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About this book

This Palgrave Pivot revisits the topic of how British colonialism moulded work and life in India and what kind of legacy it left behind. Did British rule lead to India’s impoverishment, economic disruption and famine? Under British rule, evidence suggests there were beneficial improvements, with an eventual rise in life expectancy and an increase in wealth for some sectors of the population and economy, notably for much business and industry. Yet many poor people suffered badly, with agricultural stagnation and an underfunded government who were too small to effect general improvements. In this book Roy explains the paradoxical combination of wealth and poverty, looking at both sides of nineteenth century capitalism.

Between 1850 and 1930, India was engaged in a globalization process not unlike the one it has seen since the 1990s. The difference between these two times is that much of the region was under British colonial rule during the first episode, while it was an independent nation state during the second.

Roy's narrative has a contemporary relevance for emerging economies, where again globalization has unleashed extraordinary levels of capitalistic energy while leaving many livelihoods poor, stagnant, and discontented.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
How did British colonial rule shape India’s economy? The answers to this question now available from academic and popular history are not always satisfactory, because these works do not clearly say what facts we should be explaining. The most important element of British economic policy was openness, or the desire to keep the borders open to movements of goods, capital, skills, and technologies. Openness delivered mixed results. It helped businesses grow and end famines, but did not help much the resource-poor countryside. Openness benefited men more than women, capital more than labour, and the upper castes more than others. The legacy of the regime, therefore, was a mix of successes and extraordinary failures. The book shows how this paradox can be explained.
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 2. The Making of British India

Abstract
A new economic world took shape in India in the 1800s. It was new in that a pattern of trade emerged that did not exist before. In the 1700s, Indians exported textiles. In the 1800s, Indians exported agricultural commodities. The emergence of the new trading order owed to two things. A powerful state ruled over both the agricultural hinterland and the seaboard. And the state was interested in overseas trade. This state was the British Empire in South Asia. The transformation led to gains for some and losses for others. The chapter describes the emergence of the new model of capitalism, its consequences, and shows why politics was so important to its emergence.
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 3. The Business of the Cities

Abstract
Colonial India was a trading economy. Financial and industrial development happened to serve the needs of commodity trade and with profits from commodity trade. Capitalists prominent in this business system usually had a stake in all three and spread risks between the three. They did not stop with earning money. Leading business families spent their money on public goods and took part in politics. The port cities and their satellites were not only hubs of enterprise, but also hubs of education. They were sites where self-government was first put into practice. What was this business world like?
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 4. Unyielding Land

Abstract
Although business did well in colonial India, agriculture stayed poor. Cultivation of land engaged more than two-thirds of the employed population. Cultivated land increased by 50% between 1860 and 1920. The opportunity to trade encouraged the trend. That commercialization made many merchants rich. But it made little difference to the peasants and landlords. As population increased, and few people could find good jobs outside the village, the poverty of the village was shared by more people. Why did the village produce more and yet stay poor?
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 5. A Poor State

Abstract
One of the duties of the state in a poor country should be to help raise the productivity of the poorest earners. The poorest earners were the peasants, the agricultural workers, oppressed castes, and the women among these groups. In many respects, the Raj had a more modern form of government than previous Indian regimes. But it spent little on those heads that would make a real difference to the poorest earners. Why did it fail in this duty?
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 6. End of Famine

Abstract
India’s population began to grow rapidly from the 1920s, as death rates fell quickly, children survived early-life diseases better, and epidemics were brought under control. Innovations in medical research and communications played a significant role in ending famines. These were, partly, an indirect benefit of openness. But mortality decline was not good news for all. Mortality decline meant that more young women had to mind more children at home. Early marriage prevented many women from taking up new wage-earning opportunities. Growing family size made their economic value smaller and lives at home harder than before.
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 7. A Different Story? The Princely States

Abstract
The princely states were the kingdoms that British India did not annex to itself. The states lived under an agreement with British India, the two main points of the agreement were that they would keep trade open and would not raise an army. How were the states affected by colonialism? Does their history change the main story of this book? This chapter shows that it does not.
Tirthankar Roy

Chapter 8. Conclusion

Abstract
History has a contemporary relevance for emerging economies. As in the past, in the present times too, globalization has unleashed extraordinary levels of capitalistic energy while leaving many livelihoods poor, stagnant, and discontented. This paradox of emergence connects two episodes of globalization in India a century apart.
Tirthankar Roy

Backmatter

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