I saw a trailer for a documentary about Malaysia on BBC World this morning. It showed how Malaysia had ’embraced technology’ and as a result grown its economy successfully. The BBC suggested that it could provide the model for other developing nations.
Living next door in The Philippines, you can certainly see that Malaysia has found a way to succeed that other countries like this one, would be happy to emulate if they could. But technology? Is that the critical factor? Technology is surely open to all societies, and flows like water between nations as businesses compete globally. No one country has a monopoly on technological development. It is the visible sign of success but is it the primary and underlying cause of growth as the BBC seems to suggest?
Talking about the Philippines, I have lost count of the number of Filipinos who have said they wished they had been colonised by the Brits and not the Spanish (and later the Americans). The Spanish bequeathed the Catholic religion here, ensuring an endless unstoppable growth in population (from 18 million in 1945 to 90 million today), and a culture of bribery and corruption which permeates Philippine society from the bottom right to the top.
Corruption, or the lack of it is surely one of the predominant factors in development.
The same thing is seen time and again across Africa, Pakistan and other ‘stans, and in fact most countries that seem incapable of successful economic development. They don’t suffer from lack of access to technology, but from the stultifying effect of corruption, at all levels in their economies. They don’t have proper law enforcement, and a legal and political system that everyone trusts and buys into.
The BBC might as an alternative have said that Malaysia was able to benefit from technology and get growth going because of the fact that they were colonised by Britain, and have thereby an established legal and political system. But I guess the BBC presenters would rather die than mention the British Empire in favourable terms. I have, on the other hand heard Malaysians say that it was being colonised by Britain that brought them into the modern world, and that it has proved a great advantage
In fact looking at the modern world, you might say that although the growth around the world is occurring at a time of American commerial preeminence, it is noticeable how nearly all the main world economies owe their current success to an original association with Britain. For a start, the USA enjoyed a legal, political and cultural inheritance which owed as much to Britain as any other country. The words of the US Declaration of Independence ‘All men are created equal’ and the ‘right to the pursuit of happiness’ are pure extracts from the work of John Locke, the English philosopher.
India would not have had the unity and stability to embark on her current rapid growth, and she would not have had the English language so easily and readily accessible, were it not for Britain.
Less thought about is the rate of growth of China. Were it not for Hong Kong, China would not have had access to world markets or seen the potential for a capitalist system. Both of the world’s new economic giants, India and China are today key beneficiaries and direct historical descendants of the British Empire.
Of all the world’s major economies, only Japan did not owe her growth to a close association with Britain.
The parts of the world where Britain either had no empire, South America, or where we were pushed into premature withdrawal by the US in the postwar period, Africa and the Middle East, are all struggling to get up to first base. If Britain had remained in Kenya and Rhodesia, for example, for another thirty years before cutting and running, the present day disasters in Africa might not be happening on the same scale. But the US had a post-war doctrine of ending what they called ‘colonial’ empires, and pushed Britain into rapid colonial retirement before many African and other countries were ready to build and maintain secure political systems which could withstand corruption.
For those who saw Britain at her strongest pre-2nd world war, it is especially sad to see how our country is now descending into a corrupt, overly bureaucratic political mess of its own, with a declining heavily indebted economy.
Britain built the world, it could fairly be said. But who will now save Britain?