Or, perhaps, an explanation of why Sashi Tharoor is wrong about Britain’s economic rape of India. The problem being that what India had during the days of the Raj was Malthusian economic growth. Just like many other places around the world over that time period, some of them colonies others of them not. Just like everywhere that doesn’t have an industrial revolution has Malthusian growth in fact:
We should note that everything here is about the sub-continent, not just that area now called India. Tharoor tells us that when Clive took over Bengal (to use a usefully indeterminate phrase) the Indian economy was 23% of the world’s, by the time Mountbatten left it was only 4%.
Entirely true, but wholly, entirely even, misleading. The implication of the statement is that the Indian economy shrank over those centuries, something which is not in fact true. What did happen is that the global economy grew faster than the Indian one.
The American economic historian Brad Delong has made estimates of the size of that global economy over time. Of course, these are adjusted for inflation so that we may usefully compare them.
And the economy in 1750 — not quite Clive’s correct takeover date but close enough — was, for everyone, everywhere, some $130 billion. Again, note, this is after adjusting for inflation. When the British left that global economy was some $3tn (it’s now perhaps some $80tn).
At this point, we can try doing a little bit of basic mathematics — 23% of $130bn is $30bn among friends, that was the size of the Indian economy in 1750. 4% of $3tn is $120bn. The Indian economy was larger when the British left than it was when they arrived — that is not impoverishing a place.
We can approach the same question through another, entirely independent, set of figures, those of Angus Maddison — GDP per capita in 1750 for India (again, the area of the Raj, again, inflation-adjusted) was some $890. In 1947, it was perhaps $830. That is poorer.
But the population had risen from 180 million to 380 million. That is, the aggregate economy of India was well over twice the size when they left as when the British arrived, even if income per person was slightly lower.
Yes, the two estimates are different for this isn’t an exact science. Both are telling us the same thing though — the Indian economy grew over the time of the Raj.
Now, whether India could have done better without the Raj, that’s an interesting question. But to claim that there was no economic growth under it is simply wrong.