Satyajit Das: The West's reward is still the riches that developing nations 'don't value'

Das Capital: For emerging nations to rise out of poverty always entailed a risky, uncertain and tragic future

The relationship between advanced and developing economies is complex. Human rights and working conditions in emerging nations, where many products consumed in developed countries are made, have been debated for many years.

None of this is new. Its origins lie in the colonial past. Using superior military power and technology, European powers established and maintained colonies in Asia, Africa and the Americas. The basic driver was cheap resources, labour (often slavery) and new markets for the colonising nation's products.

Karl Marx approved: "The question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton". While recognising that Indian markets and labour were being exploited by the East India Company for commercial gain, Marx argued that capitalism would transform the subcontinent. India would benefit from the fruits of industrial revolution, such as improved communications and a free press.

It was a sentiment worthy of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman, who regarded the Victorian empire as "the greatest thing that ever happened to an undeserving world".

Peter Whitfield, writing in Travel: A Literary History, identified the link between earthly power (wealth) and spiritual glory (Christianity) that provided the justification for colonial conquest: "It amounted to a theory of cultural destiny – that the European maritime nations were destined to bring Christianity and civilisation to a pagan and savage world, and their reward was to be the wealth and riches which the indigenous populations themselves were incapable of appreciating and valuing."

Underlying colonialism was what the author Edward Said described in 1978 as Orientalism. This was a reference to the patronising attitude of Westerners towards Asian, Middle Eastern and African societies. They were seen as static and underdeveloped, to be shaped by a superior West in accordance with its own image.

Driven in part by the 1941 Atlantic Charter, many colonies gained independence after the Second World War. In his landmark speech on 14 August 1947, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru identified the transcendent hopes of an independent India as well as all former colonies: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

The reality proved different.

A combination of casual indifference and malicious design created nation states whose borders ignored important historical, ethnic, tribal, religious and economic differences. It set the stage for frequently violent sectarian conflict in a number of states in Asia, Africa and the Middle East that continues to this day. This impeded development, as political and economic resources were diverted to resolving differences. Often lacking were essential infrastructure, political and social institutions, and skilled people to administer the new states, often reflecting a lack of "nation building" by the colonisers.

New-found statehood changed but did not eliminate reliance on metropolitan countries, which did not, of course, offer recompense for sometimes centuries of looting or exploitation. Most new states remained dependent on the colonial power for capital, technology, skills and markets for their products. Developed nations carefully controlled innovation and intellectual property to capture a substantial share of any commerce.

The newly decolonised world went through several semantic mutations : less developed countries); newly industrialised countries; emerging markets; and frontier markets. As the world economy globalised, these nations were progressively forced to join the capitalist caravan train and travel a familiar road.

Initially, foreign investment drove growth as developed countries relocated production facilities, utilising low-cost local labour. To foster development, international aid agencies and NGOs advised deregulation and the sale of government-owned businesses, local assets and business opportunities. Foreigners and favoured locals, sometimes in partnership, purchased assets – frequently at bargain prices and on advantageous terms. Living standards improved – for the fortunate and connected. Inequality increased as, for the bulk of people, there were only minimal improvements through the trickle-down of wealth. Finally, local constraints, rising costs and demands from the disadvantaged altered the dynamics. Costs rose to levels that made the economies uncompetitive. The capitalist caravan became restless, seeking newer, cheaper locations. Smart locals shifted money to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Hong Kong or Singapore.

Emerging nations, so the argument goes, can rise out of their impoverishment through trade and foreign investment. But most of the trade involves supplying low-cost labour and relies on poor environmental and workplace safeguards. For emerging nations producing cheap, low-value products for international markets to escape poverty always entailed a risky, uncertain and tragic future.

Most people living under the yoke of this neo-colonialism are already familiar with what Oscar Wilde identified in The Soul of Man Under Socialism: that capitalism lays upon men "the sordid necessity of living for others".

Satyajit Das is a former banker and author of 'Extreme Money' and 'Traders, Guns & Money'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?