We know that history, law and politics interact to shape modern economic institutions. The question is not whether history "matters", or whether it is "relevant" in understanding economic development, but how precisely it shapes the present and future.
The colonial history of the British Empire is of course relevant to understanding economic development in former colonies, but how that history should be understood is an open question. Understanding history is interesting in and of itself, for its own sake. It also helps us to understand how we arrived where we are now, how to avoid the mistakes of the past, and how to forge different paths in the future.
A key issue is understanding the links between capitalism and colonialism. Capitalism may be defined as "an economic system characterised by comprehensive private property, free-market pricing, and the absence of coercion" (Sternberg). By this definition the coercive element of colonialism was a feature of colonialism, not a feature of capitalism. African socialism rightly rejected colonialism, but mistakenly rejected capitalism under the erroneous presumption that colonialism and capitalism are indistinguishable.
The British Empire was not simply a system of coercive control in its intention or design. It was also a system of trade and commerce.
The perception that colonialism, with all its legal institutions including commerce and the rule of law, were purely about coercion goes a long way in explaining the fear of capitalism and free market exchange.
Fear of being exploited, fear of missing out, fear of being left behind as the world marches on, fear of losing everything.
The ethos of fear largely explains the preference for a strong protective state and strong protective legislation.
"When Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal," he did not mean that all men were equal in all respects...Yet, many today quote Jefferson as though he intended to state that all men ought to be made as equal as possible. This is to speak of equality of condition, a position rejected by Jefferson and all political thinkers in the Age of the American Revolution. It was rejected because even a cursory examination of human nature reveals ineradicable differences among men."
- The Idea of Equality in America
Equality means equal in virtue of our humanity, equal rights to life, liberty and property, and equal in our relationship to law and the state. Equality does not mean the equalisation of life experiences. It does not mean the equalisation of life opportunities. Despite what liberals say, everybody in life cannot have "equal opportunities". Opportunities are influenced by family, income, culture, geography, language, skills, intelligence, history, fortune or misfortune - too many variables for any government to ensure that the opportunities of all human beings are equal.
Nor does equality mean the equalisation of wealth. The socialist dream in which all wealth must be equalised, even at the cost of impoverishing society, has nothing to do with the classical ideal of equality.
Egalitarians who are keen to equalise everything devote substantial effort to measuring inequality. There are several things that could be measured to ascertain the degree of inequality:
As we know, socialists focus only on the first: income and wealth. This may partly be because income and wealth are easier to identify and measure, tend to be more envy-inducing and are treated by governments as easy to fix through tax policies or the simple expedient of printing more cash.
There are many ways to define natural law. In the Ethics of Liberty (great book, google it) Rothbard defines natural law as a set of rules discovered by use of reason – law ‘founded on reason and rational inquiry’. There is an ethical aspect to reason, so that I couldn’t simply say that since I’m feeling lazy it would be ‘reasonable’ to steal my neighbour’s stuff and save myself the effort of honestly acquiring my own. The use of reason must be moral, meaning ethical and right, as Rothbard seeks 'a natural-rights standard to which the wise and honest may repair'.
This implies that theft is not reasonable. By the use of reason it can be understood that theft would not lead to good outcomes for the individuals involved (neither the thief nor the victim) or for the general welfare of society. We know this because we understand human nature. We know how we feel when people steal our stuff, and therefore how others are likely to feel if we steal their stuff. We know the implications for society if everyone is free to steal other people’s stuff. It would not be good. There are no circumstances in which one might argue that it would be ‘reasonable’ to steal other people’s stuff. Thus law prohibits theft.
Those who deride natural law would say that there are some situations where it is perfectly reasonable to steal other people’s stuff. There is no ‘human nature’, everything is relative, and whether or not it’s right to steal depends on who is stealing, and what, and why, and how. These people are known as relativists. Relativists believe that what is reasonable depends on political ideology.
