How Colonialism Shaped Modern Inequality

By Daron Acemoglu, Professor of Applied Economics, MIT and James Robinson, Professor, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Originally published at VoxEU

Editor’s note: This column first appeared as a chapter in the Vox eBook, The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 1, available to download here.

The immense economic inequality we observe in the world today didn’t happen overnight, or even in the past century. It is the path-dependent outcome of a multitude of historical processes, one of the most important of which has been European colonialism. Retracing our steps 500 years, or back to the verge of this colonial project, we see little inequality and small differences between poor and rich countries (perhaps a factor of four). Now the differences are a factor of more than 40, if we compare the richest to the poorest countries in the world. What role did colonialism play in this?

In our research with Simon Johnson we have shown that colonialism has shaped modern inequality in several fundamental, but heterogeneous, ways. In Europe the discovery of the Americas and the emergence of a mass colonial project, first in the Americas, and then, subsequently, in Asia and Africa, potentially helped to spur institutional and economic development, thus setting in motion some of the prerequisites for what was to become the industrial revolution (Acemoglu et al. 2005). But the way this worked was conditional on institutional differences within Europe. In places like Britain, where an early struggle against the monarchy had given parliament and society the upper hand, the discovery of the Americas led to the further empowerment of mercantile and industrial groups, who were able to benefit from the new economic opportunities that the Americas, and soon Asia, presented and to push for improved political and economic institutions. The consequence was economic growth. In other places, such as Spain, where the initial political institutions and balance of power were different, the outcome was different. The monarchy dominated society, trade and economic opportunities, and in consequence, political institutions became weaker and the economy declined. As Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto,

“The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie.”

It did, but only in some circumstances. In others it led to a retardation of the bourgeoisie. In consequence colonialism drove economic development in some parts of Europe and retarded it in others.

Colonialism did not, however, merely impact the development of those societies that did the colonising. Most obviously, it also affected the societies that were colonised. In our research (Acemoglu et al. 2001, 2002) we showed that this, again, had heterogeneous effects. This is because colonialism ended up creating very distinct sorts of societies in different places. In particular, colonialism left very different institutional legacies in different parts of the world, with profoundly divergent consequences for economic development.

The reason for this is not that the various European powers transplanted different sorts of institutions – so that North America succeeded due to an inheritance of British institutions, while Latin America failed because of its Spanish institutions.

In fact, the evidence suggests that the intentions and strategies of distinct colonial powers were very similar (Acemoglu and Robinson 2012). The outcomes were very different because of variation in initial conditions in the colonies. For example, in Latin America, where there were dense populations of indigenous people, a colonial society could be created based on the exploitation of these people. In North America where no such populations existed, such a society was infeasible, even though the first British settlers tried to set it up. In response, early North American society went in a completely different direction: early colonising ventures, such as the Virginia Company, needed to attract Europeans and stop them running off into the open frontier and they needed to incentivise them to work and invest. The institutions that did this, such as political rights and access to land, were radically different even from the institutions in the colonising country. When British colonisers found Latin-American-like circumstances, for example in South Africa, Kenya or Zimbabwe, they were perfectly capable of and interested in setting up what we have called ‘extractive institutions’, based on the control of and the extraction of rents from indigenous peoples. In Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) we argue that extractive institutions, which strip the vast mass of the population of incentives or opportunities, are associated with poverty. It is also not a coincidence that such African societies are today as unequal as Latin American countries.

It wasn’t just the density of indigenous peoples that mattered for the type of society that formed. As we showed in Acemoglu et al. (2001), the disease environment facing potential European settlers was also important. Something that encouraged the colonisation of North America was the relatively benign disease environment that facilitated the strategy of creating institutions to guarantee European migration. Something that encouraged the creation of extractive institutions in West Africa was the fact that it was the ‘white man’s graveyard’, discouraging the creation of the type of ‘inclusive economic institutions’ which encouraged the settlement and development of North America. These inclusive institutions, in contrast to extractive institutions, did create incentives and opportunities for the vast mass of people.

Our focus on the disease environment as a source of variation in colonial societies was not because we considered this to be the only or even the main source of variation in the nature of such societies. It was for a particular scientific reason: we argued that the historical factors that influenced the disease environment for Europeans and therefore their propensity to migrate to a particular colony are not themselves a significant source of variation in economic development today. More technically, this meant that historical measures of European settler mortality could be used as an instrumental variable to estimate the causal effect of economic institutions on economic development (as measured by income per-capita). The main challenge to this approach is that factors which influenced European mortality historically may be persistent and can influence income today, perhaps via effects on health or contemporary life expectancy. There are several reasons why this is not likely to be true however. First, our measures of European mortality in the colonies are from 200 or so years ago, before the founding of modern medicine or the understanding of tropical diseases. Second, they are measures of mortality faced by Europeans with no immunity to tropical diseases, which is something very different from the mortality faced by indigenous people today, which is presumably what is relevant for current economic development in these countries. Just to check, we also showed that our results are robust to the controlling econometrically of various modern measures of health, such as malaria risk and life expectancy.

