Reverse Economic Imperialism (REI)


Charles Mackay, in his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds wrote, “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” 1

History is in great part the history of the crowd. What the crowd thinks is what counts. Crowds tend to be set in their beliefs. Crowds rarely change their collective mindset even when astonishing facts or damning evidence come to light. Yet to reach a post-imperial stasis which can be built upon, the crowd must be tamed, even when it is plainly quite wrong. There must be much biting of lips and holding of tongues. This group of aggrieved actors are better to resolve differences with than to debate or war with. The most stubborn of static mules harnessed to a cart full of carrots tends to manifest its utility by trotting forward only when some carrots are held up to its nostrils.

Take the two sides of the slavery scandal – those British who laud its abolition and the descendants of the slaves who, even one hundred and fifty years on, still clamour for compensation. Slavery is still the touch-paper of all the imperialist victim movements in the world today and the topic has been shrewdly co-opted by opportunistic Marxists. While one crowd has a fixed imagining of civilising Victorians like William Wilberforce running around creating the forerunner for modern human rights, the other (these days the shriller crowd) imagines white slave owners whipping their black ancestors into an early grave.

Neither are wholly in the wrong.

So, who is more correct?

In 1807, the British Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, effective throughout the British Empire. It wasn’t until 1838 that slavery was abolished in British colonies giving all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. It is estimated about 12.5 million people were transported as slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean between 1500 and 1807 2. When the Abolition Act was passed, there were 46,000 slave owners in Britain, according to the Slave Compensation Commission, the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners 3. British slave owners received a total of £20m (£16bn in today’s money) in compensation when slavery was abolished. The slaves received nothing.

Free black people owned slaves in each of the thirteen original states of America and later in every state that countenanced slavery, at least since Anthony Johnson and his wife Mary went to court in Virginia in 1654 to obtain the services of their indentured servant, a black man, John Casor, for life 4. For a time, free black people could even “own” the services of white indentured servants in Virginia too. Free blacks owned slaves in Boston by 1724 and in Connecticut by 1783, and by 1790, 48 black people in Maryland owned 143 slaves 5. The defence of the right of black people to own slaves was underlined in the statement made on the eve of the American Civil War by a group of free people of colour in New Orleans, offering their services to the Confederacy, in part because they were fearful for their own enslavement:

“The free coloured population [native] of Louisiana … own slaves, and they are dearly attached to their native land … and they are ready to shed their blood for her defence. They have no sympathy for abolitionism; no love for the North, but they have plenty for Louisiana. They will fight for her in 1861 as they fought [to defend New Orleans from the British] in 1814-1815.” 6

Compared to the 12.5 Million slaves transported in the transatlantic slave trade, Free the Slaves estimates that the number of people in slavery today is at least 27 million 7. While a slave in 1850 in the American South cost the equivalent of approximately $40,000, the cost of a slave today averages around $90, depending on the work they are forced to carry out 8. A young adult male labourer in Mali might only fetch $40, whereas an HIV-free female might attract a price of up to $1000 9.

The biggest slave owners at present are black Africans and Arabs from countries long liberated from their imperial masters. But it’s not just developing countries who have a problem. Estimates by the US State Department suggest up to 17,500 slaves are brought into the US every year, with 50,000 of those working as prostitutes, farm workers or domestic servants 10. According to the CIA, more than 1,000,000 people are living ‘enslaved’ in the US today 11.

These facts should both shock and surprise. They should also open up our eyes to the hypocrisy of modern discourse – underscored by postmodern identity politics and thus blurred by arguments around race – which is dominated by those from now independent states which, even all these years on, proclaim themselves ‘victims of imperialism’, often as a misdirection play to cover for their own poor records in government during their years of post-colonial freedom.

Yes, the slave family compensation organisation is colossal even six generations after the last British-owned slave was traded. Yet whites from the developed world explaining John Casor 12 to a black empowerment ambassador in Accra or Johannesburg will not result in the desired grey bridge over which the human race can agree to make progress. Instead, such conversation in the present day will provoke a starker enhancement of the black and white divide. Similarly, explaining the fallacy of Lenin’s monopolistic capitalism to a third generation of imperialist victims is entirely futile. The mantra has been swallowed and is now in their blood – chanted as an excuse by the leaders of failing countries to brainwash their peoples against “yankee mierda” (Chavez and Maduro in Venezuela) or British imperialists (Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe).

Choosing the title Reverse Economic Imperialism for a formula to move the world forward to a better place is, on the face of it, perhaps just as meaningless. For Economic Imperialism, as it is defined by those who use the term pejoratively today – Marxists, proponents of World Systems Theory and other short-cutting dependency theorists – never actually existed. And that Karl Marx should be so associated with the term Economic Imperialism is ironic, for Marx never once used it. It was not until eponymous writings in 1920 by Leonard Woolf 13 that the actual phrase gained any kind of recognition at all.

The idea that free-trade imperial states use informal controls to secure their mounting economic influence has no doubt attracted disgruntled Marxists trying to duck the problems of earlier Marxist interpretations of capitalism. The deliberate or implied policy in which one country makes another dependent upon the first country’s resources – effectively giving one country control over another – was never the reason for imperialism, although undoubtedly some of the reasons behind imperialism fall within the economic realm.

