Archive for October, 2011

Legacy of the British Empire

October 29, 2011

Legacy of the British Empire and globalization today

In order to assess the impact today of the British Empire (BE), it is necessary first to describe its extent and second to look for its legacies. This turns out to be a bit like describing an elephant by looking through a spyhole in a wall. What you see depends on where you sit and what part you see. Once there is some accounting of its legacy, we can attempt to link it to today’s globalization.

Where was the empire?

A territorial legacy consists of the fourteen territories which make up remnants of the Empire, mainly a collection of islands, rocks and a base in Cyprus. The fourteen are “Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. Claims in Antarctica, including that of Britain, are not recognised by all nations. Collectively these territories encompass an approximate land area of 667,018 square miles and a population of approximately 260,000 people (Wikipedia).”

Today, the Queen is monarch of the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Belize and eleven islands in the South Pacific and the Caribbean. There exists an intergovernmental organisation, The Commonwealth, formerly The British Commonwealth, made up of 54 independent member states, all but two of which, Madagascar and Rwanda, were formerly part of the BE. The Commonwealth Games is the organization’s most visible activity. These 54 subscribe to a framework of common values and goals including democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace. South Africa was banished from the Commonwealth in 1961 because of its apartheid policies; it rejoined in 1994. Fiji was also banished in and has yet to be readmitted.

The legacy also includes Britain’s invisible empire where it had from time to time considerable influence such as n Brazil … “The networks of investment and trade that centered on London spanned the globe, and in places like Beijing, Constantinople, Tehran, and Bangkok, the voice of the British ambassador and the business leadership of the British community was heard very clearly (Mead,124)”.

Iraq, Palestine (Transjordan and Israel) and Egypt are also places where for a time the British had influence over the country’s politics and administration. Parts of the world which Britain did not attempt to colonise, although it fought wars there, were mainland Europe, Russia and large parts of Asia and South America except for Guyana (British Guyana). Those regions of the world not coloured red can be as revealing as those which are.

Geographically the BE differed from most other major empires in that it was spread around the world, while others were consolidated or contiguous such as the: Roman Empire 27BC – 477AD, Mongol Empire 1206 – 1368, Ottoman Empire 1294 – 1923, Mughal Empire 1526 – 1858, Russian Empire 1721 – 1917, and Quing Dynasty 1890 – 1912. The spread of the BE also points to the importance of shipping and naval supremacy which England enjoyed for several hundred years relative to the Spanish, French and Dutch navies. Naval supremacy is now held by the US which has the only blue water fleet operating around the world.

Other empires tended to be empires of control while the BE was an empire of settlement as in North America (the original 13 colonies and Canada), Australia and New Zealand, and mainly of control as in India and other parts of the world. South Africa represented a mix of settlement and control. The skills required for managing settlement differed from those concerning control. A common aspect of both was the undertaking and administration of commerce. Thus we would expect the legacies to include language and administrative procedures and laws for governing and commerce. These are reflected in the first three items listed by Niall Ferguson as areas of legacy: “The English language, English forms of land tenure, Scottish and English banking, Protestantism, Team sports, The limited or ‘night watchman’ state, Representative assemblies, The idea of liberty.” To these could be added democracy and human rights. I use this list as a rough guide to discussing the imperial legacy.

English language

According to the British Council, “English has official or special status in at least seventy-five countries with a total population of over two billion, (about 30% of world population). English is spoken as a native language by around 375 million and as a second language by around 375 million speakers in the world. Speakers of English as a second language will soon outnumber those who speak it as a first language. Around 750 million people are believed to speak English as a foreign language. One out of four of the world’s population speaks English to some level of competence. Demand from the other three-quarters is increasing.”

What people use English for?

The British Council states, “English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, diplomacy, sport, international competitions, pop music and advertising.
Over two-thirds of the world’s scientists read in English. Three quarters of the world’s mail is written in English. Eighty per cent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. Of the estimated forty million users of the Internet, some eighty per cent communicate in English, but this is expected to decrease to forty per cent as speakers of other languages get online.”

One benefit of the internet is that it allows groups of people, such as speakers of minority languages, to create communities worldwide and speak to each other. To some extent, this will decrease the importance of major language groups, but when minority languages wish to interact with each other, English will remain the preferred language.


Soccer, rugby, and cricket are team sports which spread from the UK, as did the individual sports of tennis, squash and golf. In return polo originated in Asia and was transmitted to the UK. In 1868, an aborigine cricket team toured England. In 1877, an English team visited Australia and was beaten in the first recorded international test match at Melbourne. And in 1882, an Australian team beat England in London giving rise to an obituary notice for the cremation of English cricket and for the “Ashes” to be taken to Australia. Since then test match competition between the two countries is played for the “Ashes”.

Today, there is a world competition for soccer, the World Cup, involving countries from all continents, an international cricket competition with mainly ex-empire countries, and a world rugby competition with both ex-empire and other countries. New Zealand was the venue for 2011 rugby competition. Tennis was an Olympic sport and will be reintroduced in 2016 along with seven aside rugby which was never previously included. Olympic winter sports include ice hockey, skating and skiing, all of which find competitors from a variety of countries. Canada has produced first rate hockey players and teams over the years. Some Canadians play for teams in other countries.