Thus, just as colonialism had heterogeneous effects on development within Europe, promoting it in places like Britain, but retarding it in Spain, so it also had very heterogeneous effects in the colonies. In some places, like North America, it created societies with far more inclusive institutions than in the colonising country itself and planted the seeds for the immense current prosperity of the region. In others, such as Latin America, Africa or South Asia, it created extractive institutions that led to very poor long-run development outcomes.

The fact that colonialism had positive effects on development in some contexts does not mean that it did not have devastating negative effects on indigenous populations and society. It did.

That colonialism in the early modern and modern periods had heterogeneous effects is made plausible by many other pieces of evidence. For example, Putnam (1994) proposed that it was the Norman conquest of the South of Italy that created the lack of ‘social capital’ in the region, the dearth of associational life that led to a society that lacked trust or the ability to cooperate. Yet the Normans also colonised England and that led to a society which gave birth to the industrial revolution. Thus Norman colonisation had heterogeneous effects too.

Colonialism mattered for development because it shaped the institutions of different societies. But many other things influenced these too, and, at least in the early modern and modern period, there were quite a few places that managed to avoid colonialism. These include China, Iran, Japan, Nepal and Thailand, amongst others, and there is a great deal of variation in development outcomes within these countries, not to mention the great variation within Europe itself. This raises the question of how important, quantitatively, European colonialism was, compared to other factors. Acemoglu et al. (2001) calculate that, according to their estimates, differences in economic institutions account for about two-thirds of the differences in income per-capita in the world. At the same time, Acemoglu et al. (2002) show that, on their own, historical settler mortality and indigenous population density in 1500 explain around 30% of the variation in economic institutions in the world today. If historical urbanisation in 1500, which can also explain variation in the nature of colonial societies, is added, this increases to over 50% of the variation. If this is right, then a third of income inequality in the world today can be explained by the varying impact of European colonialism on different societies. A big deal.

That colonialism shaped the historical institutions of colonies might be obviously plausible. For example, we know that, in Peru of the 1570s, the Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo set up a huge system of forced labour to mine the silver of Potosí. But this system, the Potosí mita, was abolished in the 1820s, when Peru and Bolivia became independent. To claim that such an institution, or, more broadly, the institutions created by colonial powers all over the world, influence development today, is to make a claim about how colonialism influenced the political economy of these societies in a way which led these institutions to either directly persist, or to leave a path dependent legacy. The coerced labour of indigenous peoples lasted directly up until at least the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, when the system known as pongueaje was abolished. More generally, Acemoglu and Robinson (2012, Chapters 11 and 12) and Dell (2010) discuss many mechanisms via which this could have taken place.

Finally, it is worth observing that our empirical findings have important implications for alterative theories of comparative development. Some argue that geographical differences are dominant in explaining long-run patterns of development. In contradistinction, we showed that once the role of institutions is accounted for, geographical factors are not correlated with development outcomes. The fact that, for instance, there is a correlation between latitude and geography, is not indicative of a causal relationship. It is simply driven by the fact that European colonialism created a pattern of institutions that is correlated with latitude. Once this is controlled for, geographical variables play no causal role. Others argue that cultural differences are paramount in driving development. We found no role at all for cultural differences measured in several ways. First, the religious composition of different populations. Second, as we have emphasised, the identity of the colonial power. Third, the fraction of the population of a country of European descent. It is true, of course, that the United States and Canada filled up with Europeans, but in our argument this was an outcome of the fact that they had good institutions. It is not the numerical dominance of people of European descent today that drives development.

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  1. Jeff

    Not that I want to defend colonialism, but growing inequality both in Europe and in the ex-colonies makes it hard to argue that ‘colonialism’ is a driving force.

    1. John

      I think colonialism could be a driving force without necessarily being the sole driving force. Yes, inequality is on the rise in the first world as well, but as of a few years ago the highest Gini bracket in Europe was still the lowest in Central and South America. So there’s a difference in scale.

    2. Olga

      The above comment makes little sense… (one of the considerations is the time period)
      On the other hand, one of the most illuminating comments I ever heard was one from Stephen Walt (Harvard), who said that today, the 500-year West-European colonization project (which includes the US) was coming to an end and China would be re-taking its previous, pre-eminent position in the world (i.e., one it had before 1492) (mainly, economically). Makes much more sense to me…

  2. James McFadden

    Capitalism, especially neoliberal financial capitalism, is unstable on its own and rapidly produces gross inequality independent of the starting point — just like the game of monopoly. Colonialism, a particular type of theft capitalism, may have created earlier states of inequality, but today’s inequality would exist independent of this earlier state. The root cause is compounding growth/profits/ interest as Michael Hudson has explained.