Two of the most stridently imperialist powers of the Second World War, Japan and Italy, set out on their imperialist adventures as nations poor in capital. Whatever the urge that drove them to expansion, it couldn’t be the need for the export of capital – thus directly challenging the thesis of Hobson and Lenin that vast amounts of capital needed to flow into the founding of colonies. Likewise, as Robinson and Gallagher 14 have demonstrated, Africa provided little trade, less revenue, and few local collaborators, while imperialist Britain supplied little capital and few settlers. Economic Imperialism as a theory has long been blown out of the water.

So, why then the term Reverse Economic Imperialism for a global panacea?

Because today’s self-described victims of Economic Imperialism, even though they are factually and statistically erroneous, best illuminate the chasm between today’s first world movers (most of whom are former imperial masters) and those who will always be the stragglers if the issues they suffer from are not addressed. It is better to placate the stragglers’ preposterous position rather than kicking up the kind of resistance which has a very good chance of ending the human race. We’ll get nowhere as humankind post Covid-19 without re-negotiating debt, implanting sovereign wealth funds into straggler nations and pulling the weak up by their boot-straps and into vaccination programmes. Save all to save all.

Those with an axe to wield against former imperialist nations think they have a wealth of evidence to draw from. The facts speak for themselves, so they argue:  

There are close to 8 billion people in the world, in some 200 countries 15. There can be no doubt that an exceedingly small minority of rich, powerful countries – or rather, the rich and powerful in those countries – effectively run the world economy. Global inequality is growing, with half the world’s wealth now in the hands of just 1% of the population, according to Credit Suisse16. A person needs only $3,210 (£2,100) to be in the wealthiest 50% of world citizens. About $68,800 secures a place in the top 10%, while the top 1% have more than $759,900 (defining wealth as the value of assets including property and stock market investments but excluding debt). About 3.4 billion people – just over 70% of the global adult population – have wealth of less than $10,000. A further 1 billion – a fifth of the world’s population – are in the $10,000-$100,000 range. Each of the remaining 383m adults – 8% of the population – has wealth of more than $100,000. This number includes about 34m US dollar millionaires. About 123,800 individuals of these have more than $50m, and nearly 45,000 have more than $100m.17

The dependency theorists and the world systems’ theorists can thus happily exploit the crowd by mixing their propaganda with truths backed by pools of readily-available statistics. They can cherry-pick facts to blacken capitalism and associate capitalist strategies with the worst of colonialism, and with their favourite accusation of a perpetuation of imperialism. They have an exploded world population as an audience and their converts are numerous. Once staid NGO’s like Oxfam now regularly tweet their followers with messages like, “Fight against extreme #inequality + fight against #climatechange joint struggles against same foe: destructive economic system #gdilaunch” 18

Normally, it would be sensible to fight propagandists with truth – expose their lies and illuminate their hypocrisies. In this instance there is little point, and the human race is running out of time. The first world cannot afford to leave stragglers in an increasingly smaller world where nuclear material can be acquired on the open market alongside other weapons capable of reducing London or New York to rubble. This is not a question of giving into terrorism – no. The terrorists – who hate this world – should continue to be droned and annihilated. It is making the point that sooner or later down the line straggler nations will en masse become the terrorists if interventions are not made soon to lift up our fellow human beings from the relative quagmire they find themselves in.

The first movers to an AI-assisted new world will need to cover an eye and not point out to these demagogues their ongoing lack of a suitable alternative to capitalism. They will have to ignore their calls for income redistribution in the name of equality knowing full well such Marxism has failed wherever it’s been tried. The classical Marxists and now the postmodern neo-Marxists – the Lenins, Bukharins & Luxemburgs, along with the Franks and Wallersteins, Derridas and Lyotards – all underestimated capitalism’s capacity to adapt to change and be just as compassionate, if not more compassionate, than those humanistic tenets of Marxism. Instead, first movers will need to radically scale up implementation in these straggler societies the kernels of entrepreneurship and technological drivers which will make the people freely aspire and rise – whatever their blinkered leaders and woke activists from NGOs tell them. Let them help themselves, as first world technology empowers them on their way.

The world economy is already going through a major structural shift, with some emerging markets rapidly catching up with advanced economies. This is a positive sign for a better world. However, as the world becomes ever more multipolar and interdependent, multilateral solutions are needed now more than ever to fight the risks and reap the rewards of integration. The complex interaction of trade, capital, information and technology is leading to a new global convergence, for better and for worse:

On the positive side, the surge in information enhances human lives – improving health, education, and communication. Trade and financial integration have underpinned strong growth and job creation and helped narrow the gap between rich countries and poor. Division between rich and poor countries is blurring as technology becomes a global commodity that developing and emerging economies import.

Contagion Map: Based on flights to and from US airports 2019

However, as we have seen from the prolonged recovery from the global financial crisis of 2008, economic interconnectedness carries grave risks of contagion as well as gains. Small economies can bring down large ones, and a disaster in one country has ripple effects experienced around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic is an example of how strains in one land criss-cross others – how transnational exposure is inevitable. Global supply chains mean that a disruption on one side of the world can affect consumer decisions on the other. Travellers transmit disease across continents just by passing through the same hub airports. And climatic catastrophes, as ever, challenge all nations to work together.

