How helpful was British colonialism?

Many commentators give at least partial credit for India's economic success to the political institutions left in place by British colonialism. Fareed Zakaria, for instance, believes India "got very lucky" in that its first generation of post-independence leaders "nurture the best traditions of the British" including "courts, universities [and] administrative agencies."

But a new study by Lakshmi Iyer of the Harvard Business School casts some doubt on whether British governing institutions really has a postivie economic impact in the long run. Here's the abstract:

This paper compares economic outcomes across areas in India that were under direct British colonial rule with areas that were under indirect colonial rule. Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas that experienced direct rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers, and roads in the postcolonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant and persistent effect on postcolonial outcomes.

The finding is particularly interesting given that Iyer also shows that the areas directly annexed by the British tended be those with higher agricultural productivity. Despite their potential, these areas "did not invest as much as native states in physical and human capital."

Iyer's paper provides an interesting companion to another recent study by Alexander Lee and Kenneth Schultz of Stanford, which compared economic outcomes of formerly British and formerly French districts of Cameroon:

[W]e focus on the West African nation of Cameroon, which includes regions colonized by both Britain and France. Taking advantage of the artificial nature of the former colonial boundary, we use it as a discontinuity within a national demographic survey. We show that rural areas on the British side of the discontinuity have higher levels of wealth and local public provision of improved water sources. Results for urban areas and centrally-provided public goods show no such effect, suggesting that post-independence policies also play a role in shaping outcomes. 

Taken together, the moral of these studies could be that colonalism isn't great for a country's future political and economic wellbeing, but if a country is going to be colonized, they're better off with the British than the French. It's also very possible that the legacy of colonialism -- whether positive or negative -- manifests differently in national rather than local governance. Although on a purely anecdotal level, the French vs. British distinction seems to hold there as well. 

Hat tip: Chris Blattman


More jokes, please!

Last week, we put out a call for political jokes from our farflung readers. The results were, well, mixed, but we did get this one gem from reader DUNNAM04:

Three teams of astronauts, an American team, a German team, and a Serbian team, are sent on an exploratory mission to one of Jupiter's moons. After a safe landing, the three teams suit up and step out onto the surface. They soon begin to quarrel over which nation gets to lay claim to this moon.

One of the Americans declares, "I hereby claim this moon as property of the U.S.A. If it were not for our heavy investment in space travel this trip would not have happened!"

One of the Germans then declares, "Nein! This moon shall belong to Deutschland! It was our scientists and physicists who made this possible!"

One of the Serbians then draws a gun from his spacesuit and shoots his fellow Serbian, who collapses dead onto the rocky surface.

He yells, "Serbian blood has been drawn here! This moon belongs to SERBIA!!!

We still want more -- and as an added bonus, if you send us a really good one, we may publish it in the next print issue of FP. So if you're sitting on a really great political joke from overseas, post in the comments section and we'll keep publishing them here and in print.

Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images