    1. Persona au gratin

      Colonialism, a particular type of theft capitalism

      Colonialism might be more accurately described as a combination of “ghost acreage” (stolen, and “out of sight, out mind” land) and “energy slavery” (stolen, and “out of sight, out mind” labor), The root cause of all our current ills is built on but is MUCH deeper than mere “compounding growth/profits/ interest” though, no matter who explained it. The root cause is human greed and lust for domination in all it’s guises, almost always wrapped up these days in Darwinian “survival of the fittest justifications.” Money’s just a marker and methods of manipulating money are just a means.

      1. tony

        It’s probably better to just place it under “animal territoriality”. Even bacteria fight wars for territory. Humans are an exception that can sometimes build peace.

    2. Moneta

      I find interesting how those in the developed world refuse to accept how colonialism has shaped global inequities. I guess it’s because the 99% would have to accept that most of the 1% ers redistributed loot would go to emerging markets and not them.

      Colonialism is based on a nation consuming more than a nation produces. Energy and resources in particular. Today’s capitalism is based on this.

    3. Clearpoint

      Agree. Banking and business monopolies created under neoliberal capitalism are pure evil. These monopolies are built to extract wealth from the many, and consolidate it into the hands of the psychopathic few. And that’s exactly what they do. Under colonial rule, these monopolies were unleashed upon the indigenous people, who did not have the ability to resist. North America avoided this fate only because there was no sizable indigenous society to conquer and exploit. So in order to extract the abundant natural resources, they had to sell America to European settlers. The more permissive political systems that developed in America were solely the result of it being a buyer’s market. The American Indian was more or less left to be, as long as they were not troublesome. Conquest came later, as the Europeans expanded to fill the continent, and the Indians now stood in the way of “manifest destiny.” Those who could be exploited survived, and those who couldn’t were annihilated. With the arrival of mass production, globalism and access to other people who could be more profitably exploited, this formula started playing out again on the poor in our inner cities. Advanced manufacturing, transportation, and communication technologies have now brought the neoliberal formula upward to our formerly strong, but now quickly eroding, middle class. This economic inevitability was known and planned for by the neoliberal elites at least since WW II. I would even argue that this inevitability was foreseeable by the brightest of our elites (Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison) at the founding of our country.

      1. James McFadden

        You might want to read “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the U.S.” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. North America actually had a pretty sizeable native population — they just could not be enslaved – they would run away. So the U.S. government placed bounties on their scalps – basically paid settlers to kill them – to get them out of the way. And when the settlers outnumbered the natives in an area, the army moved in, subdivided the land, and sold it to investors to fund the government. The investors then resold the land to new settlers making a profit, with banks as intermediaries to extract more rentier interest from the settlers. This worked to fund a major portion of the government till they ran out of land to steal. At that point they instituted the income tax to fund the government and to assure government bond holders would be paid.

    4. susan the other

      Yes JM, this is just what I was thinking because the article is vacuous about inequality. It’s like it doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe its genesis. Try this: money is the great vacuum. Whoever controls it colonizes the rest of us. Usually at the marketplace, the point of contact, the harbor. I was thinking about mercantilism – that it sucked all the value out of places it traded with (via a medium of exchange, aka money) and deposited it in the banks of the empire – and I really think this is ongoing, and the cause of our inequality today. Wow. Talk about a magic trick.

      1. Moneta

        The ones who control the money supply control resources… colonialism is about controlling resources.

  3. The Trumpening

    One can expand this study by overlaying other types of colonialism. For example Spain suffered more than 700 years of Arab colonialism and succeeded in throwing off the Arab yoke just as they started their own colonial project in the Americas. How much of the failure of the institutions the Spanish left in the Americas is the result of faulty institutions the Arabs brought to Spain?

    And how does one study areas the were first colonized by Arabs (North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, India, etc.) Are the problems in Algeria today more the result of Arab colonialism or French colonialism?

    And how many of the problems today in Russia are a result of Mongol colonialism — and for that matter the same question could be asked about the Middle East? That area has suffered so many layers of colonialism (Arab, Mongol, Ottoman, European) that it would take a sort of archaeologist to figure out which problems are a result of which colonialism.

    1. Hemang

      There were no Arabs in India. Persians and Mongols, yes. Hindu India was the coloniser in the East all the way to Indonesia. Also, both China and Japan have been colonized by Hindu/ Buddhist Institutions whose legacy can be seen even now.

      1. The Trumpening

        You are correct, for India it was more a series of Muslim raids, conquests, and colonial empires and not Arab colonialism per se.