The Global Village 19 increasingly requires a new global ethic to save it – to cope with financial crises, pandemics, tree and plant infections and to manage climate change. Meanwhile, the very worst of the anti-capitalists –  theocratic terrorists – must be curbed and intelligence shared across nations, with pariah nations reformed.

There’s no denying most of the world’s problems happen to be in the former colonies. It’s time to bury the old, failed Marxist models which have done so much harm to them – just as military imperialism, theocracy and the most extreme forms of laissez faire capitalism have done harm too – and recognise that to reverse these negative effects, which the Marxists still blame on economic imperialism, requires an embracing of a fresh and compassionate capitalism and a confronting of problems shaped by the past.

What are the typical characteristics of these self-described imperialist ‘victims’? And what are the available remedies?

A typical characteristic of former colonies is a lack of motivation – in some lands this negativity manifests itself as resignation bordering on defeatism. While former colonies like India and Hong Kong have economic chutzpah aplenty, many of the others, like Sudan and Jamaica, are economic basket cases. With heavy government debt and an economy dependent upon tourism and bauxite exports, Jamaica has struggled during the world financial crisis with a per capita GDP of just $5,600 20. This lack of motivation in former colonies has frequently been caused by deleterious entities filling vacuums since empire faded: extremist theocracies, war, graft, dictatorships and, as a consequence of diverse blends of the aforementioned, famine.

The ways out of vicious circles of defeatism are always obvious – popular regime change, peace, secular government, education, graft-eradication and investment – but too often there is a palpable lack of motivation on the part of anyone to implement an exit, as aspiring revolutionaries get tortured and jailed or they succumb, often reasonably, to self-preservation, family security and a ticket out.

Even in relatively serene former colonies – like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire – there are major youth unemployment problems. (The population in the 15-24 age group in Ghana has an unemployment rate of 25.6 %, twice that of the 25-44 age group and three times that of the 45-64 age group21). The solution is obvious – create more jobs. This is where reversing traditional economic imperialism (even though it never existed) is possible. What is stopping investment in gold-rich Ghana’s jewellery schools or the Republic of Congo’s diamond-polishing gemmologist colleges? Why does Ghanaian gold have to be exported to Abu Dhabi or London? Why do Congolese diamonds invariably end up in Antwerp or Mumbai? There is no need to perpetuate the acquisition of sugar from Jamaica by the first world only for first world nations to sell Jamaica value-added biscuits in return – that’s always been bad for the Jamaican economy.

Remedies for moods of national defeatism are too often offered by short-cut opportunists. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela was a master of veneer – creating the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and allowing the continued promotion of the Miss Venezuela competition to continue to shape the nation’s image, while oil prices fell, and his socialist policies wrecked the Venezuelan economy. Costa Rica’s run to the quarter finals of the soccer World Cup in 2014 buoyed the national mood against a backcloth of public dissatisfaction with the state of the country’s democracy, allegations of official corruption, and rising rates of crime linked to Mexican drug cartels. The former British colony of Sri Lanka – rated 66/1 outsiders at the outset – were cricket amateurs in all but name. A tiny country ravaged by civil war, a team with no prior cricket success, a board so poor that players were unpaid and sleeping on each other’s sofas. And yet they did not just win the Cricket World Cup in 1996, they won their way – with joy, quirkiness and daring. Their victory was truly extraordinary – a bolt from the blue that changed cricket and Sri Lanka forever.

The world of the future will be ever more multipolar and interdependent, despite the positive and growing trend of a return to nation statehood. This calls for emerging and developing countries to play a greater role in international institutions. Regional financial arrangements are one way to help underpin global financial stability, possibly with IMF help. The Latin American Reserve Fund and the Chiang Mai Initiative, created by the 10 countries making up the loose market-focused Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus China, Korea, and Japan are loose and effective trading models for other groups of sovereign nation states to emulate.

The Marxists and their victims will not stop whining about the frequent encroachment of past imperial powers in former colonies, whether France’s sending of counter terrorism squads to Bamako in Mali in 2015 to help with an al Qaeda affiliated hotel attack, or Britain’s similarly altruistic role in a military intervention in Sierra Leone in May 2000 under the codename Operation Palliser 22.

The Marxists and their victims even scorn at aid, calling it tainted imperialistic donations, whilst referring to aid’s subtexts of “soft power”. According to the 2015 Soft Power World Rankings report from Comres, the Portland Group, and Facebook, Britain held the top spot in soft power, followed by Germany in second place 23. It does not help that the top ten features an identity parade which happens to include all the usual imperialist suspects: the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Humanitarian aid has long been portrayed as an imperialistic Trojan Horse by Marxists who on the one hand demand aid as reparation and on the other claim it has strings attached. Western countries are trying to impose the globalist “Western” way of living on people in countries with completely different cultures, so they claim. Humanitarian aid is seen by them as an illusion, whereby third world countries are merely indebted to repay their loans, with interest, back to their imperialist masters. Humanitarian aid is nothing more than extra taxation for the Westerners, which after a small detour, disappears in the pockets of big finance. Marxists have even gone so far as describing humanitarian aid as a form of terrorism, even as genocide 24.

