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Tyler Cowen

Legacy of British Rule Is Still Holding India Back

Evidence mounts that the former colony would have been better off without its master.
The trains were a positive.

The trains were a positive.

Photographer: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

One of the most common debates I hear about India is whether British colonialism has been good or bad for the country’s economic prospects. Defenders of British rule often cite the construction of the railroads, or the spread of the English language, but as time passes the evidence mounts that India would have been much better off on its own.

That’s of relevance for the shouting match, but it also bears on how optimistic we should be about India today. If you view the colonial period as a harmful aberration, you will tend to think India can catch up as it leaves these distortions behind. Conversely, if you see British rule as a plus, you may worry that India will eventually lose some of that inherited dynamism.