Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Economic History of India

Englishmen can look back on their work in India, if not with unalloyed satisfaction, at least with some legitimate pride. They have conferred on the people of India what is the greatest human blessing — Peace. They have introduced Western Education, bringing an ancient and civilised nation in touch with modern thought, modern sciences, modern institutions and life. They have built up an Administration which, though it requires reform with the progress of the times, is yet strong and efficacious. They have framed wise laws, and have established Courts of Justice, the purity of which is as absolute as in any country on the face of the earth. These are results which no honest critic of British work in India regards without high admiration...Romesh Chunder Dutt

On the other hand, he adds, they robbed the place blind, with terrible consequences. He published this 105 years ago, in his The Economic History of India, still a valuable resource for the years from 1757 to 1857. A companion volume takes the history up to the end of the Victorian age.

Two particular crimes were central to the economic damage inflicted - the land tax and the repression of domestic industry in favor of British production. He notes that in most cases, the British did not increase the land tax rate (compared to their Mughal predecessors) but they collected it more efficiently, effectively increasing the rates.

Of course modern critics are not likely to give the English as much credit as Dutt did.