The historian Niall Ferguson seems to be everywhere, just now. He recently gave the Reith Lectures, he’s been writing for, or has been mentioned in, various newspaper supplements, and I’ve just finished his book: Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, which Jamie gave to me.
Ferguson likes to be controversial, but there isn’t really that much in this book which is against the normal grain, as he balances the good and the bad of the British Empire. He might easily have taken a harder line when it comes to describing the various forces at work before the American War of Independence, for example.
“…for much (though certainly, as we shall see, not all) of its history, the British Empire acted as an agency for imposing free markets, the rule of law, investor protection and relatively incorrupt government on roughly a quarter of the world.”
“The British rate of growth per capita GDP between 1950 and 1973 was the lowest in Europe, less than half the German rate…It was only after British entry into the ‘Common Market’ that European protectionist tariffs, particularly on agricultural products, forced a dramatic reorientation of British trade from Commonwealth to the continent.”
That’s one reason why our food is so expensive today in the UK.
Interesting facts in 2003 (when the book was published): In 1946 there were 74 independent countries; in 1950 there were 89; in 1995 192. This is known as political fissiparity.
I had to look that word up.
Question – how many of the 84 countries with current populations less than 1 million can you name? Answers are here.