    2. Foppe

      Euhm, this isn’t personal, but imagine your response if someone took that para of yours and changed Spain to US, Arab Colonialism with Scots/Irish Colonialism, and cheered on their eradication and marginalization at the hands of, say, a realpolitik/nationalist politician, who justifies said actions by talking about how he’s “liberating” Appalachia. Problematic, no?

      Arabs had been living in Spain for centuries under thug rule before a bunch of “christian” thugs thought up the idea to “justify” a handily-marketed “re”conquest of areas that had never really belonged to them, and which did not contain “relatives”, while the Christianity of the people displaced by the arabs was pretty much equally novel — at best 200yo. Not really sure it’s apt to compare that to the western colonization/eradication efforts that started with the expansion of Spain to the south, then west.

      1. Foppe

        (Note that while I wrote ‘displaced’, apart from the rulers, there was very little displacement, mostly merging.)

      2. The Trumpening

        Actually I think a better counter example would be South Africa. After 350 years of European settlement / rule if a African nationalist party rose and threw off the yoke of European oppression I would be quite OK with that. And although it didn’t happen (or is happening in slow motion) I would not have a problem if the Africans wanted to do their own reconquista and boot the Europeans out. That’s what the Algerians did to the European pieds noirs who has lived in Algeria for several generations and no one complains about it.

        I think it is problematic to attempt to make moral calculations about the colonizers or the people attempting to escape colonization. Booting out colonizers almost always takes a good measure of thuggery — as does attempting to hold on to a colony. During the anti-colonization struggles in the post WW2 era, the colonizing power often pointed out how uncivilized and thuggish the anti-colonial forces were.

        After booting the Arabs out, the Spanish were unable to operate the irrigation system and much land was lost to desertification. This reminds me of stories I hear from The Congo where after independence the native people were unable to maintain the roads and railway lines. It shows some aspects of the universality of the colonized condition and the fact that often after ejecting the colonizers that standard of living falls at least for a while. This is because almost inevitably the colonizing society is more technologically advanced than the society being colonized.

  4. JohnnyGL

    Good post. However, geography does matter, too.

    It’s worth pointing out that in the USA, extractive institutions WERE created in places where tobacco and cotton can be grown. However, the yields aren’t great once you get north of Maryland (for tobacco) and I think even further south for cotton. The northeast of the USA didn’t really have much that they could export to Britain, profitably.

    It’s clear that development is driven by good quality institutions, but the real question is whether geography determined the nature of colonial era institutions that took root.

    But that’s not to dispute the argument that colonial institutions created a kind of path dependency that left a lasting legacy that still overshadows present conditions.

    1. jsn

      And the US has been dealing with a Manichean struggle between these two institutional inheritances ever since. One civil war over it, so far.

  5. Hemang

    I always suspected Social Sciences, especially Economics of being a mumbo jumbo. This article strengthens my belief in that direction. It was not “institutions” but guns and gun powder that created the European colonial empires( though failing in China ). The genocide of native American peoples coupled with slave African labour accelerated economic development and not institutions. The same was the case with India.The article is very high on the unreadability index; mumbo jumbo at least requires a minimum measure of style that the authors lack in the English language.Savagery of Christianity in face of more sophisticated and refined ways of life like those of the Hindus in India is another factor that created inequality and not “institutions” which Indian Hindu States had in enough supplies as even a cursory glance at the history of colonialism in those parts will reveal. And now China has really developed and it is time all European Parliaments must declare their activities on other shores as Genocidal and apologise and pay compensations to those countries where they did their Projects!

      1. Hemang

        Thanks and in your honour and as a further comment on the non-article and the subsequent ‘discussion’, :-

        ” I and the public know
        what all school children learn
        . Those to whom evil is done
        Do evil in return”.

        W.H. Auden

  6. Waldenpond

    This did not make clear to me what colonialism is. A elite group from one society or region moves into another region to exploit people and resources. Tactics are to weaken defenses (war, destroy food supplies) and get buy in from selected groups, yet maintain the majority of the gains for themselves.

    I can’t think of societies that haven’t had some type of political system nor inequality among individuals and groups so is colonialism referring to inequality between nations (excluding regions) with an specific form of governing (official elections) and distance? I’m thinking of a checkerboard…. if the elite from one region move into a neighboring region, install themselves as the ruling class and institute slavery that is not colonialism. If the elite from one region skip a couple of squares, install themselves as the ruling class and institute slavery, that is colonialism.

    1. Persona au gratin

      There’s a distinct cultural component though, is there not? Colonialism, to my mind, has always been mostly about wiping out an existing culture first and foremost, and then of course reaping enormous profits after the fact as the “just desserts.” Profits are certainly nice, but lasting cultural empires are the “piece de resistance!”