The end goal for former imperialist masters should be to back out and give former colonies full, unconditional operational independence, such as India has embraced. Meddling should be restricted to self-preservation. If aid is getting in the way of the growth of capitalism in former colonies – and there are manifold examples of bad, dependency-creating aid throughout the years – then let commerce flourish on the back of technologies, especially the Web. Commerce is lasting and real. Aid was always meant as a stop-gap. Commerce and entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.25 If it’s Western entrepreneurs or Repats (those expats returning home from the First World to the Third) who ignite the entrepreneurial capitalism required to boost straggler economies, who cares? Progress must be real and enduring.

There is some common ground on which notions of perpetuating imperialism can begin to be reversed:

There is general agreement across the Marxist-Capitalist divide that press censorship kills markets – such as we see in TV channel-closing Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea (which has one private broadcaster owned by the president’s son) or in Burma, where citizens risk arrest for daring to listen to BBC radio in public. Add to press censorship Internet censorship, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Speech, and Human Rights. How can the crowd possibly change its mind-set – assimilate blatant facts – when they can’t trust their sources? How can a country flourish when the State controls all media, employs formal censorship regulations, wields violence, uses imprisonment and harassment against journalists, limits journalists’ mobility, interferes in the production and distribution of publications, implements laws forbidding criticism, jams foreign news broadcasts, and restricts private Internet access? People in these countries are virtually isolated from the rest of the world by authoritarian rulers who muzzle the media and keep a chokehold on information through restrictive laws, fear, and intimidation.

Freedom of expression and press freedom are critical to the fruitful implementation of good governance and human rights around the world. Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development, while also working to expose injustice, corruption and the abuse of power. The amount of freedom a country has, as determined by Freedom House measures 26, does have an effect on per capita GDP. Generally, the more freedom a country has, the higher the GDP per capita is 27. Countries should promote and establish free regimes in order to optimise economic output.

Similarly, worldwide, certain countries are using laws and state harassment to intimidate and silence human rights activists. Globally, civic space is shrinking at an alarming rate. Activists are stigmatised as “foreign agents” in Sri Lanka 28 and have been branded “evil society” in Kenya 29. In Ethiopia, they have been driven off the map, while in Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Venezuela they are thrown in jail. They face continuous harassment in Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Many donor countries tend to channel the bulk of their development aid directly to governments, forgetting that the best guarantor for democracy and development is the demand side – via a strong and vibrant civil society – rather than the supply side, via the voracious appetite and wasteful apparatus of the state.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital

Take developing Cambodia as a positive example for the present – a country plagued by war, genocide and internal strife for several decades after gaining independence in 1953 following integration into the French Indochina union in 1887. Cambodia still lacks reliable rule of law – laws regulating the media are vaguely written and unevenly applied (the 1993 constitution guarantees the right to free expression and a free press) – but it does have a vibrant civil society to check government power. Today’s capitalist Cambodia, with an economy that averaged 8.1 percent growth from 2000-2012 according to the World Bank, is a far cry from what the Khmer Rouge envisioned when it abolished money and property ownership, executed entrepreneurs and blew up the central bank 30. The World Bank says the country of 15 million people is a top global performer in tackling poverty, having cut the ratio of poor from 53 percent of its population in 2004 to 20 percent in 201131. Foreign direct investment has grown, from $2.65 billion recorded in 2007 to as high as $10.8 billion in subsequent years, according to Cambodia’s investment board. There’s now a small stock market and the number of banks has nearly doubled since a decade ago, with 35 commercial lenders providing $9.5 billion in loans since records started. Cambodia’s Credit Bureau expects that to surpass $14 billion by 2020 and credit demand to almost double to 3.3 million people. Forty years after the population of Phnom Penh were emptied into labour camps, the city is swelling, with malls, office towers, hotels and fast-food chains popping up rapidly. Democracy funding, especially when it goes directly to activists, allows people to organise, take a stake in their societies and to dream.

Injustice still reverberates across former colonial nations, many years after independence. This is seen in high levels of corruption across state apparatus, nepotism and crooked judicial systems. History and politics have largely determined the nature of any country’s legal system. No legal system is set in stone but will adapt itself to changing circumstances and trends. Obviously advances in technology have encouraged a much more global world. Trends towards international legal systems are exemplified by those of the European Union and the United Nations.

It is difficult to overstate the negative impact of a corrupt judiciary – it erodes the ability of the international community to tackle transnational crime and terrorism, it diminishes trade, economic growth and human development, and, most importantly, it denies citizens impartial settlement of disputes with neighbours or the authorities. When the latter occurs, corrupt judiciaries fracture and divide communities by keeping alive the sense of injury created by unjust treatment and inequitable mediation. Judicial systems debased by bribery undermine confidence in governance by facilitating corruption across all sectors of government, starting at the helm of power. In so doing they send a blunt message to the people: in this country corruption is tolerated.

The growth of international dispute resolution reflects the challenge ahead and gives us the solution to clean up existing loci of injustice. By pushing for web-broadcast hearings, ensuring independence of prosecution and adjudication, as well as demanding accountability, there is now a way, by spreading transparent international dispute resolution into the courts of suffering countries – and letting those courts cash in on the process – forcing amelioration of local systems and increased answerability for local prosecutors and judges.

Corruption and economic turmoil often go hand-in-hand. Corruption plays a major role in fostering staggering poverty and broken economic systems in a much more blatant way than imperialism ever did. Of Transparency International’s Top 10 most corrupt countries today, seven out of ten are former colonies 32.