The modern game of golf “originated in Scotland, where the first written record of golf is James II’s banning of the game in 1457, as an unwelcome distraction to learning archery. To many golfers, the Old Course at St Andrews, a links course dating to before 1574, is considered to be a site of pilgrimage.… The world’s oldest golf tournament in existence, and golf’s first major, is The Open Championship, which was first played on 17 October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club, in Ayrshire, Scotland.” Today, golf is played in many parts of the former empire as well as in other countries, and attracts competitors to open championships throughout the world.


Many of those who served in the British colonial service as administrators, or in the British armed services as officers received their education from one of England’s public (in fact private fee paying) schools. Upon graduation, some would go on to university where Oxford and Cambridge were considered the pinnacle of education providing the background preferred by colonial administrators. There were two levels of fee paying school, the preparatory school for ages 7 to 13, and the public school for the remaining years to about 18. Haileybury founded in 1862 is an example of a public school which was established as the East India College (up to 1858) to provide recruits for the British East India Company. It exists today in the UK.

Public schools were replicated in parts of the empire, both in the dominions and in the Indian subcontinent and many examples are found today in the US and elsewhere. Education for boys was seen to be more important than for girls of the same class who might receive tuition from a governess at home if they were lucky. Boys were often sent back from the colonies to attend schools in the UK. For example, Rudyard Kipling born in Bombay in 1865 was sent at age five to England to live at a boarding house and attend school. He went on to the United Services College in 1878 where the emphasis was preparation for army service. Not considered bright enough to attend university, Kipling returned to India in 1882 and began his journalistic and writing career in Lahore. George Orwell was born in India in 1903, the son of a British civil servant working in the opium department of the Indian Civil Service. He went to England in 1904 and to English public schools including Wellington and then Eton on a scholarship. Orwell did not see his father again until 1912. The team sports played at these schools were considered part of the training for colonial service where one was expected to work and play with others posted abroad, as well as to introduce these sports to the local population.

While education in general is not an imperial legacy, the institutional arrangements developed in the UK were replicated abroad especially in countries of the former empire. At the same time, inhabitants of the colonies travelled to the UK to receive education and training there. It is sometimes said that disputes in former colonies are lead by political leaders educated at the London School of Economics opposed by military leaders trained at Sandhurst.

Cecil Rhodes

It would be amiss to describe the educational legacy without mentioning the awarding of Rhodes Scholarships to study at Oxford. Funded by the Rhodes Trust set up by the will of Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), awards went originally to those in the British colonies, the US and Germany. The last was excluded during both world wars. Today scholarships are awarded to residents of 14 geographical constituencies including the US, but no longer Hong Kong. Among the over 7000 recipients are former US president Bill Clinton and George Ignatieff, a distinguished Russian born Canadian diplomat who was president of the UN Security Council 1968-69. Women originally excluded from these awards became eligible for scholarships in 1977 by an act of the UK parliament.
Cecil Rhodes went to South Africa first in 1870, and later attended Oriel College Oxford. In South Africa, he and his brother staked mining claims which were later consolidated into De Beers Consolidated Mines with financing from the London based Rothschild banking interests. A staunch believer in the BE, he established the scholarship trust in his will:

“To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonization by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia (Crete), the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.”

The Trust appears to apply to most of the world except the polar regions, mainland China, mainland Europe and Russia. Rhodes is a notable character in his own right, not just because of his commercial success and political involvement. His interest in the British Empire was fostered by John Ruskin while at Oxford; and his view of empire always included the USA, similar to Walter Mead today.

Judicial system

Here I refer to the Wikipedia entry for English law:
“English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana (as opposed to civil law or pluralist systems in use in other countries). It was exported to Commonwealth countries while the British Empire was established and maintained, and it forms the basis of the jurisprudence of most of those countries. English law prior to the American Revolution is still part of the law of the United States through reception statutes, except in Louisiana, and provides the basis for many American legal traditions and policies, though it has no superseding jurisdiction.” (Wikipedia).

A mix of common and civil law is practiced in Louisiana and Quebec.

Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lee Kwan Yew are among prominent members of the British Empire who studied law in the UK. Gandhi (1869- 1948) travelled to England in 1888 to attend University College London where he studied Indian law and jurisprudence and then trained as a barrister at the Inner Temple. Jinnah (1876-1948) went to London to study law with one of the legal societies in 1892 and was called to the bar in 1895. Lee Kwan Yew (1923 – ) was prime minister of Singapore from 1959 – 1990. He attended the London School of Economics after the war before moving to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he studied law, graduating with First Class Honours. In 1949, he returned to Singapore to practice as a lawyer, and in his autobiography and subsequent writings he speaks positively about the British judicial system which is adapted for use in Singapore. Many others from the colonies and dominions studied law and other subjects in the UK helping to transfer British customs and traditions throughout the world. For example, Pandit Nehru (1889-1964) was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Authors of the empire

A number of authors became popular and remain so today writing about or around the empire – Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan (later Lord Tweedsmuir and Governor General of Canada), G.A Henty, Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Nevile Shute, Cecil Woodham Smith, George Orwell, John Masters, E.M.Forster and H.V.Morton amongst others. Their writings not only inform us about the empire in fictional and non-fictional form but form part of the written legacy.