  7. Disturbed Voter

    Exploitation is universal, because of greed and fear. If you can exploit, you most often do. When exploitation isn’t about individuals, or companies … but about peoples and nations, that is colonialism. The West is suffering from internal colonialism now as well, as Marx predicted.

    1. Synoia

      Study the Romans, read about Augustus Cesar, reach and understanding Plebs and Patricians. The west “is suffering” from the same rule it modeled itself upon.

      1. animalogic

        Interesting point, however, it requires a lot more fleshing out, even as an “observation”.
        The “struggle of the orders” (between Pleb’s & Patricians) lasting 200 or so years is, in many ways, a successful struggle for equality. Yes, the benefits of that struggle went largely to the Plebeian aristocracy, however all classes made some gains.
        Not exactly sure about the reference to Augustus & today. Is the point that we are “suffering” a return to
        Caesarism ? (ie break down of democracy, advent of populist “the leader” such as Trump ?)

  8. Synoia

    Their lack of understanding Anglo Saxon and Roman History is breathtaking.

    I suggest they study the Roman Empire for the roots of inequality.

    The British, and Europe (English and Norman) modeled themselves on the Roman Empire.

    1. Watt4Bob

      Feature, not a bug.

      See my comment below.

      The British, and Europe (English and Norman) modeled themselves on the Roman Empire.

      As did the Mafia.

    2. PKMKII

      Intentional, purposeful modeling, some later on, but in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire, more like the systems persisted in the conquered lands long after the empire that installed them dissolved. When you’ve been living under a system for centuries, it doesn’t go away just because the occasional legion and Roman bureaucrat stops showing up.

  9. DJG

    If this is a foretaste of the rest of the book, it is thin gruel, suffering from the usual Anglo-American myopia. You want to talk about colonialism without talking about the Portuguese and how they differed? Discussion of North and South America with no mention of Brazil?

    I am reminded again that in my advertisements and in many parts of the U S of A, “bilingual” = speaking U.S. English + New World Spanish.

    No wonder we are where we are, Gini-quotient-wise.

  10. markódochartaigh

    “such as the Virginia Company, needed to attract Europeans and stop them running off into the open frontier”

    “As a part of the early history of Virginia, Jefferson once made reference to “The wild Irish who had gotten possession of the valley between the Blueridge and Northmountain,”

  11. Ulysses

    It is difficult for me to detect any coherent argument in this very poorly informed piece.

    “Colonialism mattered for development because it shaped the institutions of different societies. But many other things influenced these too, and, at least in the early modern and modern period, there were quite a few places that managed to avoid colonialism. These include China, Iran, Japan, Nepal and Thailand, amongst others.”

    How does this make any sense at all? Have the authors even heard of the Opium Wars, or Hong Kong? If so, how are they defining “colonialism?”

    The vast slave labor plantations of the antebellum South reflect how the Virginia Company “incentivized” people “to work and invest… through “institutions” … “such as political rights and access to land.”??!!??

    The authors appear to believe that the Norman conquest of 1066 is a “colonizing” event similar to that of the Belgian colonization of the Congo, yet the British rule over Hong Kong isn’t “colonialism” at all. Any undergraduate student who proposed such nonsense– in a Western Civ. class– would certainly fail the course!

    1. craazyman

      There should be a “sleeping pill alert” next to this post. Whoa!

      I think the Aztecs colonized their neighbors too, or just killed them outright. So did the Iroquois. Lots of them did.

      The poor Brits were beaten up by the Romans but they learned how to build sports stadiums, theaters and roads. Maybe Wimbledon wouldn’t have existed without the Roman occupation! Forget soccer. Even Shakespeare, can you imagine! If he didn’t know Roman drama where would that 5-act structure have come from? Nada. It wouldn’t have. You wouldn’t have had the King James Bible either probably. What would you use then as a paper weight? The Torah! Nada.

      This gets complicated.

  12. Watt4Bob

    History is written by the victors

    Why do we continue to wade about in this trumped-up confusion as concerns a clear understanding of the operations of the European colonial outbreak, and especially Settler Colonialism?

    Wherever possible, and by that I mean wherever there was arable land available, the colonial powers, in particular, Britain, either enticed, or forced a settler population to supplant the indigenous people, and if necessary, kill them.

    The history is confusing only because our masters wish us to remain ignorant of its true nature, and its ramifications concerning modern political reality.

    The Brits colonized Ireland and imposed ‘order’ by injecting a settler population.

    They colonized South Africa and imposed ‘order’ by injecting a settler population.

    They colonized North America and imposed ‘order’ by injecting a settler population.

    They colonized Palastine imposed ‘order’ by injecting a settler population, which continues to this day.

    The truth about all this was, and is actively suppressed, and obfuscated by the very people who pretend to study, analyze, and explain history, both in academia, and media.

