Friday, March 6, 2009

Noam Chomsky on British Empire

American Amnesia: I’m interested in your response to those like Niall Ferguson – who write about the values of imperialism, such as increased education levels, GDP, etc.

Noam Chomsky: Niall Ferguson doesn’t bother telling you that in the 18th century, India was one of the commercial and industrial centers of the world. England was a kind of a backwater – it had much greater force, but not commercial or industrial advantages. It was able to forcefully impose on India what was now called the neo-liberal program of free-market, tariffs, etc. etc. Meanwhile England itself, which was a powerful state, raised high protectionist barriers to protect itself from superior Indian goods...textiles, ships, and others. There was massive state intervention in the economy, the United States later did the same thing – stole Indian technology. Over the next 200 years, that tyranny led to an impoverished, agricultural country, while England became a rich, industrial society. The mortality rate in India after 200 years of British rule was about the same as when they took over. There were railroads, but they were run from the outside – they were there for extraction of resources. Meanwhile, tens, if not hundreds of millions of people died in famines - the famines were horrendous. So that’s the history of the British in India. After India won its independence, it began a path of development, picked up again where it was two centuries ago. It’s true that while under the imperial system, some of the better features of Western society leaked through, but India had a rich literature and culture long before England came in. Basically it was a murderous, destructive, several centuries of history, which India then got out of. Then it began to develop where there were no more famines, and the infant mortality rate began to improve enormously. There are still a lot of problems, many traceable back to the English days. That’s the history of English imperialism.

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