This is a common enough complaint. It’s also an odd one:
Politicians are a sorry excuse for historians
So Ben McIntyre, the historian, is going to put the politicians straight:
Take India. The British left much of value, including railways, laws and democracy, as well as a legacy of goodwill that a post-Brexit Britain would do well to cultivate. But the Raj also oversaw the destruction of Indian cultures, some appalling massacres and economic exploitation: in the 18th century India’s share of the world’s economy was equal to Europe’s; after two centuries of British rule it had plunged sixfold.
That claim about the Indian economy being a feature of a recent book by Shashi Tharoor MP. And one that does need correction by an historian, something we don’t get in The Times.
For of course the Indian economy did grow, substantially, over the period of Empire.
From Angus Maddison’s figures, the usual source, GDP per capita went from around $1,100 when Clive turned up to $1500 in 1945. And to about $1500 by 1994 too. Not a great increase in the average living standard of the average wallah to be sure.
The population of India moving from Clive’s 200 million or so to Nehru’s 400 million or so at Partition. And vastly higher in 1994 for we should add the population of Bangladesh, Pakistan, to India’s near billion.
400 million living at the same standard as 200 million is an economy which has doubled in size. an a billion doing so is a further increase of 2.5 x isn’t it.
That is, the Indian economy grew under Empire. Just as it did aterwards. The difficulty being that it was entirely Malthusian growth, more people at the same standard of living, not increasing standards of living.
You know, like everywhere grew, like everywhere does, without an industrial revolution and the accompanying (causative?) capitalism and free-ish markets.
The real point here being that what happened in India - economically, not politically - between Clive and 1947, between 1947 and 1994, is by historical and global standards just normal. The abnormality wasn’t there at all, it was that Britain, then other North Atlantic economies and now, finally, near everyone else, broke free from that normality.
The nutshell here being not what did happen to India but what didn’t?