Capitalists might believe that theft is unreasonable and should be prohibited, but that's just because they're selfish and wish to hang onto their stuff. Socialists might believe that theft is noble because it can be harnessed as a means of advancing progressivism and social justice. That's right! Steal those ill-gotten gains off the capitalists! What else can you do when faced with unprecedented market failures? Everybody knows that markets are not perfect, and when they fail, theft may be the only way to reallocate resources to where they are most needed.
So our opinions on the righteousness of theft will vary, and to the relativist that's fine. Some examples:
Many more examples could be derived once reason is divorced from human nature and natural law. Reason then becomes synonymous with 'opinion' and 'preference' and 'politics'. People are able to argue that stealing is moral (it's for a good cause) and arguing against theft is immoral (it shows greed and selfishness, shamelessly hanging onto your stuff when people are starving).
Analysing the link between reason and human nature is confounded by those who swear blind that they’re honestly happy to have people steal from them. They truly feel sorry for the thief. The thief is vulnerable and if you think about it historically, the thief is the real victim.
Does this show that human nature permits a ‘band of reasonable responses’ to the problem of theft? Rothbard argues that reason is objective. We can discover what is or is not reasonable. We are not cast adrift at the mercy of conflicting opinions about reasonableness. There is 'an objective set of ethical norms by which to gauge human actions at any time or place.' There are not different valid 'opinions' on whether theft is reasonable, just as there are not different valid opinions on whether murder is reasonable. The objectively reasonable outcome may not be obvious in complex cases, but it is discoverable, just as the nature of things is capable of discovery.
Now, it is true that the word ‘discovery’ should not be uttered. It has been banned. This is due to the preponderance of white men who claim to have discovered stuff. You see all their statues lording it over others and shamelessly harming them with scientific discoveries.
But it is not reasonable to live in ignorance, to declare that nothing can ever be known, that everything is just people's subjective opinions. To throw up your hands in defeat, to decide never to investigate the nature of things, to just follow whatever the government tells you to do, leads to frustration and despair. It is better to think, to know things, and to understand their true nature including the nature of man and what is good for us.
What is good is what will make us happy. Not just happy in the moment (after all, the thief is 'happy' with his heist as he flees the scene of his crime) but tending towards the happiness of human beings over time. Not idiosyncratic subjective 'I feel so happy when I wallow in a cool mud bath on a hot day' personal preferences, but objective 'this makes human beings happy' - things like being loved or being engaged in meaningful and enjoyable pursuits. Vices may feel good in the moment (laziness, envy, hatred etc which feel momentarily satisfying) but they wouldn't be called 'vices' if they were capable of leading to long term happiness. Natural law reflects the principles that sustain long term happiness for human beings.
This is why even the ferocious St Greta has decided to abandon anger and ingratitude, and instead try to calm down and be a bit happy. Her father informs us that she is ‘much happier since becoming an activist’. That’s nice. Her growing happiness is testament to the reasonableness of her pursuits.
It is not reasonable to choose to be consumed by anger. It is an objective truth that human nature being what it is, being happy is better than being unhappy. Happiness is associated with life, and it is objectively true that life is a good thing.
Natural law is ascertained through reason. Through reason we derive the right to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness. The law prohibits interference with these rights [Fact check: rights are not absolute] but the law does not dictate the moral exercise of one's rights. The property owner may choose to exclude homeless people and that may be immoral, but it would not be illegal. [Fact check: yes, many crimes are both immoral and illegal]. The definition of rights is distinct from the moral exercise of those rights.
Finally, and most important of all, we must ask, is reason racist? Is it racist to be reasonable, or to expect others to be reasonable? We must ask these questions in order to comply with the dictates of identity politics.
At first glance, the use of reason appears to be racist, sexist, Androcentric, Patriarchal, and worst of all, Eurocentric. This is because Aristotle, who advised everyone to be reasonable, was a white man. I know, shocking. They don't tell you this at school, and it's quite shocking to discover that he was a white male (sexuality unknown). They really ought to decolonise the syllabus so that innocent children who are either racially or politically black are not exposed to Aristotle's ideas. Why should black children read Aristotle, when Aristotle wasn't even black? Innocent young girls, forced to study his ideas, without being informed that he was a cis-man and therefore harmful to the female-gendered psyche. Even worse, he lived in the heart of Europe, right at its very foundations. This shows that he was a white supremacist.