Conan Doyle, for example, served as a volunteer doctor during the Boer War and later wrote a report for the British government on the incarceration and death of Boer women and children in South Africa, a situation which today is often referred to as being the original concentration camp. The pamphlet entitled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, justified the UK’s role in the Boer War and was widely translated.

While not excusing what happened, there is a story to be told of the circumstances which gave rise to these camps which helps explain why things like this happen in conflict situations. In historical perspective, the camps were neither the first nor the last of similar cases, but the South African experience is used by those portraying a negative view of the empire.

Other writers pen fictional stories which often depict conditions in the various colonies, some of which became the script for plays, films, and television series. E.M.Forster wrote Passage to India in 1924; it was made into a film in 1984. In 1964, Paul Mark Scott wrote the Jewel in the Crown which was to become the first part of his Raj Quartet and a television series. Scott won the Booker prize in 1977. Other films include Gandhi (1982), Heat and Dust (1983), and The Far Pavilions (1984).

I am sure if I was familiar with films made in different parts of the former empire, especially India, Pakistan and Nigeria, all of which have active film industries, they would not portray as favourable a legacy as some of the aforementioned. Even the BBC has broadcast a mock serial, a spoof entitled The Jewel in India’s Passage, and the Monty Python series used imperial trappings for comedic skits such as the Australian faculty meeting where all the professors are called Bruce and each teaches multiple subjects.

Democracy, politics and corruption

One measure of imperial legacy is to look for various political dimensions of countries which were colonies. Here I consider the current members of the Commonwealth less Madagascar and Rwanda (54-2), but add in countries which were for a time British protectorates and mandates but never became members of the Commonwealth – Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), Transjordan (1946), British Palestine (part of which became the state of Israel in 1948), Sudan (1956), British Somaliland (which became part of Somalia in 1960), Kuwait (1961), Bahrain (1971), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), and the United Arab Emirates (1971). I also include Ireland, Britain’s first colony, and the USA, although perhaps one should include only the original 13 colonies.

At the end of World War II, the BE was gradually dismantled to the 14 British overseas territories mentioned above and still ruled by the United Kingdom today. In April 1949, the word “British” was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature. Burma (1948) and Aden (1967) were the only states which were British colonies at the time of the war not to have joined the Commonwealth upon post-war independence.

Today, the Commonwealth comprises fifty-four countries (including one currently suspended member, Fiji, and Rwanda and Madagascar which were not members of the empire), spread across six continents. The members have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, of which 1.17 billion live in India and 94% live in Asia and Africa combined. After India, the next-largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (176 million), Bangladesh (156 million), Nigeria (154 million), the United Kingdom (61 million) and South Africa (49 million). Tuvalu is the smallest member, with about 10,000 people.

The land area of the Commonwealth nations is about 31,500,000 km2 (12,200,000 sq mi), or about 21% of the total world land area. The three largest Commonwealth nations by area are Canada at 10,000,000 km2 (3,900,000 sq mi), Australia at 7,700,000 km2 (3,000,000 sq mi), and India at 3,300,000 km2 (1,300,000 sq mi). The member countries have a combined gross domestic product of over $10 trillion, 50% of which is accounted for by the three largest economies: the United Kingdom ($2.2 trillion), India ($1.7 trillion), and Canada ($1.5 trillion). These figures are provided figures by the Commonwealth of Nations Secretariat members list and found in Wikipedia.

Different sources calculate indices of democracy, corruption and press freedom – see Wikipedia under these headings. These provide a measure of political conditions today in countries which were once part of the empire. What they tell us is another issue.
The democracy index ranges from 0 for least to 10 for most democratic; for corruption the index goes from 0 for most corrupt to 10 for least corrupt; and for press freedom countries are rated as having either a free press, partly free or not free press. Not all countries receive a ranking for each index but most do.

• For democracy, 69% of people live in Commonwealth countries today which receive a rating of 6 or more, and 31% with a rating of less than 6. For the seventeen other countries which were for a time protectorates or mandates of the British plus Ireland and the USA, fourteen have a rating of less than 6.

• For the corruption index, 92% of people live in Commonwealth countries with a rating of 4 or less, that is a high level of corruption, while 60% of the other countries (protectorates, mandates, the USA and Ireland) have a rating of less than 4.

• For press freedom, 7.6% of people live in Commonwealth countries with a free press, 80.3% in countries with a partly free press, and 12.1% in countries with a press which is not free. For the protectorates, mandates, USA and Ireland, eleven of the seventeen countries are rated as having a press which is not free, three as partly free and three as free.

How these countries compare with the rest of the world, a total of 7bn people and a nearly 200 countries, would require further analysis. The existing ratings suggest that a high degree of democracy exists in former British colonies. Many of these have parliamentary forms of government which too represents an imperial legacy.

The corruption ratings do not indicate a pretty picture, but when one considers today the criminal actions identified in the US, UK and other financial markets of developed countries – Bernie Madoff in the US, British MPs wrongful use of expense accounts, the Gomery inquiry in Canada and new inquiry about to start in Quebec – corruption appears to be widespread throughout the world in former colonies and non-colonies.

