Too little colonialism?
At the Corner, Mark Krikorian proposes one possible explanation for Haiti’s woes:
My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough. The ancestors of today’s Haitians, like elsewhere in the Caribbean, experienced the dislocation of de-tribalization, which disrupted the natural ties of family and clan and ethnicity. They also suffered the brutality of sugar-plantation slavery, which was so deadly that the majority of slaves at the time of independence were African-born, because their predecessors hadn’t lived long enough to reproduce.
But, unlike Jamaicans and Bajans and Guadeloupeans, et al., after experiencing the worst of tropical colonial slavery, the Haitians didn’t stick around long enough to benefit from it. (Haiti became independent in 1804.). And by benefit I mean develop a local culture significantly shaped by the more-advanced civilization of the colonizers.
It is tempting, I think, to dismiss this as warmed-over neo-colonialism. However, you often hear similar arguments from foreign policy commentators like Max Boot and Niall Ferguson, so it’s worth addressing Krikorian’s points head-on.
First, the track record of non-Western countries that did not experience prolonged European occupation presents a more complicated picture than a narrow look at Haiti’s post-colonial experience. Japan, arguably the most successful non-Western country of the modern era, is notable for freezing out Western influence until the mid-19th century, when it suddenly embarked on a policy of indigenous modernization. Other non-Western states that largely escaped colonization include China and Turkey, which suggests that imperialism does very little to create the preconditions for successful statehood. In the Caribbean, Cuba was one of the oldest continually-occupied colonial territories in the Western hemisphere, but that history has done precious little for the island’s impoverished citizens.
Second, the conservative critique of foreign aid (a critique I largely agree with) is also applicable to just about any colonial administration throughout history. If generous foreign aid programs breed dependency and discourage indigenous development, a foreign occupier who assumes control of all vital state functions should create similar problems.
I’m not the first person to make this connection, either: William Easterly, a development expert from NYU, devotes an entire chapter of The White Man’s Burden to the parallels between colonialism and “postmodern imperialism” (from page 284):
I compare the non-colonies to European colonies that were not settled by Europeans . . . The non-colonies had more rapid increases in secondary education from 1960 to 2001. Growth per capita from 1950 to 2001 was 1.7 percentage points higher in the non-colonies than the non-settlement colonies, a huge difference for a fifty-one-year period. By 2001, income was 2.4 times higher in the non-colonies than in the former non-settlement colonies.
Brown University economist Louis Putterman argues that having a long history of statehood (which was one thing that prevented colonization in many cases) was favorable for seizing economic opportunities in the postwar era, and that may be the reason for the different outcomes in the non-colonies compared with the colonies. Naturally formed states outperformed artificial colonial creations.
Easterly also discusses colonial administrators’ lack of familiarity with local conditions and their tendency to delegate power to fictitious or unreliable indigenous proxies. Sound familiar? It should, because the United States’ experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been characterized by similar problems.
Easterly’s conclusion is similarly damning:
The West should learn from its colonial history when it indulges neo-imperialist fantasies. They didn’t work before and they won’t work now.