Migration has been both a driving force and by-product of globalisation. As a result of the 2008 global financial crisis, the future will see much more selective migration, with advanced economies less willing to accept unskilled immigrants, as is now happening in immigration points-based post-Brexit Britain. As advanced economies emerge from the crisis to encounter the reality of aging populations, they will need skilled immigrant workers to perform the jobs and pay the taxes that support the elderly. But how can developing nations cope with this constant poaching of their human capital?

Africa’s ability to reach its economic potential has been stymied by a never-ending brain drain, the loss of well-educated professionals who seek opportunities in developed countries. A 2013 report from the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found one in nine Africans with a tertiary education – some 2.9 million people from the continent – were living and working in developed nations in North America, Europe and elsewhere 33.

The number of African migrants has grown more than 50% in the past 10 years, more than any other region in the world 34. The causes are complex and varied – from wars and political instability to the attraction of better wages and greater opportunities abroad. A 2011 study from the British Medical Journal calculated the cost of human capital in economic terms. It found that the lost investment of domestically-educated doctors migrating from sub-Saharan African countries to Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States reached nearly $2.2 billion 35. Though Africa may be thought of as a place where developed nations send aid, in reality its educational system has long been underwriting the healthcare needs of developed countries.

The healthcare consequences go even deeper. Africa’s reliance on the pharmaceutical industry outside its borders to address the needs of the continent’s population has left gaps. As incomes rise and prosperity spreads, urbanisation, changing lifestyles and western diets are changing the healthcare burden in Africa. Innovative medicines to treat the ailments of Africans remain elusive as Western pharmaceutical companies look to other markets to drive their revenues and shape future market growth.

Despite the growing health threats of chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, cancer and heart disease, Africa’s medicine cabinet consists largely of generic drugs – meaning that most medications will have been on the market for at least a decade before people in Africa can gain access to them. The African Union for the past decade has taken positive steps to reverse this trend through such initiatives as the New Partnership of Africa’s Development 36.It has sought to encourage the doctors, scientists, engineers and other professionals who make up the African diaspora to return home and put their talents to work to help drive an African renaissance.

African Migrants in the World 2010

The loss of educated and skilled people is by no means a phenomenon that is exclusive to Africa or so-called victims of imperialism. As emerging economies build momentum, growth drives opportunity and attracts expatriates home. In China, hundreds of thousands of educated professionals, who left their homeland to study and work, have returned. These so-called “sea turtles” have come back with desirable skills, a network of international business contacts and innovative ideas to energise the Chinese economy. In India, which is relishing a brain gain, scientists are returning home because of the relative strength of the Indian economy and growing opportunities there. Elsevier, the publisher of scientific journals, reported in 2013 that India is now a net importer of productive scientific talent 37.

Policies need to communicate that expatriates are both wanted and needed back home. The developing nations need to safeguard their value, keep and attract back home their prized human capital. There are hopeful signs in parts of Africa that trends are improving. South Africa’s Adcorp, a staffing, outsourcing and human resources management firm, reported in 2014 that since the global financial crisis began in 2008, a net 359,000 high-skilled South Africans have returned from working in other countries 38.

As of 2014, the country with the highest life expectancy was Monaco at 89.52 years; the country with the lowest life expectancy was Chad at just 49.81 years 39. People are living much longer worldwide than they were two decades ago, as death rates from infectious diseases and cardiovascular disease have fallen, according to a new, first-ever journal publication of country-specific cause-of-death data for 188 countries. Causes of death vary widely by country, but, at the global level, drug use disorders and chronic kidney disease account for some of the largest percent increases in premature deaths since 1990. Death rates from some cancers, including pancreatic cancer and kidney cancer, also increased. At the same time, countries have made great strides in reducing mortality from diseases such as measles and diarrhoea, with 83% and 51% reductions, respectively, from 1990 to 2013 40.

Looking at former colonies, mortality rates are generally far lower than those of their former imperialist masters, yet a variety of causes contributed to life expectancy declines globally. Diabetes, other endocrine disorders, and chronic kidney disease decreased life expectancy across many regions, including central Latin America. Mental disorders had a negative impact in multiple regions, especially North America. Intentional injuries reduced life expectancy in South Asia, the high-income countries of the Asia Pacific region, and southern sub-Saharan Africa. In former Russian colonies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, cirrhosis took a toll on life expectancy. HIV/AIDS was a major cause of death in Southern sub-Saharan Africa and to a smaller extent in Western and Eastern sub-Saharan Africa.

There is a huge role for philanthrocapitalism – the compassionate hand of capitalism – in breaching this mortality gap. The work of the Gates Foundation – built on the fortunes of capitalist Bill Gates and generous billionaires like Warren Buffett – are a case in point:

Over the past two decades, tremendous progress has been made toward the eradication of polio. In 1988, when the World Health Assembly established the goal of eradicating the disease and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched, wild poliovirus was endemic in 125 countries and about 350,000 people, primarily young children, were paralysed by polio annually. Since then, immunisation efforts have reduced the number of polio cases globally by more than 99 percent, saving more than 10 million children from paralysis. Polio remains endemic in just three countries—Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—and fewer than 250 cases were reported in 2012, compared to 650 cases in 2011 41. The Gates Foundation has shown a unique ability to contribute to polio eradication by taking big risks and by making non-traditional investments that have led to valuable programme improvements. Examples include funding for Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to replace hand-drawn maps for campaign planning, GPS tracking to monitor the movement of vaccination campaign teams, and investments in polio vaccine research.