Similar to democracy, over time, press freedom has improved both for former colonies and non-colonies. Here the ratings show a mixed but probably improving situation. More countries are becoming democratic and more press freedom is occurring. If social media is included via Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and e-mail, then as traditional mass media lose market share, far more press freedom is being experienced throughout the world to the distress especially of dictatorial regimes.

Commerce, finance, land tenure, welfare state, religion, slavery past and present (topics to be completed in future postings)

Rodrik – The Globalization Paradox

October 24, 2011

The question raised by Dani Rodrik in The Globalization Paradox,(Norton, 2011) is whether the world is facing a global economic breakdown similar to the end of the gold standard era following 1914. His analysis focuses on the imbalance between the global nature of markets and the national scope of governments to address the issues which arise. “Give too much power to governments, and you have protectionism and autarchy. Give markets too much freedom, and you have an unstable world economy with little social and political support for those it is supposed to help (xvi).”

He then argues, “Democracies have the right to protect their social arrangements, and when this right clashes with the requirements of the global economy, it is the latter that should give way (xix).” The world in 2011 is witnessing the struggle by governments to reach a balance which will not cause a global breakdown. It is almost certain that there will be a prolonged recession and below average growth rates relative to most of the post WW2 period.

The whole book is strongly recommended as a lucid analysis of the current global economic situation. It includes Chapter 12 entitled “A Sane Globalization,” which contains Rodrik’s four areas of policy recommendations – Reforming the International Trade Regime, Regulating Global Finance, Reaping the Benefits of Global Labor Flows, and Accommodating China in the World Economy. Below I look at the third proposal regarding labo(u)r flows which highlight for me the difficulties of balancing national policies with global pressures.

Labour mobility

Labour force issues arise because the 7bn global population includes at least 3bn who are very poor, with 1 bn these being malnourished, while perhaps 1bn others live in developed countries which act as a magnet for immigrants. With the world geographically divided between over 190 countries, there exist strong pressures for the poor to migrate to the richer countries by people seeking out legitimate and illegitimate opportunities to move. The illegitimate ones arise because of the right social democracies claim to “protect their social arrangements” in the face of global pressures.

Rodrik argues that in the same way there are economic and social benefits from free trade and capital movements, so there are huge benefits from opening up the world’s labor markets as witnessed by the differentials in labour rates between workers in the US and in say Jamaica, Bolivia and Nigeria. His colleague at Harvard, Lant Pritchett argues the same case in Let Their People Come as does Jagdish Bhagwati and other economists.

A metaphor here is a dam behind which are stored the mass of poor people who would like to flow through the sluice gates to enter the stream which carries them to fertile lands. National immigration policies and the issuance of visas allowing the visits of a limited number of foreigners to a country act as filtering mechanisms. Some cross borders this way and some manage to bypass the system and become illegal immigrants in particular countries. The US has an estimated 12 million illegals and Canada 500,000.

Recognizing this problem, Rodrik proposes that rich countries permit an annual number of temporary foreign workers to enter for a period of five years, up to a total of workers who would expand the labour force by no more than 3%. The program would be ongoing so that as workers returned home they could be replaced by others for subsequent periods of five years. Difficulties with enforcing this program are recognized such as the foreign workers not wanting to return, and so the author proposes that part of their earnings might be withheld in blocked accounts for repatriation at such time the person actually returns home. Other difficulties are discussed by Rodrik and should be consulted by those interested in the proposal.

A Canadian focus on this issue includes the following background information. In a typical recent year, Canada has admitted about 30.5 million people. Roughly, thirty million are tourists or short term visitors, 250,000 are temporary foreign workers and students and the remaining 250,000 approved permanent residents. These totals do not include those who have entered illegally, but there is a catch here in that some of those who entered legally may have stayed beyond their permitted entry time and thus become illegal immigrants.

A further complication is that although Canada may announce an annual quota of 250,000 permanent residents in various subcategories of economic migrants, family members, business migrants and refugees, it also has a policy that makes it easier for those who entered as temporary foreign workers and foreign students to apply for permanent residency status from inside Canada. If you are an outsider looking in, there are two legal routes to consider, one is applying for permanent residency from abroad and the other is applying for temporary entry as a worker or student and then applying for permanent residency.

Not surprisingly, where demand exceeds the supply of spaces, opportunities arise to bribe those who review applications, and employers in Canada assist by hiring illegals at lower wage rates, thereby depressing rates in Canada. As Rodrik notes, pp.270-1, this a hotly debated issue and most research seems to suggest that immigration in other countries has had a negligible effect on wage rates.

While each country has its own peculiar immigration system, I do not see this proposal working easily in Canada where there are already active diasporas of persons from different countries who exercise political clout, and who would assist in making further holes in the dam which is holding back the global flood of those who would like to enter the country. With the existing system, there is already a backlog of one million applicants, which is growing each year, as only 250,000 persons are accepted annually as permanent residents (that is those who will later be able to apply for citizenship).

Another thought prompted by the Globalization Paradox, but not part of its coverage, is that there are an estimated 500,000 illegals in Canada and the unemployment rate of 7% equates to 1.4 million people unemployed. A reduction of unemployment to 5%, which is considered a workable level providing there is not long term unemployment, would require an additional 400,000 jobs. These jobs roughly match the number of illegals in the country. I have not worked out the figures for the US which has 12 million illegals, a labour force of 154 million and over 9% unemployment, but it seems to lead to roughly the same conclusion.