    Please excuse me if I point out my uncomfortable suspicion that articles like this are intended to further cloud our collective ability to understand the deep history of how and why we are ‘managed’ for profit.

    For instance, does it make our current treatment at the hands of America’s elite more understandable if we consider the fact that maybe we’ve served our ‘purpose’ and are no longer needed, or appreciated except as a source of end-game extraction?

      1. animalogic

        Reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when Marlow foreshadows the brutal Belgian “colonisation” of the Congo with the Roman conquest of Britain by saying ” It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale”.

    1. Synoia

      Britain, either enticed, or forced a settler population to supplant the indigenous people, and if necessary,

      Not in Africa. They became masters, but did not, supplant the locals. If you know of one case, post a link.

      The Brits did not pioneer colonization in South Africa. Dingan (Zulu) did the good work of depopulating the highvelt, and in 1820ish the Dutch (Afrikaaners) filled the Vacuum.

      Rhodes, who both caused a war and moved over the Limpopo was ordered to stop his activities.

      They colonized Palastine imposed ‘order’ by injecting a settler population, which continues to this day.

      Not so much – post WW II the US was driving that bus. The Arabs and Jews both lived there under the Ottomans. Look in the mirror to determine who is responsible for Israel today.

      1. Watt4Bob

        How about the Glen Grey Act 1894

        Or maybe the Native Reserve Locations Act 40 1902

        Or maybe the Natal Native Locations Act 1904

        Or maybe the Native Land Act no 27 of 1913

        Or maybe the Native Urban Areas Act no 21 of 1923

        I could go on until 1960 when South Africa became a sovereign state, but I think proved my assertion that the Brits pushed Black South Africans off their lands.

        I might add that I’ve never received so much as one word of thanks for any of my past answers to your challenges, and there have been a few.

        Just saying

        1. Synoia

          All those acts were mostly ignored, especially in Natal.

          South Africa did not exist in 1894, the Union might have in 1902.

          The Afrikaans were somewhat effective in their land use, but the so called “white areas” were full of Black Living there.

          We would better discuss socio-economic class. What you ignore is that the Blacks in the areas you mention were removed by Dingan, and were not dispossessed.

          Their land ownership was prevented.

      2. Watt4Bob

        Not so much – post WW II the US was driving that bus. The Arabs and Jews both lived there under the Ottomans. Look in the mirror to determine who is responsible for Israel today.


        Sykes–Picot Agreement


        The Balfour Declaration


        British Mandate for Palestine


        The Arab Revolt in Palestine 1936-39

        I’m not going to spoon feed you this information, but assuming you’re interested in the truth about roots of, and the motivations for Britain’s assistance to Zionist settlers in the early 20th century, before and during WWI, and up until they left in 1946, these clues will be quite helpful.

        As far as who is responsible today, while the villains may have swapped places, both the motivation, and the effect remains the same.

        1. Synoia

          The Balfour declaration did not specify a location for the Jewish Homeland.

          Sykes-Picot was a division of the Ottoman Empire. Any division of the Ottoman Empire would have separated people from one another. One set of lines is as good or bad as another.

          The British Mandate for Palestine deprived whom of what land?

          What’s your point? Malice? in which case post a link, or expediency of the times?

          1. Watt4Bob

            Your blatant dishonesty is nothing short of stunning.

            The Balfour declaration did not specify a location for the Jewish Homeland.

            The text of the Balfour Declaration;

            His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

            And this;

            One set of lines is as good or bad as another.

            One set of ‘lines’ drawn in secret by foreign powers with complete disregard as to the wishes of the indigenous inhabitants?

            Your callous disregard for the rights of the colonized is astounding.

            The British Mandate for Palestine deprived whom of what land?

            The Brits with the aid of a variety of Jewish police organizations put down the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, which even David Ben Gurion admitted was a reaction to mass Jewish immigration, and Britain’s support for Zionism.

            British imposition of onerous taxes on agricultural land is one of the hallmarks of Settler Colonialism.

            Following WWI, impoverished Palestinian tenant farmers, fellahin, were gradually pushed off the land by a combination of high taxes imposed on agricultural goods by the Mandate government, poor market conditions and ever increasing rents.

            These conditions lead to a substantial wave of land transfers to Jewish immigrants and eviction of poor fellahin.

            My point is that the British have hundreds of years of experience at, and we, the evidence of, ruthless control, and exploitation of foreign lands through divide and conquer tactics.

            If there are existing tribal or ethnic divisions that they can leverage to this end, they do that, absent an indigenous rift to work to its advantage, they import some settlers to make the plan work.

            The intent is that the British Empire, and the subsequent Anglo-American empire might never loose a toe-hold in the region, and control of its natural resources, oil.

