The End of Development?

20170923_100207A summary of The End of Development: A Global History of Poverty and Prosperity, by Andrew Brooks (2017)

This blog post covers Part 1: Making the Modern World

Chapter 1: environmental determinism and early human history

The argument in this chapter is that nature (as in the natural environment) does not determine human society and culture, rather it is more accurate to talk of humans shaping nature, especially since the emergence of agricultural societies 12000 years ago.

From between 12-8000 years ago, agricultural societies emerged independently in 11 distinct places, and in each region, these societies domesticated crops and animals, thus adapting to and changing local environments in different ways.

Agricultural societies eventually came to dominate hunter gather societies because they are more resistant to environmental shocks, given their greater capacity to store food to see them through famine periods.

Early agricultural societies also allowed for the development of a specialized division of labour, and were organised along feudal lines, with a tiered hierarchy of ruling classes taking tribute from those working the land. Europe in the 15th century was only one such system among many historical antecedants.

Brooks rounds this chapter off by reminding us that Europe did not colonize the rest of the world because of some kind of manifest destiny based on a unique set of environmental and cultural advantages, there were plenty of other cultures existing around the world in the 15th century that had similar features to the European feudal system.

What Europe did have was an emerging capitalist system, it is this that sets it apart and explains its rise to globalpower from the 15th century onwards.

Chapter 2: colonizing the world

This chapter outlines a brief history of colonialism, starting with the early colonial projects of Spain and Portugal in the Americas, which provided the silver and gold which kick started the global capitalist economy.

Brooks goes on to outline European colonial expansion across the globe more generally, arguing that European big business, governments and religion all worked together to dominate The Americas, Asia and Africa – often exploiting existing power structures to establish rule: profit, politics, piety and patriarchy all played a role in reshaping the colonial world from 1992 to 1945.

Brooks breaks down the history of colonialism something like this:

1500 – 1650 – Spanish and Portuguese colonialism – which involved the extraction of gold and silver, which was used to finance wars against Islam and other European nations. Spain also borrowed heavily from Holland on the basis of expected future returns from its mines in Latin America.  This led to the establishment of financial centers in Holland, and increasing wealth. Span eventually went into decline as its wars were unsuccessful and its colonial returns decreased

1650 – 1900 – Dutch and British colonialism – A newly rich Holland and Britain took over as the main colonial powers – state building was essential to this – a combination of political power and the granting of monopolies to the Dutch and British East India companies (for example) led to the increasing dominance of these two powers.

Brooks also outlines how slavery and the industrial revolution were crucial to the rise of these two powers, and includes a section on the famine in India to illustrate how brutal their colonial projects were.

It’s also important to realise that increasing inequality was an important aspect of Colonialism – obviously between Europe and poorer parts of the world, but there were also some colonies which were more prosperous (such as Australia) and also, within the the mother countries and colonies, this period of history led to increasing inequality.

The chapter rounds of by pointing out that from 1900, the base of world power is already starting to shift from European centers to America.

Chapter Three: American Colonialism 

This chapter starts with the ‘rise and fall of Detroit‘ which illustrates how industrial capitalism led to huge economic growth in America from the late 19th century to the 1960s, only to decline once industrial production moved abroad.

Brooks now argues that, following US Independence in 1776, American capitalists essentially focused on colonising the homeland rather than overseas territories, as there was so much land and so many resources within America – typically treating native Americans as non-people, who ended up in reservations.

There was some expansion overseas during the 19th and early 20th centuries – most notably with establishment of the Panama canal, but the ideology of American isolationism prevented this from happening.

It was effectively WW1 which led America to become to the world’s global hegemon – through lending money to the Allies, it built up huge economic dominance, which only grew as Europe was thrown into turmoil during WW2, following which America rose to dominance as the country which would seek to ‘develop’ the rest of the world, which is the focus of part two of the book….. (to be updated later)

 

 

 

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