A comparison of the number of unemployed in each country with the estimated number of illegals at least raises questions about why the illegals have jobs and not the unemployed. We know that the illegals undertake unpleasant jobs in agriculture, construction and some service industries, but there are ways, such as paying higher wages, to attract people to certain jobs. To quote George Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle.” This is one of those cases.

Globalization and the British Empire

October 15, 2011

One meaning of the term globalization is the growing interdependence between countries, organizations and individuals. In The World is Flat, Tom Friedman suggests that we are now entering the third stage involving individuals. In the following I discuss what globalization means and in a later posting examine the extent to which the British Empire (BE) has been part of this process past and present.

How did globalization start?

Some trace the origins to the first migration of humans to different parts of the world. Research based on archaeological evidence shows that human beings migrated out of eastern Africa 130,000 years ago reaching North America about 25,000 years ago – see world map of migratory patterns at

Travel depended on the initiative of individuals subject to various incentives such as the availability of agricultural land and changes in climactic conditions. For example, during these millennia there were several ice ages which covered parts of the world and then retreated. Originally people moved with their families and tribes, probably because of adverse conditions where they lived and the opportunities which they thought existed elsewhere. Those with initiative often showed the way.

While these may be the seeds of globalization, I start centuries later with discoveries and trade resulting from the trans-Atlantic voyages of Columbus and Cabot, and the Asian voyages of others starting in the 1400s. Both explorers were born in Italy. Columbus’ trips were funded by the Spanish monarchy, while Cabot migrated to England where he is thought to have received financing from an Italian banking house in London. Global finance existed centuries ago.

First wave

This first wave of globalization which emanated from Europe was trade related. It also involved missionaries whose religious masters were keen to enlarge their flocks throughout the world, thus the title Gold and God, Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World (Knopf, 2007) by Walter Russell Mead. Protestants and Catholics were in competition and conflict with each other to grab global market share of believers. They were also interested in the wealth which could be gained from precious metals and other commodities, as were their secular backers. Missionaries, similar to NGOs today, along with monarchs, bankers and traders played a part in promoting this first period of globalization.

In competition with other European empires, the BE rose to dominance from the late 1700s up until WW1. The empire was a type of conglomerate with different activities in different parts of the world. The thirteen colonies in North America were settled and then spun off after 1776 to become America and later the USA. They acquired people, customs and commercial links with England, Scotland and Wales plus immigrants from Ireland and other parts of Europe. America then spread westward to establish its own Anglophone empire, the other 37 states of the USA.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa became self governing dominions within the empire populated at first by migration from the UK and continental Europe. The Indian subcontinent, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar) together with Malaysia and Singapore formed another grouping. And then there were the various colonies dispersed throughout the world in places like the West Indies, Guyana, east and west Africa, and the Falkland Islands.

The BE had to administer a variety of societies spread throughout the world. In this they were unlike China, another major empire, whose land mass was much more concentrated making it easier to manage. The BE can be thought of as a conglomerate with a variety of interests, commercial, political, military and religious spread throughout the world. Each required administration but the nature of the administrative process and the responsibilities of those required to manage it differed. A list of empire locations is shown in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1.
Geographical extent of the British Empire about 1919

The Americas, especially North America (the USA and Canada) and the West Indian colonies
The dominions of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
The Indian subcontinent of today’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo.
Egypt and colonies in east and west Africa.
A miscellany of colonies and outposts many of which remain part of the British Empire today.
These include a collection of islands, rocks and a base in Cyprus:
“Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. Claims in Antarctica, including that of Britain, are not recognised by all nations. Collectively these territories encompass an approximate land area of 667,018 square miles and a population of approximately 260,000 people (Wikipedia).”

Today’s shrunken empire contrasts with the familiar statement referring to 1922 that “the sun never sets on the British Empire,” which at its peak included 458 million people, 25% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s land area, in contrast with 1.3% of the land area today. This shrinkage took place over about 50 years compared with a build-up of about three centuries. While it is remarkable that the British managed to administer this widely spread conglomerate, it is not surprising that the cost weakened the control which could be exercised from the UK, especially while having to fund two world wars after 1914.

“The Rise and Fall of the First Great Globalization,” is Chapter 2 of Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox (Norton, 2011) and should be read for more complete coverage of this period of globalization.

Second wave

A second wave of globalization covers the period 1919 to around 1990. This includes the post WW1 recovery followed by the depression years in North America and Europe, WW2, and the economic boom years after the war in which world trade and investment grew with moderate cyclical expansions and contractions and reasonably stable inflationary pressures. The European and Japanese economies recovered, and multinational firms invested in North America and Europe as well as in the developing countries. Japan became integrated into the world economy with trade and foreign outward investment but limited inward investment.

Third wave

The third wave from about 1990 coincides roughly with revolutionary changes associated with communications technology, computers, the Internet and the multitude of applications which have been and are being developed. At the same time, transportation costs have declined while the world population has increased from 2.5bn in 1950 to 7bn today, with forecasts of a peak of 9.3bn about 40 years from now, a fourfold increase in one hundred years. In earlier times world population had grown much more slowly from an estimated 500 million in 1650, 1 billion in 1804 and 1.6 billion in 1900.