        2. Synoia

          both the motivation, and the effect

          What motivation? Depriving the locals of the right to own land? I don’t see any of those three with that intention.

          The South African Cases – ineffective and limited.

      3. Gerard Pierce

        “Britain, either enticed, or forced a settler population…”

        The above seem to me to be a really ignorant description of what actually occurred.

        Due to primogeniture, the British had a large number of second thru fourth sons who had no inheritance and no way of making a living.

        Becoming commoners was not acceptable even if it was a realistic description of their situation.

        The military and the church were able to absorb a number of these unnecessary aristocrats but family connections were important in determining who got a job.

        It was probably only partly planned, but the colonies were an important way of getting rid of the surplus aristocrats and aristocratic by-blows. At one point the Church has to pass a ruling that only the legitimate could become part of the clergy. No bastards allowed.

        Most of the “settler” population spent their lives exploiting the colonies, living like aristocrats and finally returning to England to retire with their accumulated gains.

        1. Watt4Bob

          So, as far as you’re concerned the driving force behind British Colonial expansion is to give jobs to otherwise worthless British aristocrats?

          I suppose the hundreds of thousands of poor Brits encouraged to emigrate, or the over 150,000 poor Indians ‘imported’ were intended to serve those surplus rich kids?

          That’s an interesting perspective, ignorant as you say, but interesting.

    2. Harry Cording

      You forgot one, Watt4Bob.
      They re-colonized the USA and imposed order by creating a settler population of Corporate Persons.
      This is Harry Cording, contemporay Injun.

  13. David

    At least based on the above, no mention of the Ottoman Empire either, which had (and has) enormous influence on the development of much of the Middle East and the Balkans (and of course the Ottoman Empire is not the same as the Arab conquests). I seriously question, in fact whether “colonialism” is actually a useful concept here or whether it’s just too vague to tell us anything.

    1. Synoia

      The Ottoman empire was a follow on to the eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), which was a division of the Roman Empire.

      Was not a separate entity — it grew out of Byzantium. Those Civil Servant become Muslim through conversion by the sword.

      “Honey, I’m home, and I kept my job!”
      “Great, how do you do that?”
      “We became Muslim, same god, different services on Saturday not Sundays.”

      1. David

        Well, a “follow on” in the sense that it destroyed the Byzantine Empire and took its capital over. But the dynasty appears to have originated from Anatolia in what’s now Turkey. You’re right about conversion though, it was often for professional reasons. Lots of Serbs converted to Islam to get government jobs under the Ottomans. Lucky it had no long-term consequences ….

      2. Dave

        “HUN, “I’m home and I kept my job”
        “Great, how’d you do that without getting your head cut off?”
        “We became Jewish,
        We avoided both Sunday services and that unidirectional praying toward Mecca.”

  14. DE Teodoru

    It seems to me that colonialism for England served as agricultural and raw materials exchanged for manufactured goods. Colonial wealth was thus developed via plantation or transportation. As more English slave labor was sent to the colonies, they exchanged with Britain mineral and agricultural goods and manufactured goods, always to the benefit of the homeland. The rest of the colonial powers exchanged more agricultural for agricultural and that made the colonies less profitable. Also, making the natives and foreign “colons” French citizens, France gained little from its industrial for agricultural exchange and faced the most military competition as well as local resistance. In the end, markets were much more profitable than colonies and war between the neo-industrialists caused neglect of the colonies. The main point is that slavery proved not to be economically viable for the homelands as they went to war with eachother for homeland wealth. Worst of all, the cultural and technological advances of the homelands bled into the former colonies as native technocrats trained abroad and returned home to promote independence, industrialization using their own domestic– now “liberated”– peoples supported indigenous start-ups at wages so low that the old colonial powers became incapable of competing. This is why our FOR PROFIT globalism cannot work. As people become more superfluous in the face of industrial robot mass production, the mass consumer base shrinks and recession follows recession as the economy becomes a “futures” crap shoot DECOUPLED from real wealth. So where are we now that man’s value to wealth is so diminished? We are all placing bets on global stock markets for monitory profits that are totally imaginary. The lesson is clear: ECONOMICS is a non-scientific dead-end as was COLONIALISM!!!

  15. F. Korning

    Practically plagiarised verbatim from Jared Diamond, Neil Fergusson, among others..
    I love how they reference… themselves.

    1. Ulysses

      “Practically plagiarised verbatim from Jared Diamond, Neil Fergusson, among others..”

      Yes, but without demonstrating that they have learned anything useful from those authors!

  16. steelhead23

    Perhaps this is taking my distaste for financiers too far, but I believe that global finance itself is a colonial power today and a strong force for economic inequality. From Shock Doctrine to Confessions of an Economic Hit Man we have seen how finance manipulates governments/institutions, increasing resource flows to financial institutions and those that do their bidding, and away from labor. Only when the financial institutions of subjugation (aka private, for-profit banks) are eliminated is there any hope for equality and the return of the fruits of labor to the laborers.

