Chris Blattman

What would Mamdani say?

This paper compares economic outcomes across areas in India that were under direct British colonial rule with areas that were under indirect colonial rule. Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas that experienced direct rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers, and roads in the postcolonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant and persistent effect on postcolonial outcomes.

A new RESTAT paper by Lakshmi Iyer. Ungated here.

4 Responses

  1. By Jove! This cannot possibly be true! Well, maybe it can, but the sample size of states is pretty small, innit? 8 states lapsed, of which 4 were annexed. So ex hypothesi the effect of British rule must be coming from just these 4 states. Mightn’t this just be chance?

  2. I’m not sure what Mamdani would say, but if anyone is interested this is what I had to say in my undergrad dissertation:
    I think the key variable in Africa (and perhaps India as well) was the degree of pre-colonial political centralisation. Since this was high in the Indian princely states, this may have mitigated the adverse effects of indirect rule. In much of Africa is was much lower – in these less hierarchical societies access to power and productive resources was more ambiguous and therefore open to competition – which indirect rule then intensified. Incidentally, this fits in better with Sara Berry’s interpretation of indirect rule rather than Mamdani’s (who underestimates its flexibility in my opinion).
    And there was no such thing as ‘direct’ rule – just different types of indirect rule. In India there were around 200,000 Indians for every British colonial official. You try ruling over 200,000 Indians – you may find you need some help.

  3. The paper’s conclusions are badly framed. It proves the superiority of monarchy to all other forms of government.

  4. Haven’t had a chance to look at the paper in detail, but I doubt Mamdani would have lots to say on this. The definition of indirect rule in Iyer’s paper is very different from what Mamdani classifies as Indirect rule. Iyer simply lumps the princely states of India under the category of indirect rule, ignoring the troubled tribes of the northwestern and northeastern ‘frontier’ regions. Mamdani’s formulation is different and resembles the latter. In the princely states, there was no ‘tribalization’ and ‘ethnicization’ through an ossified link between ‘customs’ and ‘tribal lands’, something that is critical for Mamdani’s thesis.

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