The interconnectedness of the world now puts Sierra Leoneans with Ebola in the same airport lounge in Dubai as the descendants of British and French imperialists. So why – as an extension of sound domestic disease prevention – shouldn’t British taxpayers fund a British Ebola treatment facility in Kerry Town, near the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown?

British Army Engineers and Sierra Leonean construction workers built the centre including an 80-bed treatment centre managed by the NGO Save the Children and a 12-bed centre staffed by British Army medics specifically for health care workers and international staff responding to the Ebola crisis. The construction of the treatment facility was funded by the British Department for International Development – designed and overseen by British Army Royal Engineers. It was the first of 6 centres to be built by Britain in a bid to contain, control and defeat Ebola in Sierra Leone. The site also hosted an Ebola testing laboratory run by British scientists to accurately diagnose patients 42.

As Ebola waned in Sierra Leone, the British taxpayer-funded hospitals became fixed hospitals for the local populations. To prevent global pandemics in the global village, the interconnectedness of healthcare and pharmaceutical provision should be internationalised. How can such measures paid for by the British taxpayer be portrayed as a perpetuation of economic imperialism?

Almost all of today’s rich countries used tariff protection and subsidies to develop their industries in the earlier stages of their development. It is particularly important to note that Britain and the USA, the two countries that are supposed to have reached the summit of the world economy through free-market, free-trade policy, are actually the ones that most aggressively used protection and subsidies today 43. Even countries which the Marxists worship, like Sweden, which later came to represent the ‘small open economy’ to many economists, also strategically used tariffs, subsidies, cartels, and state support for R&D to develop key industries, especially textile, steel, and engineering.

Rich countries are still kicking away the ladder that allowed them to climb to where they are now. What can be done to change this?

First, the facts about the historical experiences of the developed countries should be more widely publicised. This is not just a matter of ‘getting history right’, but also one of allowing the developing countries to make more informed choices. This is not to say that every developing country should adopt an interventionist development strategy. Some of them may indeed benefit from following the Swiss or Hong Kong models. However, this strategic choice should be made in the full knowledge that historically most of the successful countries did the opposite in the past when they faced the same international competitive challenge from more advanced countries.

Second, the conditions attached to bilateral and multilateral financial assistance offered to developing countries should be radically changed. It should be accepted that the orthodox recipe is not working, and also that there can be no single ‘best practice’ policies that everyone should use. More specifically, in terms of policies, the ‘bad policies’ that most of today’s developed countries implemented with so much effectiveness when they were developing countries themselves should be at least allowed, if not actively encouraged, by the developed countries and the international development policy establishment that they control. While it is true that activist trade and industrial policies can sometimes degenerate into a web of red tape and corruption, this should not mean that these policies should never be used under any circumstances.

Third, WTO rules should be re-written so that the developing countries can more actively use tariffs and subsidies for industrial development. They should also be allowed to have less stringent patent laws and other intellectual property rights laws.

Fourth, improvements in institutions should be encouraged, but this should not be equated with imposing a fixed set of today’s – not even yesterday’s – Anglo-American institutions on all countries. There need to be more serious attempts, both at the academic and the practical levels, to explore exactly which institutions are necessary, or at least beneficial, and for what types of countries, given their stages of development and their economic, political, social, and even cultural conditions. Special care has to be taken in order not to demand excessively rapid upgrading of institutions by the developing countries, especially given that they already have quite sophisticated institutions when compared to today’s developed countries at comparable stages of development and given that establishing and running new institutions is costly.

By having the freedom to choose policies and institutions that are more suitable to their conditions, the developing countries will be able to develop faster. This will also benefit the developed countries in the long run, as it will increase their trade and investment opportunities. That the developed countries, and the international institutions which they influence, cannot see this is the great tragedy of our time. Let’s reverse it.

There’s still a lack of education globally, particularly in former imperialist colonies. As of 2012, 31 million primary-school pupils worldwide dropped out of school. An additional 32 million repeated a grade. In the sub-Saharan region, 11.07 million children leave school before completing their primary education. In South and West Asia, that number reaches 13.54 million.44 While girls are less likely to begin school, boys are more likely to repeat grades or drop out altogether. According to UNESCO, 61 million primary school-age children were not enrolled in school in 2010. Of these children, 47% were never expected to enter school, 26% attended school but left, and the remaining 27% are expected to attend school in the future.45 Children living in a rural environment are twice as likely to be out of school than urban children. Additionally, children from the wealthiest 20% of the population are 4 times more likely to be in school than the poorest 20% 46.

There are ten barriers as to why children are not getting educated: a lack of funding for education, having no teacher, or having an untrained teacher, no classroom, a lack of learning materials, the exclusion of children with disabilities, being the ‘wrong’ gender, living in a country in conflict or at risk of conflict, distance from home to school, hunger and poor nutrition and the expense of education (formal or informal fees)47. There are no excuses for NGOs and philanthrocapitalists to not eradicate all of these obstacles, except where conflicts hinder eradication.

