Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Prescient Voice of a Leading African Politician?

Yoweri Museveni , the leading politician in Uganda, addressed a ‘retreat’ of his colleagues in government and expounded on a perspective of world history that is sober reading for westerners, especially those of the ‘soft’ liberal variety, who see the West’s role as the solution to problems of under-development.

His speech is too long to quote here but should be read by all those with ‘solutions’ for under-development. You should Google “The New Vision” (Uganda’s Leading Web site) for 26 July, and read how a leading African politician interprets recent history and offers his predictions for the future. Briefly, the future is not Western.

My interests were sparked by the following:

The Europeans, following the Renaissance, faced the same problem. The crucial ingredients that would propel the European society forward were the economic theories that were evolved by various European philosophers. Some bullionists, such as Thomas Milles (1550-1627) and Gerard de Malynes (1586-1641), believed in an economic theory that defined wealth by the amount of precious metals owned by a country. The Physiocrats, like Richard Cantillon, on the other hand, who were based in France, said that agricultural production was the source of all wealth.

However, the classical economists, such as Adam Smith, correctly pointed out that the correct way forward was specialisation, division of labour and industrialisation. Adam Smith gave the example of manufacturing a pin. He pointed out that that process was broken up into 36 parts. By one person just specialising in one part, the process was very efficient. There were the mercantalists who went abroad, partly robbed, partly traded and made profits from the 16th to 18th Century. They believed that a nation’s wealth came primarily from the accumulation of gold and silver. Nations without mines could obtain gold and silver only by exporting more goods than they would import from abroad and it was a modified form of Bullionism.

Later on Karl Marx castigated private property saying that “it is the source of all evil” and predicted the abolition of private property. These ideological meanderings (like the children of Israel wandering in the desert) caused stagnation, disorientation and tremendous damage to human societies: wars, genocide, slave-trade, colonialism, etc. Yet it is now clear that all this was unnecessary. It is clear that through industrialisation and free trade human societies, provided they are optimally organised, can maximize their welfare. Sweden or Norway did not, in recent centuries, participate in colonialism, slave trade and genocide abroad like England, France, Spain, Portugal, etc did. Yet they are very prosperous today through industrialisation and trade.”

As a potted history it is fair enough.

Dr Museveni has read some theory from the history of economics and I note his particular points about the mercantile theorists and, interestingly, Richard Cantillon.

There are the odd minor errors. Smith’s reference to Diderot’s Pin Factory identified 18 operations not 36; he did not identify ‘industrialisation’ as a ‘way forward’ because such a concept had not been conceived by him or his contemporaries – he lived in mid-18th century Britain which was 100 years away from industrialisation. The machines Smith spoke of were wooden machines with occasional metal appendages, and were operated manually and were not power driven (incidentally, Diderot’s Encyclopaedia (1755) contained many illustrations of tools and implements of the kind that Smith wrote about).

By the time that Karl Marx was writing, ‘industrialisation’ was visibly present, with its large factories, steam powered machinery, new technologies (electricity on the horizon) and large markets, though Marx got it magnificently wrong in his predictions.

Interesting that Museveni remarks on the difficulties of land-locked African countries – blaming colonialism for their creation – but contrasts the national policies of Norway and Sweden, with their comparatively small populations, and those of ‘England’, France, Spain and Germany and their colonial histories, the first three of which with Portugal, mostly maritime powers (Germany was a late 19th century nation-state). The low-populated Scandinavian countries are often compared favourably in many aspects of their policies with the large-populated developed countries as if there is no connection between managing societies and the number of people they manage. Africa’s larger countries already show different social problems in scale than some of the smaller ones (though Uganda’s recent history shows to what depths any country can descend when ran by a megalomaniac like Idi Amin).

However, I recommend that you read the speech for an insight into the considered views of an important figure African politics.[If you cannot find the speech via Google, send me an email (gavin/at/adamsmithslostlegacy//dot/com) and I shall pass a copy to you]


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