‘Britain’s prosperity is not based on colonial misdoings’: Nigel Biggar on the Economics of Empire

23 April 2023. By Harry Clynch of Disruption Banking.

‘It’s clear that across culture, politics, and the media, an orthodox view of British colonialism has been established. The British Empire was a racist project which exploited its colonies for economic gain. Britain’s former colonies have never recovered from these crimes. Britain owes reparations to them as a result but can never truly be forgiven for its original sin of colonialism and slavery. The wealth of the City of London, and indeed the nation, was built on the back of this exploitation. It’s a common narrative. But is it true?

‘Nigel Biggar, Emeritus Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, believes the legacy of the British Empire is more complicated than many believe. He has recently published a book, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning, which seeks to address the moral and ethical questions associated with British colonial adventure. He sat down with Disruption Banking to discuss the economic legacy of the British Empire.

Photo credit: Disruption Banking

‘Let’s start with the first point: was the British Empire exploitative? Biggar noted that the term itself “requires some thinking about […] the question of when economic activity becomes oppressive or exploitative, or when economic relations are fair enough, often depends on circumstances.” He did accept that certain British enterprises, such as the East India Company, “acted in a pretty unscrupulous, rapacious way” but also pointed out that “in that period in India, lots of Indians were being rapacious and unscrupulous too so it’s not obvious to me that the British were any worse.”’

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