British colonial history

So, piece complaining that kids aren’t taught history properly in school. Fair enough. But which contains this line:

Aged 11, my son learned in a geography class that one of the many reasons Ghana (the Gold Coast to its 19th-century British rulers) was economically less developed was because of its colonial past. It had been stripped of its wealth by the British. Just one bland sentence.

Well, yes, that’s very Marx and Lenin on imperialism. But it’s not actually true, is it?

Ghana did rather well under the Empire. It was Nkrumah and successors who screwed the pooch.

As it happens I’ve got Angus Maddison’s spreadsheet open for something else. Ghana, in 1950, had GDP per capita of $1,122 (these are international dollars, so adjusted for inflation over time and price differences across geography). In 1984 it was $933.

Significantly worse than Gabon (French colony) and about the same as Liberia at the start (not colonised). Better than Kenya (British colony).

And there’s the other side to it as well. If the British knicked all the money then why didn’t it make Britain rich? Because the colonies didn’t, did they?

26 thoughts on “British colonial history”

  1. I can’t find the source but when South Korea was emerging from Japanese occupation and enslavement, far nastier than mere colonisation, followed by war, which destroyed any surviving infrastructure, it was poorer than newly independent rather prosperous Ghana. Comparisons are odious.

  2. “Stripped of its wealth” in the Guardian about Africa usually means we took all the minerals and precious metals. Those must have been some bloody efficient miners we had back then!

  3. Mal Reynolds (Serenity)

    Economic criticisms of colonialisation always seem to base themselves on mercantilism, that economic doctrine of the 18th century that has long since been disproven. Mercantilist thinking got us colonies and now 200-300 years later the left have not progressed intellectually and still think in mercantilist terms to criticise it all.

  4. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Nothing changes, then. I was fed all this guff when I was at Bash Street 35 years ago…. It wasn’t any truer then, even wiv Fatcher in charge.

  5. This book http://whynationsfail.com/
    shows it is a lot more complicated.
    However the simple fact that Singapore (former colony) is richer than Spain (former empire country) shows that this
    “Aged 11, my son learned in a geography class that one of the many reasons Ghana (the Gold Coast to its 19th-century British rulers) was economically less developed was because of its colonial past. It had been stripped of its wealth by the British. Just one bland sentence.”
    Is rubbish

  6. So we left the outpost of the empire some decades ago and the locals ran things to suit themselves. And still we get the blame.
    Bit like labour supporters in 2016 still blaming Thatcher from 1980….

  7. We went to Ghana, and took all their nothing.

    The skill that makes whites great: the ability to get rich off the poor.

  8. Actually by Guardian Standards this piece is ok – although the complaint that Brexit is promoted by historical ignorance is a suspect one. The author does need to get with the Program though. Imperial history (or indeed the idea of History as a narrative to be taught in chronological fashion) has not been around for over 3 decades (and I speak as a trained history teacher). Most curricula talk about the Causes of the Second World War (almost all were forced by the EU to include Nazi Germany as a topic to illustrate the perils of nationalism) – very few about the war itself (At least they did not in my day)

  9. It’s nonsense. The problem Ghana had was bad rule after the British left. They had rulers building huge modern roads, despite the fact there were no cars.

  10. As BiW said.
    The reason why Ghana was given independence before Nigeria was that it was the most economically and politically developed of our African colonies after Southern Rhodesia. I can rember that being explained to me when Nigeria seemed the obvious candidate for dominion status.

  11. Van_Patten,

    Even less is taught about the aftermath of the war. Food was in short supply in Germany long after the war had ended, and this was deliberate Allied policy. From Wikipedia:

    The German food situation became worst during the very cold winter of 1946–47, when German calorie intake ranged from 1,000 to 1,500 calories per day, a situation made worse by severe lack of fuel for heating.

    There’s a lot more to it than that. I don’t expect much sympathy for the Germans (especially on here), but it goes to show that the Allies weren’t nearly as highly-principled as other textbooks make out.

  12. Van_P – yeah i was going to say i’m not that bothered about it not being on the syllabus
    1. there’s too much history to pack into a syllabus. Got to leave some of it out.
    2. UK doesn’t have an empire to answer to anymore so we don’t have to churn out propaganda so the best and brightest merrily go off and sweat and dribble and spill their guts out in the arse end of the world.
    3. If it was taught it would be propaganda in the opposite ideological direction.

  13. Food in short supply in Germany in 46-47? It was in Britain too which is why bread rationing was introduced postwar.

    Could anyone seriously expect that the western Allies would feed the Germans before the British, Dutch, etc?

  14. Was there not also a famine in Holland.. and indeed posited that’s why the current crop are all so tall now?

  15. Despite being victorious, food rationing only ended in Britain in 1954 probably because we had Attlee while the poor old West Germans struggled on under Adenauer.

  16. This book goes into considerable detail about the post-war situation. Food shortages were only a small part of the problem.

    Daily Mail: How neighbours turned on each other and anarchy erupted in the aftermath of WWII

    dearieme,
    Britain’s lengthy post-war rationing owes more to the then Labour party being piss-poor at running the country, and of course their control-freakery. I’m surprised Corbyn hasn’t proposed re-introducing rationing as a means to combat the obesity crisis.

  17. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Andrew M. There was a rather wistful CiF piece in the Graun a while back pretty much suggesting exactly that. It also had some guff about the sense of social cohesion that was fostered by having Germans drop bombs on people. I can’t remember if it was written by Mongbat but it’s the sort of shite he comes up with.

  18. @ Andrew M
    The quickest way to cure the obesity crisis is to introduce collective farms like Stalin and Mengistu Haile Marian. It would also eliminate food banks.

  19. So Much For Subtlety

    Andrew M – “I don’t expect much sympathy for the Germans (especially on here), but it goes to show that the Allies weren’t nearly as highly-principled as other textbooks make out.”

    So the German economy was gutted, all the factories bombed, industry at a halt, a quarter of the country occupied by the Soviets, millions of young men dead or in the Gulag, the land stripped of labour and horses – and somehow every problem is entirely due to malice by the British occupation authorities?

    Can you please explain to me how that works? Are you alleging the West was deliberately starving the Germans? Stripping the country of food to send back to Hull? What? Why isn’t this exactly what you would expect if someone had fought over the smoking ruins of a formerly great nation?

  20. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in Costa Rica – “There was a rather wistful CiF piece in the Graun a while back pretty much suggesting exactly that.”

    Michael Foot once said that the best time in British history was 1940-41. You know, social solidarity, common purpose, pulling together, rationing etc etc.

    It shows what a frickin’ freak show his mind was.

  21. Andrew M

    Corbyn’s Tax policy requires a base rate of 90% and 99% top rate (and is still not enough) which would effectively introduce rationing and black market supplies (Also seen in post World War 2). He is also toying with making veganism compulsory which would also have a similar effect in his eyes…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *