued violence in that case? You betcha. I know history by counterfactual is dubious, but I don’t think the example you provide is conclusive. Context is key — the same group can be violent or peace-loving depending on circumstance. Culture is not destiny in the way many argue.

  15. 9 · NYC Akshay said

    I also think it is strange to associate culture solely with use-value specifically, because such an argument would impose a system of quality whereby things are valued according to this utility alone (who decides what is “useful”? who decides what the goals of a society are, so that usefulness can be defined?)

    Well-put, NYC Akshay. You capture what made me uncomfortable about that part of Sowell’s argument. It fails to explain our aesthetic attachment to cultural artifacts — why do people most people want to preserve certain crafts, techniques, heirlooms, and languages when they are in danger of becoming ‘extinct?’ As such, it is difficult to justify initiatives to fund opera when they are couched in utility language; I feel like aesthetic value provides a better (albeit partial) explanation for why we might want to do spend money on movies, art, or music rather than gold futures.

  16. 5 · portmanteau said

    id the geography create the gujarati entrepreneurial spirit or did inherent cultural traits? anyway — i hope i’m making sense in these 2 comments. the original post wasn’t that clear in its objectives; but it seems very interesting, so i’m throwing some preliminary ideas out there.

    I don’t remember what his exact reasoning was. But I’m going to read a bunch of Sowell books this summer. I’ll tell you once I find out.

  17. Portmanteau, excellent comments. Thanks. And I’m not just saying that because Camille hasn’t been around lately.

  18. Sowell clearly does not know what he is talking about. The difference between the “andhra” and “telengana” regions lies in the nature of agriculture/regional economies in both regions rather than governance. Hyderabad, which historically, has had the best educational infrastructure in Andhra Pradesh was part of “Telengana” (i.e ruled by the Nizam). The current parts of A.P which are known as Rayalaseema are also not as economically advanced as the Andhra region, although they were under British rule. The main difference between these regions is in agriculture. The Andhra region contains the Godavari and Krishna riverine deltas and has an abundance of very fertile farmland, unlike Telengana which has very poor irrigation and access to water, and continually is subject to drought. The same is true to a lesser extent for the Rayalaseema region (it is slightly better off, thanks to the Krishna river). Although, Telengana was ruled by the Nizam, it had a pretty good educational infrastructure, and historically good colleges and medical schools. The problems with irrigating the land have also as much to do with the nearness of water sources (the Krishna river basically) and the geography of the region.

    Even now, since the rural economy is predominantly agricultural, telengana remains poor because of poor irrigation, and not very fertile lands, and a large number of people who have to live off this land. Having said all this, there maybe a case to be made that these differences are due to poor governance by non british people, but he (Sowell) has not made said case, and also this is by no means obvious.

  19. Look at the sorry legacy of the British conquests: the nations that emerged from colonized Africa and India which remain the most deeply impoverished on earth, and compare them to Japan which was never colonized by the european powers. What does Sowell have to say about this? Competition is far more beneficial than conquest.

  20. 19 · Amitabh said

    Portmanteau, excellent comments. Thanks. And I’m not just saying that because Camille hasn’t been around lately.

    How you doin’, Amitabh? And I’m saying that even though Rahul is around all the time :) Thank you, I am in sore need of validation these days. [But then again, aren't we all? OK except, Nietzsche (or so he claimed!)]

  21. Or look at Egypt and Greece. They never recovered their ancient preeminence after being conquered.

  22. 21 · Vyasa Look at the sorry legacy of the British conquests: the nations that emerged from colonized Africa and India which remain the most deeply impoverished on earth

    I am very anti-Britisher (except for speaking their language), but this is wrong–the former French, Belgian, Portuguese, etc. colonies are actually doing worse than the former British colonies (not that the latter are doing well, but true enough to falsify your comment). I was just looking for the evidence, and couldn’t find it on a whim and need to go to sleep, but I will post a link to it tomorrow.

  23. Living on the coast where the land is not so fertile makes trading a lucrative activity. You carry on that activity for generations and your community develops in response to sustaining that livelihood (migration, building ships, mechanisms of finance — moneylending, remittances). now since it becomes a dominant activity for making a living ever greater numbers of the community get involved. poor kids look at rich kids and realize that the wealth lies in trade. patters of migration and trade routes create ever stronger networks of diasporic traders. trade and cultural practices become intertwined. so, did the geography create the gujarati entrepreneurial spirit or did inherent cultural traits?

    What exactly is an “inherent culural trait” ? Culture by definition is transient and learned.