The other problem is what are these children being taught? South Africa’s universities, for example, are a hotbed of Marxist revolutionary teaching and, through identity politics and grievance inculcation, they encourage racist discrimination 48. Similarly, Pakistan is seeing an increase in segregation at university – the International Islamic University in Islamabad separating male and female teachers and students. There is even an all-female university, the Fatima Jinnah Women University. How does the regressive makeup of these institutions help the entrepreneurs and political leaders of tomorrow? South Africa is suffering under a Marxist ANC. Pakistan is suffering from grave economic problems – the country would benefit from women in the workplace.

Investment in schools of economics (preferably of the Hayekian variety) and the establishment of aforementioned gemmology and jewellery schools, mining colleges, polytechnic skill centres, commodities training, journalist schools, law colleges and other places of higher education – these investments are minor for some of the great philanthropic foundations of the wealthy today. Affluent Saudi Arabia’s attempts to bombard Muslim countries and Muslim schools in the West with closed-minded Wahhabi literature and intolerant school materials needs countering with creativity and common sense – with Roald Dahl, JK Rowling and Thomas Sowell.

The Web allows for education of the masses, as long as Internet infrastructure is available. It’s a win-win for developing economies and governments and there are now many free, quality education sites available online. The government of Rajasthan, one of the largest states in India, is building out extensive infrastructure for Information and Communication Technology resources and training, with the collaboration of multiple international agencies including the World Economic Forum. Large orders by India’s state governments to meet election promises to provide free laptops to students have come to the rescue of a sluggish PC market in recent years and are creating new leaders in the business. In 2013 the government in the most populous state – Uttar Pradesh – cleared an order for 1.5 million laptops each costing just under Rs 20,000 (US$ 400) 49. The laptops were given free to every student in the state who passed the Class XII examination. Alone this Uttar Pradesh order was worth Rs 28.58 billion.

Overpopulation is the blight of many countries and blame for the problem can hardly be laid at the door of past imperial masters, yet it is the past imperial masters who are now paying part of the price, as economic migrants seek asylum at great cost to receiving countries. Take those migrants camped in the Jungle in Calais waiting to travel illegally to Britain under a truck tarpaulin, or those economic migrants from Sub Saharan Africa who loiter around Milan’s Central station, having turned it into the gateway to Europe for migrants arriving from Sicily.

Overpopulation remains the leading driver of hunger, desertification, species depletion and a range of social maladies across the planet. Still Catholics and Muslims, amongst others, claim that overpopulation is not, nor has ever been, a problem. In 2006, countries with a Muslim majority had an average population growth rate of 1.8% per year (when weighted by percentage Muslim and population size). This compares with a world population growth rate of 1.1% per year. Globally, Muslims have the highest fertility rate, an average of 3.1 children per woman—well above replacement level 50.

To make progress in the most recent round of the age-old debate between religious optimists (included amongst which should be the technological optimists since they too are persons of faith) and Malthusian pessimists, it’s important to establish criteria and characterise consequences. It gives little satisfaction for sustainable population advocates to point out that the past twenty years saw an estimated 200 million hunger-related deaths worldwide 51. Relatively fewer occurred in countries where population was stable. The U.N. reports that today one in eight people in the world suffers chronic undernourishment 52. Almost without exception, they live in developing regions, where most of the planet’s population growth continues apace. If family planning had been energetically promoted years ago, enormous suffering could have been avoided. Maybe it’s time the world’s major religions woke up to the deaths and starvation their rulings on reproduction are causing?

Present global trends will lead to a doubling of the world’s urban areas by 2050. That means that cities, mostly in developing countries, will expand from 3 to 6 percent of all-ice free land. It also means that 10 to 15 percent of lands farmed today would be taken out of production 53. In a perfect world, we would have better ways of distributing surplus food to famine-stricken regions or promoting land reform to optimise food production. But for the foreseeable future we will be living in a very imperfect world where communities need to take care of themselves and maintain sustainable populations.

Overpopulation is not just about food shortages and human suffering. Ecologists explain that the collapse in global biodiversity is also linked to overpopulation. China, Mexico and Brazil have been singled out as extreme cases of species loss. Brazil’s population grew four-fold during the past sixty years; so little wonder the Amazon is feeling the pressure. Mexico and China’s growth is comparable.

Israel offers a microcosm of the global situation: a meeting point of three continents, at the middle of the twentieth century, this tiny country was still home to an astonishing assemblage of mammals, birds and reptiles. That’s because in 1949 there were one million people living in Israel. Today there are eight million. The equation is simple: more people means less wildlife. Accordingly, about a third of the country’s 115 indigenous mammal species today are either endangered or critically endangered 54. The amphibian population is almost entirely rooted out.

Israel has a remarkable program of conservation and its powerful Nature and Parks Authority set aside 25% of the country for reserves 55. But growing human settlement continues to fragment habitats and undermine the benefits that nature provides. These go far beyond any individual organism. When humans encroach on open spaces, they also lose the free services that nature provides: filters for clean water, protection from hurricanes, natural pollinators, soil integrity and recreational resources. The rapid rise in populations also tends to sabotage basic social services: schools are crowded, medical care overwhelmed, the legal system backed up, transportation gridlock unbearable and accessible housing inadequate. Infrastructure has an extremely hard time keeping up with relentless growth.