Today, more people are on the move across national borders because there are more people, more states (there were 51 member states of the UN in 1945 and 193 today), and travel costs are lower. Not only has this third wave coincided with increased trade, investment and communications flows, but the crossborder movement of people has accompanied increased instances of terrorist activities which are seen as more of or a different threat to nations and citizens than traditional conflicts. Overall however instances of violence are on the decline as Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at Harvard writes:

“In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion. Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.”

Religion and the invisible empire

Mead’s thesis in God and Gold is that the birth and rise of the global political and economic system which shaped the modern world was created by Britain and is sustained now by America. (Mead wrote before the financial events starting in 2008.) Niall Ferguson in Empire, The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Basic Books, 2002) calls this “Angloglobalization”. Like Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People, Mead focuses on the combined impact of England and the USA in shaping the modern world. English occupation and conquest influenced conditions in North America and then, once combined, the UK and America have influenced conditions in today’s world, not all of the world but large chunks of it.

During the first and second waves, the empire’s head office in London connected to the empire’s outposts through a combination of trade, investment, migration, appointment of colonial administrators, army and navy personnel, and the work of missionaries, the equivalent of today’s NGOs.

Mead and Ferguson both examine the impact of commerce and religion on the earlier waves of globalization with Mead giving more attention to religion. Of the main three branches of Abrahamic or monotheistic religions, Christianity in the form of Catholicism and Protestantism, often in conflict with each other, was a major factor in the expansion of European empires and especially the British Empire. The other two monotheistic religions are Judaism and Islam. Today, 54% of the world’s population has Abrahamic roots, while an estimated 30% belong to other religions and the remaining 16% is non-religious.

While Catholics and Protestants often fought over the division of the new world especially in North and South America, the BE did have dealings with other religions in Iraq, Palestine and Egypt as well as in the Indian subcontinent. China and Japan received less attention from European empire builders because both chose to be self-contained, although the British traded with China especially in exports of opium produced in India, and trade opened up with Japan after the visit of Commodore Perry in 1854.

The British Empire also had what Mead calls an invisible empire where it had influence but did not rule including Brazil.

“Britain’s invisible empire covered more of the world than Latin America. The networks of investment and trade that centered on London spanned the globe, and in places like Beijing, Constantinople, Tehran, and Bangkok, the voice of the British ambassador and the business leadership of the British community was heard very clearly. Some governments were more independent of British influence than Brazil, others were very much less so, but no country could match Britain’s worldwide influence (p.124).”

Once the invisible empire is added, a map of the world becomes redder still.


In any discussion of the BE, slavery is the elephant in the room. Globalization was associated with the use of slaves in the production of cotton, tobacco and sugar in the West Indies and in the southern American states. Historians have written reams on the triangular trade from Africa to the Americas, from there to the UK and other parts of Europe and from Europe to West Africa. Europeans purchased commodities from the plantation owners, many of whom had migrated from Europe; these owners purchased the slaves from west African suppliers and associated shipowners, and the west African slave traders purchased items from European producers.

Writers have paid most attention to the horrific conditions of the slaves in the transatlantic crossing and while at work on the plantations. Less has been written about what the west African suppliers of slaves purchased, what they did with their purchases resulting from the money they received from the sale of slaves. No great economic development took place in west and central Africa, the source of many slaves. In a somewhat similar situation involving piracy off Somalia today, a new study (Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur, 2011) found that the pirates used the money paid as ransom for the purchase of Kif, a narcotic plant that is not even produced in Somalia. Thus while piracy generates revenues, little benefit accrues to the local economy by way of development.

While these were the people, places and organizations involved in the BE, especially during the second wave of globalization, Ferguson (xxv) lists the items transmitted as including:

“The English language
English forms of land tenure
Scottish and English banking
Team sports
The limited or ‘night watchman’ state
Representative assemblies
The idea of liberty”

To these could be added democracy and human rights. How and where the BE resonates in the world today will be the topic of a future posting in terms of the items listed above, as well as the role of pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts, also suggested by Ferguson.

Canada – US Dairy Prices

October 14, 2011

Recently I did a Canada- US food price comparison and found the same distressing information that dairy product prices in Canada remain substantially higher than those in the US, due mainly to supply management policies which protect Canadian dairy farmers at the expense of consumers.

The evidence is as follows. On a recent day in September at similar grocery stores allowing for the exchange rate and adjusting for different package sizes, the price of two percent milk was 16% higher, plain cheddar cheese 32% higher, yogurt 57% higher and butter 13% higher in Canada. With inflation running at 3% annually, and the price of items such as gas about 20% higher in Canada than a year ago, one way to alleviate inflationary pressures is to amend domestic policies which are hurting consumers.

A few days later I found on the web similar information from the west coast which read as follows:

“We go for lunch and shop for dairy and gas every two weeks in Bellingham, Wa. Although it is a 100km round trip from our home in Delta BC and uses about 9 litres of gas, the cost is more than saved by the savings on milk (1/2 price at <$5 for two gallons), butter (four pounds for <$9) and cheese (5 pounds for <$12). Lunch for two at Applebees is about $10 (less) than the same lunch served at Applebees in Coquitlam. To date 2011, savings on gas is over $320 and the average cost per litre is $0.995. Easily pays for the NEXUS passes."

