Sunday, April 22, 2012

Very Brief Reflections On Western Imperialism

A great deal has been written about the evils of western imperialism. A progressive friend of mine has spoke on behalf of the theory that this imperialism is the the primary cause why Middle Eastern, African, Asian and (to a lesser extent) Latin Americans nations experienced stunted economic, political and social developments.

I disagree. History shows that:

1) When one nation or group is (economically, militarily and culturally) strong enough, it will dominate another.

2) Who dominates who is rarely a question of of morality, but rather one of relative strength and weakness. For example, at their zenith, the Arab-Islamic "victims" of 19th and 20th Century European Colonialism, seized Christian Syria, Egypt, Anatolia and went on to occupy Spain, Sicily and even Southern France. The Ottoman Turks then went on to seize European territory comprising: Greece, Bulgarian, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Romania, Hungary and even parts of Austria and the Ukraine.

3) Power is not fixed; it ebbs and flows. Only when, through their own efforts, European Civilization raised its level of technological, economic, political, social and military organization was it able to cast off the yoke of Arab-Islamic and then Ottoman-Islamic Domination.

3) This domination exists across a spectrum, at one end we see see Tamerlane's massacre of virtually the entire population of Baghdad, at the other hand we see the Roman and British Empires, in which initial pillaging was followed by the expansion of infrastructure (roads, ports, aqueducts and schools), rule of law and trade.

4) We could spend weeks pointing out all of the economic fallacies of the Dependency Theory, best described in the book Open Veins Of Latin America. This theory holds that the relative backwardness of Latin America and other regions, is first and foremost the fault of industrial imperial powers that have reduced them to impoverished producers of raw materials. A) The idea that Guatemala exports bananas, rather than automobiles and microchips because of "imperialism" is without basis. B) Rather the relative level of human capital, education, organization, corruption, economy of scale, etc. has ensured that if Guatemala were to produce an automobile or microchip, there is no way it could compete with other nations. C) Nations, such as Venezuela, that sought to foment domestic industry through limits to foreign trade, nationalizations and lavish domestic subsidies, have lowered the living standard of the majority of their people. D) When nations (such as South Korea) improve their competitiveness, by raising human capital, improving organization and cutting costs, they superseded their "colonial masters" and become wealthy exporters of industrial goods. E) Costs of commodities are determined largely by global, market forces. F) Given sufficient demand for a commodity (such as petroleum), "peripheral nations" that supply raw materials can prosper, i.e. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

5) No one ever increased their power or raised the living standards of their people by blaming others for their misfortune. I hope that this lessen is not lost of American Politicians who have begun to turn to victimization narratives, blaming China and other resurgent nations for our industrial decline.

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