These are all marks against reason. It is well known that Aristotle did not do his mandatory equality and diversity training, and therefore we cannot trust anything he said. His theories, as far as we know, could well be riddled with microaggressions. Surely it is safer to read books by black folk which, though they might be lacking in reason and rationality, are at least safe and fact-checked for the absence of harmful microaggressions.
Dig a bit deeper, however, and it appears that the use of reason is the province of all human beings. Unlike animals which survive by instinct, human beings survive and thrive through the use of reason. Reason is not optional, my friends, if you are a human creature and you wish to live. Forget about Aristotle's provenance and ask yourself whether you wish to choose life. You should want to live because, as highlighted earlier, it is objectively true that life is a good thing. And life depends upon the use of reason. Your own use of reason, accessed by engaging your own brain.
My name is Wanjiru and I am proud to have been a Rhodes Scholar. Kenya and St Edmund's College Cambridge, 1998, since you ask.
It has been announced that the good British people are the world's leading perpetrators of horrors and will need to start paying out their slavery reparations right away. This is good news for all those on the receiving end of the payouts. It's almost like winning the lottery. Everyone loves receiving free money from the government so it's good to see reparations being promised. This might seem a bit unfair to any British taxpayer who has never personally perpetrated any horrors, but that's too bad. They should have thought of that before choosing to be descended from horrid slavers and colonisers. Most people would agree that it's only fair and just to make recompense for doing something bad even if you didn't do it. The fact is that you live in a world where horrors occur, and that makes you a joint perpetrator of horrors. The balance of the world must now be restored. Time to pay up!
It was not very nice of Donald Trump to describe third world countries as ‘shithole countries’. This was rude and unacceptable language. Tut tut. Naughty Mr Trump. He needs to use more polite language in future. But even when people use rude words it is necessary to examine their argument carefully, and to consider whether there is any truth in it.
In his 1949 lectures titled Freedom under the Law Lord Denning describes ‘the heritage of freedom’ as ‘the greatest heritage of all.’ The lectures highlight the importance of law in safeguarding freedom, especially individual liberty or personal freedom. Lord Denning defines personal freedom as ‘the freedom of every law-abiding citizen to think what he will, to say what he will, and to go where he will on his lawful occasions without let or hindrance from any other persons.’ Personal freedom prevails over all other rights and interests.
All men are equal in virtue of their humanity. Black or white, rich or poor. We are all equally entitled to legal, political and civil rights. We are equally entitled to fundamental freedoms such as life and liberty. The challenge now is how to defend this ideal in a world of unequal life outcomes. In truth, we will never have equal wealth, beauty or esteem, and this leads socialists to believe that the ideal of equality should be abolished.
in which Lord Cornwallis enjoys colonising his private sphere
Long ago the world was divided into two spheres, public and private. There was a concept known as 'privacy' which sprung many offshoots such as a private life, private space, private correspondence, private shenanigans, and a place called 'home' where you could install a dinner table and say anything you wanted without running the risk of committing a public order offence.
in which our heroes parley with their civilised four-legged friends
An academic philosopher has been cancelled for stating that civilisation is for everyone. The idea of 'civilisation' has become very sensitive for those who fear that they are not regarded by others as sufficiently civilised. They suspect that others regard them as uncivilised. Oh dear. Soon 'civilisation' will join the list of banned words, along with 'nature', 'humanity', 'reason', 'rationality', 'logic' and 'debate'. All these banned ideas are linked. To be civilised is to participate in society based on reasonable interactions with others. If we denounce reason and rationality, and resort instead to mob rule, cancelling those with whom we disagree, trying to get them fired, then we denounce civilisation.
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