British Empire – reasons for growth and decline

October 6, 2011

What caused the growth and decline of the British Empire?

This is an enormous topic which others such as Paul Kennedy and Niall Ferguson have studied in depth. I note here a number of issues, some of which relate to contemporary topics such as globalization. Again a world map provides a starting point. The empire was spread around the world and had to be reached by water, at least until the invention of the telegraph in the mid 1800s and later wireless communication.

Geography encouraged Britain to develop its naval capability as did Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands all of which pursued imperial ambitions. Being a small island with all locations less than a hundred miles from the sea, most Britons had some knowledge of maritime life. Offshore fishing was an occupation for some and press gangs were active in forcible recruitment of others when seamen were needed. England thus had the human resources available to man ships and reach distant places.

Once other European powers started to expand overseas in the 1400s, especially in South America and Southeast Asia, British investors and entrepreneurs, aided by the monarchy, decided to get into the act – see J.H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World, Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (Yale 2006). At first they specialized in piracy, finding it cheaper to plunder Spanish ships returning from central and south America than actually going to purchase or mine for gold and other treasure. Similar activities took place on trade with the Spice Islands where English and Dutch ships regularly attacked each other. Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton (1999) gives a good description of what went on and how an agreement was eventually reached whereby the Dutch gained a small spice island in today’s Indonesia in return for granting Manhattan to the British in 1674.

Maritime operations required financing. The Dutch pioneered the development of corporations which pooled risk capital from numerous investors. While the risks were high so were the returns when and if realized, and the English aided the development of a capital market with London as the financial centre for both banking and insurance.

Communications were another element which aided imperial administration. The laying of undersea cable starting in the 1860s allowed for the coordination of commercial, military and political activities. In later years wireless communication supplemented cable linkages. These elements combined to assist the British to manage their trading relationships throughout the empire and to promote British business.

Trade and shipping also favoured England with the introduction of the Navigation Acts which directed trade from the empire in British ships even if the final destination was Europe for example.

“The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England (after 1707 Great Britain) and its colonies, a process which had started in 1651. Their goal was to force colonial development into lines favorable to England, and stop direct colonial trade with the Netherlands, France and other European countries. The original ordinance of 1651 was renewed at the Restoration by Acts of 1660 and 1663, and subsequently subject to minor amendment. These Acts also formed the basis for British overseas trade for nearly 200 years (Wikipedia).”

In sum, if commerce was a main aim of imperial expansion, it was aided by a combination of maritime power, financial risk taking arrangements and developments in communications. Why then did the British Empire, like previous empires, decline until today the fourteen territorial remnants are a collection of islands, rocks and a base in Cyprus? In 1922, around its peak, the empire consisted of about a quarter of the world’s population and a quarter of its land area; today it consists of less than two percent of the land area. Aside from these fourteen territories there exists an intergovernmental organisation, The Commonwealth, formerly The British Commonwealth, made up of 54 independent member states, all but two of which, Madagascar and Rwanda, were formerly part of the British Empire.

The decline after 1922 is well covered in Peter Clarke’s book, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire (Penguin 2007) which focuses on the three years up to Indian and Pakistani independence in 1947. (I have reviewed this in a previous posting). Clarke shows how a combination of indebtedness, especially to the US, and nationalistic pressures throughout the world, often supported by the Americans, made it economically and politically impossible to continue managing the empire as in earlier times. Much of the debt was incurred during the two world wars. Imperial overreach leading to decline is also discussed by Paul Kennedy in the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (London, 1988).

Two questions emerging from this overview interest me. How is the globalization which we discuss today linked to that which took place in this first globalization wave? And what aspects of life today are influenced by the British Empire?

Empire – Organization and Management

October 4, 2011

There are books written on the organization and management of the BE such as Mandy Banton, Administering the Empire, 1801-1968, London, 2008. I am unlikely to add anything new but will look at the subject through the lens of the economics of organization with special reference to how corporations are administered.

While the empire is not a corporation, it did have a type of head office in London with a chair person, the monarch, and a staff of bureaucrats in Whitehall who oversaw various functional activities. In the dominions and colonies there were overseas or foreign subsidiaries which were managed by a combination of local officials and appointees from London. It is not exactly clear what services this organization delivered. Some writers have more favourable views than others. In addition there were commercial and military interest groups as well as missionaries, the equivalent of today’s NGOs, which provided administrative services.

Head office

British monarchs from the time of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) had a strong hand in promoting what was to become the empire. She was followed by, amongst others, King Georges I to, IV and William IV all of whom reigned while the empire grew and at times shrank. George III (1760-1801) was on the throne during the breakaway of the 13 British North American colonies in 1776. The pinnacle of empire probably occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901; she was named Empress of India by Prime Minister Disraeli in 1876, a title (emperor) last held by George VI. While the various monarchs had no direct administrative responsibilities they acted as Chairman (person) of the Board of Directors directing overall policy for imperial endeavours. Other board members included the prime minister and the cabinet ministers.