  24. It may be that conquest may be a way of gaining access to technological, scientific, environmental and cultural knowledge for ‘backward’ regions (In fact, I agree with this; conquest can produce positive consequences). But aren’t these exchanges with civilizations better facilitated through peaceful means? Conquest could mean war of the Mongol variety that produced disastrous consequences for both those perpetrated and bore it. On the other hand, you have the Indian ocean trade network or the Arab civilization which acted as a bridge between the East and the West during the Abbasid era for transmitting science and philosophy, both examples where non-coercive cultural exchanges produced beneficial consequences.

    1) did the mongol conquest have disastrous consequences? the pax mongolica after all opened up land routes by reducing the fixed costs of transportation in terms of “protection” money needed for separate jurisdictions. see Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium for a scholarly treatment which shows just how the pax mongolica helped set the the terms for the first truly international system in the world island (Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World for a more polemical and less scholarly account).

    2) the fact that the dar-al-islam of the early caliphal period is certainly an argument for the economies of scale which large markets can provide. like the pax mongolica the dar-al-islam provided a ‘world system’ which reduced the costs of travel (the cultural currency was standardized), but on the margins conquest and war played a large role in the transmission across civilizational boundaries. the conquest of sindh was not one without bloodshed, and did not involve the co-option of local rulers. this allowed for the absorption of south asian culture in toto because the arabs did not initially disrupt local customs (e.g., the low status of various jat groups was confirmed along with brahmin privileges, see The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In). conversely, the absorption of ancient learning by the west was facilitated by the process of conquest. on the one hand the reconquista was resulting in the acquisition of arab libraries by christian rulers, so that by 1300 90% of the peninsula was no longer muslim-ruled. on the east, a great number of greek texts and scholars flooded into italy as the turks consumed the byzantine empire piece by piece between 1300 and 1450.

    i would agree that war is wasteful and less efficient than peaceful trade…but for most of human history peace has simply been the short periods between wars, no? therefore any analysis of history has to place war at the center as a critical motor of cultural change. it may not be sufficient, or the most ideal, but it is necessary toward comprehension.

  25. From Rob’s post #12:

    Sowell argues that it’s not accidental that the regions of Britain most externally conquered (basically the South) also eventually became the most dominant as the country became independent and expanded to absorb Wales, Scotland, and Ireland…. later creating the Empire.
    I can grant that it’s not “accidental,” but that needn’t demonstrate causation from conquered–>economically strong. I would think a strong alternative hypothesis would be that the “best” land is both (a) conquered more often than “marginal” land and (b) leads the way economically (at most points in time).

    How about this: the conquered were completely vanquished to the extent that there was a cultural cleansing of sorts. The conquerors took their lands, wealth and women. These same people were able to withstand further conquest and built from strength to strength. The question Vinod poses is, how did the conquered fare? In Britain, the answer would be, not very well.

    Anecdotally, I have met people from Cornwall and Wales who’ve said that they were beaten in school for speaking their language (back in the days of corporal punishment). I have also met Americans– the kind who like to trace their roots to the Mayflower–who in the course of conversation will say they are Norman(that’s their favorite) or Anglo-saxon or whatever. It seems to be important to them to distance themselves from the earlier Britons.

  26. 20: vkrishna:

    Sowell clearly does not know what he is talking about.

    seems like it. Another example (with probably opposite results) could be found in the neighboring state. Karnataka consists of people from the princely state of Mysore and people from the British Indian provinces of Madras and Bombay.

  27. Why are they unable to cite a single example of a princely state with better development indices than British ruled India?

    One more example -Kerala. Malabar (Northern Kerala)was part of the Madras Presidency while Travancore (Southern Kerala) and Cochin (Central Kerala)were princely states. While quite a few upper caste Hindus of Malabar were able to make use of the better higher education facilities of British India, most remained illiterate. Even today, Malabar region lags behind the rest of Kerala in all human development indicators.

  28. 27 · limbo said

    What exactly is an “inherent culural trait” ? Culture by definition is transient and learned.

    this is exactly the point i am trying to make. i think the word culture in these theses is not well-defined, and in fact, seems to convey premises incompatible with each other (comment #4).

  29. “The entire period of a quarter of a century, beginning in 1965, averaged negative growth in output per capita in Uganda, Tanzania, Chad, Zamia, Ghana, Senegal, Madagascar, Zaire, Niger, Benin and the Central Africal Republican…”

    it’s not retrogression, it’s a population boom.

  30. I think comparing Princely states with British imperialism is equivalent to asking who is a better thief among a set of thieves. Once in a while we hear apologists from one side or the other claim how the rule under their dispensation was better for the people.

