Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee for 2016, has something in common with Donald Trump: Sinophobia.
During a 2011 visit to Zambia, she warned about “a new colonialism in Africa.” This time, the Chinese were to blame. As Clinton sees it, the Chinese are extracting wealth from the continent by buying its raw materials. “We saw that during colonial times it [was] easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave,” she griped.
Clinton was adamant. She did not want to see a European-style colonial redux in Africa.
Certainly Chinese state capitalism is not free-market capitalism. But is Chinese mercantilism not preferable to American militarism, an example of which is Libya, a north-African recipient of madam secretary’s largess? Not according to Mrs. Clinton.
As Clinton sees it (as do, no doubt, the Paul-Ryan Republicans and the Bernie Sanders socialists), the “old colonialism” saw underdeveloped nations “bilked by rich capitalist countries,” a phrase used by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress.
According to these highly politicized, socialist, zero-sum formulations regarding colonialism, class warfare and “income inequality,” one person’s plenty is another’s poverty. The corresponding antidote invariably involves taking from one and giving to the other—from rich to poor; from North to South.
The notion, however, of a preexisting income pie from which the greedy appropriate an unfair share is itself pie-in-the-sky. Wealth, earned or “unearned,” as egalitarians term inheritance, doesn’t exist outside the individuals who create it; it is a return for desirable services, skills and resources they render to others. Labor productivity is the main determinant of wages—and wealth. People in the West produce or purchase what they consume—and much more; they don’t remove, or steal it from Third Worlders. Wrote the greatest development economist, Lord Peter Bauer, in Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion: “Incomes, including those of the relatively prosperous or the owners of property, are not taken from other people. Normally they are produced by their recipient and the resources they own.”
Not unlike Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who “dramatically increased U.S. foreign aid” (as reported approvingly in Foreign Affairs magazine); Mrs. Clinton also committed more funds to the Agency for International Development during her tenure as secretary of state.
When it comes to Africa, it’s worth noting, however, that four or five decades since decolonization; colonialism, dependency and racism no longer cut it as explanations for Africa’s persistent and pervasive underdevelopment. “Pseudo-scholars such as [the late] Edward Said and legions of liberal intellectuals have made careers out of blaming the West for problems that were endemic to many societies both before and after their experiences as European colonies,” noted Australian historian Keith Windschuttle, in a 2002 issue of American Outlook.
The truth is that colonization constituted the least tumultuous period in African history. This is fact; its enunciation is not to condone colonialism or similar, undeniably coercive, forays, only to venture, as did George Eliot in Daniel Deronda, that “to object to colonization absolutely is to object to history itself. To ask whether colonization in itself is good or bad is the same as asking whether history is a good or bad thing.”
“The decolonization process” in Africa “was substantially completed by the end of the 1960s,” notes Harrison, in the aforementioned Culture Matters. Yet half of the more than 600 million people south of the Sahara live in poverty. In at least eighteen countries life expectancy is below fifty years, and half or more of women are illiterate. In at least thirteen countries, half or more of the adult population is illiterate. Since the colonial powers decamped, economic conditions have declined across the Dark Continent. Democratic institutions have been slow or have failed to emerge.
The colonialism humbug, unhelpful in explaining and hence helping the Third World, was once “conventional wisdom that brooked no dissent.” Now, claims Harrison, it is rarely mentioned in intellectually respectable quarters. “For many, including some Africans, the statute of limitation on colonialism as an explanation for underdevelopment lapsed long ago.” “Moreover, four former colonies, two British (Hong Kong and Singapore) and two Japanese (South Korea and Taiwan) have vaulted into the First World.”
A former USAID (United States Agency for International Development) official, Harrison, also author of Underdevelopment is a State of Mind, knows of what he speaks: “Over the years, the development assistance institutions have promoted an assortment of solutions,” from land reform, to sustainable, and culturally sensitive, development. Billions of dollars later, “rapid growth, democracy and social justice” remain rare in Africa.
As the researchers cited insist, human behavior is mediated by values. Nevertheless, their cultural argument affords a circular, rather than a causal, elegance: People do what they do because they are who they are and have a history of being that way. But what precisely accounts for the unequal “civilizing potential,” as James Burnham called it, displayed by different groups?
Why have some people produced Confucian ethics (Clinton and Trump’s dreaded Chinese), or Anglo-Protestant ethics—with their mutual emphasis on graft and delayed gratification—while others have midwived Islamic and animistic values, emphasizing conformity, consensus, and control?
Why have certain patterns of thought and action come to typify certain people in the first place? Such an investigation, however, is verboten—a state-of-affairs another Harvard sociologist, Orlando Patterson, blames on “a prevailing rigid orthodoxy,” which is the preferred academic phrase for political correctness:
Culture is a symbolic system to be interpreted, understood, discussed, delineated, respected, and celebrated as the distinct product of a particular group of people, of equal worth with all other such products. But it should never be used to explain anything about the people who produced it.
Still another process that has eluded Africa is detribalization. Tribe burrows deep in Africa’s marrow and, some might contend, infects its lymphatic system in a bad way.
Historians (and certainly treacherous politicians) are in the habit of commending the West for detribalizing and condemning us for Trump-style tribalism.
The beginning of the English nation began with Anglo-Saxon colonizers who massacred the Britons, recounts historian Kenneth M. Newton. “The descendants of these Anglo-Saxons went on to colonize America, replacing the ‘Red Indians.’” The “bloody nature of the various colonizations in the past” notwithstanding, in the case of England, what emerged was “a distinct identity for a people descended from diverse ethnic groups that had previously tended to slaughter each other.” That nation produced Shakespeare, Newton, and George Eliot.
The American Founding Fathers were sired and philosophically inspired by the same Saxon forefathers—and the ancient rights guaranteed by the Saxon constitution. They went on to forge a constitution that transcended their tribe, as we are constantly told by the likes of Clinton and Ryan.
Perhaps for all their continent’s “backwardness,” a concept development economists are no longer allowed to deploy, Africans are at least constitutionally more true to their nature than Westerners, who prefer to tame their tribalism and risk perishing.