    1. Synoia

      What? You believe the rich exploiting the poor is new?

      Do you know why usury is considered a sin?

      Or why the pound of flesh was so appropriate in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice?

      1. steelhead23

        No, the exploitation of labor dates to antiquity. We today rail against those ancient excesses, and have even adopted holidays to celebrate our ancestor’s escape (e.g. Passover). On the other hand, our culture avers that capitalism (built on usury) “does God’s work,” and has created massive institutions to promote it. It is the masked malevolence of these institutions I decry. Capitalism kills.

  17. Disturbed Voter

    The Neo-Babylonians had corporate fascism too … royal bureaucracy in bed with temple bureaucracy … not unlike Mussolini’s Italy. It was a debt based economy too, with lots of government employment and warfare. And yes, the debt carried interest, because you didn’t want ordinary people escaping from debt peonage. They had a silver based economy, but there was no coinage … the amounts were “notional” and not frequently converted into hard money. Fiat money without the paper, because they had to use clay. A cuneiform technocracy making the balance sheet possible. In the Bible, the Babylonians are eventually compelled to see “the writing on the wall”.

  18. juliania

    ” Something that encouraged the colonisation of North America was the relatively benign disease environment that facilitated the strategy of creating institutions to guarantee European migration. ”

    That ‘benign disease environment” was well delineated by Charles C. Mann in his book “1491”. It had been benign in the North American continent until after the Europeans arrived, with thriving indigenous communities across the country – the Europeans brought diseases with them that they themselves had built up resistance to – not so fortunate the natives. At least, that is the claim of the book, and certainly those thriving communities did disappear almost imediately after first contact was made.

    1. Mark P.

      Mann’s claim is entirely correct and verified by reams of studies.

      “the Europeans brought diseases with them that they themselves had built up resistance to – not so fortunate the natives.”

      It’s a little more complicated than that. The Europeans (Spanish) also brought African-originated pathogens, both in their livestock (pigs and chickens, principally) and also in the body of at least one African slave/seaman, and to some of these they were quite vulnerable themselves though in no ways as vulnerable as the indigenous American population.

      “…certainly those thriving communities did disappear almost immediately after first contact was made.”

      Actually, in many cases those communities disappeared before first contact because fleeing indigenous survivors (survivors for a while, anyway) of communities wiped out by the pathogens the Europeans brought went inland ahead of and before the Europeans, and in quite a few cases carried those pathogens with them and infected the communities they fled to. Thus, in many cases by the time the Europeans penetrated further inland, they’d find those inland communities already gone or in tenuous state.

      1. Anon

        Yes, the settlers, and later the Cavalry, where matched up against a native population (estimated to be 10-20 million) that was reduced radically (some estimate 70%) before the the Battle of Bighorn began.

        As I’ve mentioned before, it was small pox not small bullets that changed the native american landcsape.

  19. Persona au gratin

    Whatever else can be said about this post, I very much enjoyed the discussion here today! This is what makes this site such a joy to read everyday.

    1. Hemang

      Yes! But Yves, if you keep posting such shallow, graceless and low- quality posts then , with all due respect developed for you over months, count on my discontinuing to visit this site.

      1. Barry Fay

        What a silly threat. Where, exactly, are ya gonna go? And why, pray tell, would your abandonment be such a loss to Yves or the rest of us? Persona au gratin´s post required no response and stands even more true after your unneeded threat.

  20. Dave

    Imagine what ‘Mexico and Central America’ would look like and be if the U.S.A. extended to the Isthmus of Panama?

    Imagine California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas today if there were still part of Mexico?

    What if the entire West Coast to the Mexican border at what is today Point Reyes, California, were Russian Territory?

  21. Guglielmo Tell

    Defending colonialism is defending genocide. In 1945 the French – right after liberation in Europe – massacred 17,000 people in Algeria – and that just to mention one single little example. Colonialism created institutions that helped to enrich colonial Empires at expenses of impoverishing the “peripheries”. Nothing has changed, the REAL independence of the Third World has been frustrated. “Underdevelopment” is not the first stage towards “development” of any kind, it’s a dead end and a lock up which the “peripheries” are maintained in still. Western “freedom of choice” to the world outside: “you die starved or you die bombed”. And don’t think it’s “propaganda”.

  22. Sound of the Suburbs

    Colonialism never ended it’s just not advertised.

    US hegemony, it’s still here but takes different forms around the world.

    These days debt and puppet leaders are the instruments of power to extract natural resources on the cheap.

    Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” goes into the most recent ransacking of the world, where public companies around the world are now in US private hands (and other favoured imperialists).

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