    As an institutionalised ruling mechanism both the systems are bad for the general public. It is purely based on luck that once in a blue moon you get good princes / Viceroys / Lords who planned for the welfare of the people.

  31. i would agree that war is wasteful and less efficient than peaceful trade…but for most of human history peace has simply been the short periods between wars, no? therefore any analysis of history has to place war at the center as a critical motor of cultural change. it may not be sufficient, or the most ideal, but it is necessary toward comprehension.

    Razib, one thing to consider here is the scale aspect of war — how much of the populace is involved, is the fighting happening along a frontier, or is it widespread looting and pillage. A few hypotheses to illustrate further:

    1. There are two types of innovations. First, the large-scale innovations that require larger infrastructure, more risk in terms of resources expended, more people power — basically those which cannot be easily accomplished privately. Second, the other kind of innovation that is possible to do privately, perhaps even by a small collective of some individuals.
    2. Let’s say in the past, in the absence of corporations or long-term risk-pooling mechanisms and where wealth was concentrated in the monarch or oligarch the first kind of innovation happened under the patronage of the ruler.
    3. War disrupts some innovation, because resources are diverted elsewhere. But it also pushes some kinds of innovation because of urgency and need.
    4. This leads me to believe type 1 innovations were overall spurred by war. If the war was more disruptive — type 2 innovations would be clamped down. In the absence of security and the shift of resources toward more expensive essential consumption, investment in type 2 innovations would decrease.
    5. In the past, private innovations (because there aren’t exactly corporate type non-family entities, and I’m yalking pre-industrial revolution where precision technology hadn’t percolated much — See David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus ) must have been very elastic wrt to war. But the increase of state-sponsored war innovation may have increased during organized warfare, and also created new trading posts. So overall innovation may have still increased during conquests.
    6. Now, however, we have enormous private innovation that is sensitive to fluctuation in world markets. So it may also be overall reduced during wartime. And the government is a much more interesting player now. The investments that it makes in basic science are reduced during war (undoubtedly military innovations may be increased, but, for instance, the Iraq War coincides with across-the-board cuts for scientific agencies), but war also decreases confidence in markets. Second, a lot of human capital investment is curtailed during war-time now — it is difficult to capture that effect on future innovation (eg cuts in education funding, lower scientific literacy for school-age population, people unwilling to teach science in school because of flat pay etc etc).
  32. 29 · razib said

    A Concise Economic [1]History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present [2]Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium [3]A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World [4]The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy [5]The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor [6]Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History

    2 and 3, I’ve got sitting around (started 3, supposed to be quite contentious), and heard good things about. 4 is very highly recommended. 5 is wrong-headed; senior year of college I wrote one of my final papers about that one and how shoddy it was. On the other hand, I like Landes’ ‘The Unbound Prometheus’ which is much more serious and well-researched. I will eventually get to Pomeranz’s general interest book on trade this summer, if all goes well. Another person to read in context of world trade in the colonial era (Atlantic trade and the East India Company especially) is Emma Rothschild. KN Chaudhuri is also a well-known and respected scholar on the economic history of Indian Ocean trade.

  33. Surprrising that so much ink should be spent on a very poorly conceptualised book. Thomas Sowell every since he sold himself to the moneyed establishment is simply trying to justify his capitulation. This is very much unlike Shelby Steele whose writing is very firmly anchored in experience. Sowell is terrible and very poorly read. After I heard an error filled talk from him about hip sureries in Canadfa, on one of those numerous crank AM stations I decided I had had enough. Anybody brining in Punctuated Equilibria a biological theory into the study of people needs to have his head examined. If Diamond is a move towards scientific history, Sowell’s is move back into crank and crackpot history. Trash can.

  34. 38 · jyotsana said

    Thomas Sowell every since he sold himself to the moneyed establishment is simply trying to justify his capitulation.

    Yes, I was tempted to bring up his credentials here, but then I thought ad hominem wasn’t the way to go. But it is certainly pertinent to this discussion.

  35. this is wrong–the former French, Belgian, Portuguese, etc. colonies are actually doing worse than the former British colonies (not that the latter are doing well, but true enough to falsify your comment).

    Provide the evidence. Hunger is the most telling measure of abject poverty and the British Empire’s “Jewel in the Crown”, the Indian subcontinent, remains the hungriest region on earth both in absolute and percentage terms.

    Within India itself compare the ex-portuguese colony of Goa and the ex-French colony of Pondicherry to the rest of India. They are far better off. And the worst off states in India are the ones which were among the longest ruled by the British: Bengal, Bihar, Orissa etc.

