Waylaid Dialectic

June 11, 2012


Filed under: Development Theory — terence @ 7:42 pm

An reasonably common suggestion amongst conservative types (including IIRC Niall Ferguson) is that developing countries are so poorly governed the best solution to their problems would be for first world powers to run them again. For a period of decades. Re-colonialism, in other words.

Having spent the last few weeks in a developing country city where it is really hard to get anything done that involves engaging with the formal mechanisms of governance I am sympathetic to this suggestion. I really am.

It is deeply flawed though.

In part for the prosaic reason that no developing country ruling elite would willingly submit to this. But also, more importantly, because the type of colonialism it calls for never existed. Non-exploitative colonialism is a conservative fantasy. Did not happen. And that is important. Not just for being honest about the historical record but also for evaluating whether re-colonisation could help improve people’s lives.

You can argue that this, the new colonialism, would be different from the old. And that it would be humanitarian. But that is unlikely. Unlikely for the same reason that aid is often skewed by developed country interests. The colonised would have no voice in the ultimate decisions made by the colonisers. On the other hand vested interests in the colonising countries would. As they always do. And it’s this imbalance, I think that would rather quickly render the new colonialism almost as exploitative as the old.

And that is why it wouldn’t work.

Update: for example

One of the interesting sidelights of the charter cities and seasteading debates is how they “out” the lack of any necessary connection between liberalism and democracy. As Mallaby puts it in the FT article about Romer: “In mild professorial language, [Romer] declares that poor countries should hand control of these new cities to foreign governments, which should appoint technocratic viceroys. The better to banish politics, there must be no city elections.”


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