Technological Pollyannas suggest that today’s technologies mean that we in the West needn’t be concerned. But of course, we should. There are global limits that affect us all. Even Israel, whose ultra-hi-tech agriculture probably yields more “crop per drop” than any other country, is only able to produce 45% of the calories required for its growing population 56.

The good news is that public policy matters and can reduce overpopulation. Many countries, from Bangladesh and Iran to Singapore and Thailand adopted policies that incentivise small families, make birth control available, provide better social security and, most of all, empower women. The results are remarkable, showing that trend need not be destiny. As population began to stabilise, the drop in undernourished people in Asia and the Pacific went down from 23.7 percent to 13.9 percent 57. The quality of education, housing and health improved as a matter of course. Countries like Hungary – with decreasing populations – meanwhile seek to increase their birth rate with financial incentives, rather than be receptive to mass migration 58.

It is time to realise that there is a Sowellian trade-off between “quality of life” and “quantity of life.” In a planet with limited resources sustainable growth is an oxymoron. Of course, humanity could all shift to vegan diets, forgo national parks and crowd in a few more billion people, hoping that new levels of efficiency will allow us to survive. But it is well to ask if this really is the kind of world that we want? There is much we can do to reduce the suffering caused by human population growth. But recognising that overpopulation can be a perilous problem constitutes a critical first step.

In conclusion, the very future of human existence depends on a reversal of the current defeatism which dominates so many nations of our world. Any future at all is a pipedream without straggler nations rising and catching up. There must be more human solidarity and an effort to help straggler nations find their path to a future where AI and other benefits can be reaped and maximised.

Time is short. Let’s build a bridge for the anti-capitalists and classify this change as REI, a reverse economic imperialism – even though economic imperialism is a figment of their imaginations –  thus paying homage to their darling Lenin and his wayward coining of phrases.

If the developing countries fail to cast off their grave problems – including overpopulation, injustice, corruption, economic strife, their brain drain and lack of education for their citizens – then there will be an inexorable rise in those fed up with our world and seduced into extremism for hope of a better world to come. Furthermore, the world will be spun into a resource battle and environmental crises which even the most optimistic scientists will be hard-pressed to get us out of, marked by destabilising migratory flows which we are beginning to see today.

If we reverse economic imperialism and implement – universally – an improved radiant form of capitalism, nations will sustain themselves and prosper. The journey of positive globalisation has only just begun. Negative globalisation is already swallowing nation states while positive globalisation is redistributing power in some beneficial ways. Its negative effects are reversible.

What’s far more important than shaping globalisation is surviving. Either we chose to interconnect compassionately, or we are likely to disconnect violently. The Global Village increasingly requires a “new global ethic” to save it. Reverse Economic Imperialism is that new global ethic – it is pragmatic and collaborative, and we must make it happen. Covid-19 has, oddly, given us that chance to assist stragglers and give them the independence that all nation states deserve.

Dominic Wightman is British, the Editor of Country Squire Magazine and runs a mining company in Ghana, West Africa. This is a paper written for Carlyle House.


  1. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is an early study of crowd psychology by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, first published in 1841 under the title Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions.
  2. The most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson.
  3. Slave Compensation Commission Database (UCL London).
  4. Smithsonian Magazine, The Horrible Fate of John Casor, The First Black Man to be Declared Slave for Life in America By Kat Eschner March 8th, 2017.
  5. Up from Slavery; an Unfinished Journey: The Legacy of Dunbar High School. By Archie Morris III D.P.A.
  6. Free People of Color in the Americas, 1492-1830 Michael Taylor, Curator of Books, LSU Libraries.
  7. US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Quote U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca May 18th, 2011.
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  12. Ibid, 4.
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  14. The Imperialism of Free Trade. By Ronald Robinson & John Gallagher, 1982.
  16. Credit Suisse’s global wealth report published Tues 14th November 2017.
  17. Ibid 16.
  19. The term was coined in the early 1960s by Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who was writing about the newer technologies of his day, such as radio and television.
  20. The World Bank GDP per capita (current US$) – Jamaica, 2019.
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  26. Freedom House.
  27. July 2013 Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy 43(2):34-41
  28. HRW 2014
  29. Open Democracy. In Kenya, averting a move to strangle civil society with the financial noose Maina Kiai, 18th December 2013.
  30. Cambodia Economic Update – World Bank Document
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  32. Transparency International
  34. Pew Research Center At Least a Million Sub-Saharan Africans Moved to Europe Since 2010 March 22nd, 2018.
  35. Forbes, In Africa, Moving From A Brain Drain To A Brain Gain Menghis Bairu Apr 14th 2015.
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  44. UNICEF Data
  45. UNESCO Data
  46. Ibid 45
  47. 10 Barriers to Education That Children Living in Poverty Face  By Phineas Rueckert AUG. 13, 2019. Global Citizen.
  48. Ivo Vegter  24 September 2019, Why socialism thrives nowhere, except at universities.
  49. Indian students in some states to get free laptops, rekindling the PC market, Anand ParthasarathyLucknow & Bangalore, January 26 2013. India Tech
  50. UN 2015 World Fertility Report.
  51. Famines, by Joe Hasell and Max Roser, 2013
  52. State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2013), published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
  53. The 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects produced by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).
  54. Red List
  55. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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  57. Borgen Project, Hunger in Asia
  58. CNBC