Below the monarchy were the elected and appointed politicians and the bureaucracy which engaged in direct administration. Because the BE at its pinnacle consisted of so many different territories, administration was shaped to particular circumstances. The white Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, while tied to the mother country, over time gained a high degree of independence, including the conduct of foreign policy. India was a special case because British administration was imposed on an existing Mughal administration, while in West Indian, African and other colonies more hands on management was required with appointees sent from London.

The administrative structure in London was housed in departments whose titles changed. The original Foreign office was formed in 1782 and the India Office in 1858, the latter to oversee India, Bangladesh, Burma, and Pakistan and headed by the Secretary of State for India. It was also responsible for other territories in South East Asia. In 1925, the Dominion and Colonial Office split and in 1947, the Commonwealth Relations Office was formed from a merger of the Dominion Office and the India Office. And in 1966 the Commonwealth Office was formed as a merger of the Colonial and Commonwealth Relations office. Today there is a British Minister, the Foreign Secretary, in charge of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office known as the Foreign Office or FCO. These titles provide clues as to where to look for the administration of empire policy at different points in time.

Colonial subsidiaries

Direction from London was implemented by those posted from England to different parts of the Empire. Here the study by Stephanie Williams, Running the Show, Governors of the British Empire 1857-1912, (Penguin 2011) is revealing. The book is based on reports made by those on the ground back to London as well as the directions they received and communications they had with friends and relatives. It is an enormously revealing study and a must read for those interested in the history of the BE.

Another aspect of organization relates to the commercial and missionary activities undertaken within the empire. The corporate form of organization evolved to accumulate capital and spread risk among multiple investors. The Dutch probably lead in this development but it was taken up and improved by the English. Corporations such as the East India Company, incorporated in 1600, played a major role in trade with the east (India and the Spice Islands), using Cape Town and other ports on the African coast. Egypt later on became an important part of the network with the building of the Suez Canal in 1869 known as the “highway to India.”

The Muscovy Company was incorporated in 1555 for trading with Russia; a Levant Company was formed in 1592, a Guinean company in 1618, the company for Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa in 1660, originally given the monopoly to conduct the English slave trade, the Hudson Bay Company in 1670, and the South Sea Company in 1711. These firms were granted monopolies for trade in certain areas but since other countries set up their own so-called monopolies, such as the Dutch East India Company in 1600, exclusive market power could not be enforced. The East India Company was also given the power to administer areas around the Indian subcontinent until 1858, when it continued as a commercial corporation but with its political powers reverting to the government in the UK.

A role was also played by the various missionary societies such as the London Missionary Society, a nineteenth century NGO, with the aim of spreading Christianity to the heathens, and at times to promote the abolition of slavery. For example, David Livingstone was trained as a doctor and became a missionary who went to Africa in 1840.

Colonial Administrators

Administration of the Indian subcontinent was conducted differently than in most other parts of the BE. In India, the British had to work with an existing administration which had been a part of the Mughal Empire and so the British officials had to adapt their procedures to those already in place. Whereas in many other parts of the Empire, North America, the Caribbean, Australasia and Africa, officials worked with tribal societies unused to the niceties of British public administration and military procedures.

In many parts of the empire the officials sent from England were the product of English public (actually private) schools and a degree from Oxford or Cambridge. About twelve public schools accounted for the majority of officials, one of which Haileybury was originally the East India College.

“In 1806 the Honourable East India Company commissioned William E Wilkins … to plan the buildings for its new training college for civil servants for India.
On an area of empty heath, not far from the manor of Hailey, Wilkins created his buildings in a neo-classical style round a large grass quadrangle (still said to be the largest academic quadrangle in the land) and here the East India College flourished for 50 years.

It was one of the country’s most distinguished centres of scholarship and teaching and the training ground for generations of those destined to govern British India.”
Clive Dewey (1993) states that “in their heyday they [Indian Civil Service officers] were the most powerful officials in the Empire, if not the world. A tiny cadre, a little over a thousand strong, ruled more than 300,000,000 Indians. Each Civilian had an average 300,000 subjects, and each Civilian penetrated every corner of his subjects’ lives, because the Indian Civil Service directed all the activities of the Anglo-Indian state.”

Speaking in the House of Commons in 1935, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said of the ICS that it was “the steel frame on which the whole structure of government and of administration in India rests”. At about the same time, Jawaharlal Nehru, later the first Prime Minister of India, wrote “I think it was Voltaire who defined the “Holy Roman Empire” as something which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Just as someone else once defined the Indian Civil Service, with which we are unfortunately still afflicted in this country, as neither Indian, nor civil, nor a service.”

In the Sudan the country became known as the “Blacks ruled by Blues.” Blacks referred to the Arabic name for the Sudan while Blues to those who gained athletic distinction at either Oxford or Cambridge. Administrative advantages were claimed if officials with a similar background worked together. Note also, George Orwell was a product of Eton and in 1922 went on to give service to the Indian Imperial Police in Burma.

One further aspect of administration relates to the means used to communicate between the colonies and London. Prior to the 1860s messages were sent either overland or by sea. Thus the answer to a message sent from London to Calcutta would take several months. After the laying of underwater cables and overland wires, a message could be answered in the same day. Even with telegraphic communication Lord Cromer in Egypt was adept at ignoring telegrams and continuing to rule as he wished as British Controller General in Egypt, the equivalent of Viceroy.