  36. Look also at the French, Germans, British who were never conquered by non-europeans (arabs, turks, mongols) and ended up becoming the preeminent nations of the modern age.

  37. They are far better off. And the worst off states in India are the ones which were among the longest ruled by the British: Bengal, Bihar, Orissa etc.

    What about Madras?. Madras is the first fort established by Brits in 1650.

  38. 40 · Vyasa said

    Provide the evidence. Hunger is the most telling measure of abject poverty and the British Empire’s “Jewel in the Crown”, the Indian subcontinent, remains the hungriest region on earth both in absolute and percentage terms.

    There are African countries where the situation is far worse than in the individual countries of the subcontinent. Your argument is just as difficult to make as the opposite.

  39. 40 · Vyasa said

    Within India itself compare the ex-portuguese colony of Goa and the ex-French colony of Pondicherry to the rest of India. They are far better off. And the worst off states in India are the ones which were among the longest ruled by the British: Bengal, Bihar, Orissa etc.

    I don’t deny the facts that you state here — but at least make an effort to establish causality. The statements you make are of this kind:

    “Vanya is fat today. That is because he lived alone with his grandmother for 5 years.”

    [Bihar is a poor state. It was ruled by the British during the imperial era.]

    Unless you tell me a story about how Vanya’s grandmother transmitted poor eating habits to him that will have lifelong effects, your assertions are not persuasive. Certainly, British rule may have a part to play in Bihar’s current situation, but it may that during the latter half of the 20th c., other factors contribute much more to Bihar’s lawlessness and poverty. Singapore and Hong Kong were British colonies too — so certainly the factor you mention is not entirely deterministic (and that is common-sense really; one sustained event could change the trajectory in which a complex entity behaves, but you need a lot of explanation to provide if you hold that effect of that event entirely determines the future of the complex entity).

  40. Vyasa said:

    compare … the ex-French colony of Pondicherry to the rest of India.

    Pondicherry is really too small to use as an example in any case. To misquote Amartya Sen, anything that can be said about Pondicherry, the opposite can also be shown to be true. What I know is that there are people from Madras presidency who design chips in Silicon Valley and there are people from Pondicherry who sell (banana) chips in the Xth arrondissement. And had the French not lost in Wandiwash I doubt the reverse would have been true.

  41. 44 · portmanteau said

    Unless you tell me a story about how Vanya’s grandmother transmitted poor eating habits to him that will have lifelong effects, your assertions are not persuasive. Certainly, British rule may have a part to play in Bihar’s current situation, but it may that during the latter half of the 20th c., other factors contribute much more to Bihar’s lawlessness and poverty. Singapore and Hong Kong were British colonies too — so certainly the factor you mention is not entirely deterministic (and that is common-sense really; one sustained event could change the trajectory in which a complex entity behaves, but you need a lot of explanation to provide if you hold that effect of that event entirely determines the future of the complex entity).

    I agree with this. I think the situation is far too nuanced and complex to describe so easily, and doesn’t really lend itself to clear, linear relations (even when one assumes that hunger is basically the sole object of the discussion.)

  42. Bihar’s poverty dates back at least to the Mughal era…the Mughal empire’s economic, military, administrative, and taxation policies basically impoverished that region. It has never recovered since. Floridian, your thoughts?

  43. 39 · portmanteau said

    38 · jyotsana said
    Thomas Sowell every since he sold himself to the moneyed establishment is simply trying to justify his capitulation.
    Yes, I was tempted to bring up his credentials here, but then I thought ad hominem wasn’t the way to go. But it is certainly pertinent to this discussion.

    Almost anything by Thomas Sowell trips my trash detector. He is forever rationalizing the unpardonable or the clearly despicable. To see this fake talking glib about the development of Coastal AP and Telengana is a joke. A man with scholarly pretensions should have if nothing else leafed through Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocaust when the colonial administration banned charitable distributions of food by law and issued starvation rations to peasants that did not provide even 1000 calories per day per person. So when I come across this man’s junk I immediately look for what’s missing, and usually it doesn’t take much time. Kush has already pointed out to us the progressive record of some princely states, making nonsense of Sowell’s ill-informed comparisons.

  44. Thomas Sowell every since he sold himself to the moneyed establishment is simply trying to justify his capitulation.

    Thomas Sowell. clarence Thomas. i think we know wot their sister’s sons will call them…

  45. 48 · jyotsana said

    So when I come across this man’s junk I immediately look for what’s missing, and usually it doesn’t take much time.

    You should read his other stuff though. He has pretty interesting books. Too bad African Americans & the left doesn’t listen to this guy or Michael Steele.