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Dr Jeff Fynn-Paul

Colonialism? Or Human Capital Development? 

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I am being asked to address you on this issue because of a recent article which I wrote for The Spectator magazine, entitled “The Myth of the Stolen Country.”  In this article, I attempted to address the common misconception that European overseas settlement is the root cause of current indigenous problems across the globe.  The article went viral and got millions of reads worldwide.  It also proved deeply unsettling to the left, partly because I took a solid dig at their pet theory, which ascribes the causes of most global problems to “racism” regardless of whether the shoe fits or not.  To be clear, I am hardly denying that racism exists.  This should go without saying.  What I am saying, is that making racism the monocause of all global problems, as many prominent people now seem to do, shows a naivete bordering on folly.

I am an economic historian.  This means that I am one of those rare historians who has a certain competency in the discipline of economics.  I therefore tend to reject the economically illiterate, often Marxism-based “economic” ideas of the majority of my historian colleagues.   One of my research specialties is the functioning of large-scale systems in global history.  In this paper, I propose a new model.  It states that people from hunting and gathering societies have had a harder time adjusting to industrial society, than people from societies with a long history of urbanism (Asia, the Middle East).  And for specific reasons, which can be the object of targeted policies, designed to address these specific issues faced by post-indigenous peoples today. 

I believe that this model can be very illuminating to all people across the globe who are struggling with the issue of how to help post-indigenous people integrate into modern economies with greater success.  It has the advantage of focusing on the positive (opportunities, skills development), while downplaying the negative (claims of racism, anger, resentment).  It is therefore offered in all sincerity, and good faith, as an attempt to help people to help one another, and to move forward in a positive way, while helping to downplay the misunderstandings which have been magnified on social media by a few opportunists in the past several years.          

1. Introduction.

The purpose of this essay is to provide an alternative to the current interpretation of the difficulties faced by modern indigenous and post-indigenous groups.  In doing so, this essay aims to highlight the glaring oversights and misconceptions underlying the current model—and thereby to highlight the problematic nature of policies based on this model.  As an alternative, this paper offers a more realistic interpretation of the historical roots of the current challenges faced by indigenous peoples.  This is based on the simple concept of “Human Capital,” borrowed from microeconomics.    In framing the discussion of indigenous policy in terms of human capital development, the essay paves the way for future discussions on the best policies to pursue in order to address the human capital-based skill gaps which are the true root of most of these challenges. 
The major problems facing indigenous and post-indigenous groups today include poverty, and a spectrum of social problems which typically accompany poverty, such as substance abuse, violent crime, violence against women, poor health, low educational achievement, and a general sense of despondency.  The problems faced by modern-day indigenous peoples are primarily economic and social.  Yet the theory on which the left is basing its indigenous policy is derived not from an understanding of economic policy, but from an outdated interpretation of historical events.  Nineteenth-century historical events, to be precise. 

According to the prevailing wisdom, the “plight” of post-indigenous peoples is the fault of “European Colonialism.”  More specifically, of a variant called “Settler Colonialism.”  This theory originated on the far left of academia, but via social media, it has become so mainstream as to be virtually unquestioned either by journalists or by members of the general public.  Most readers have probably heard this theory repeated so often, that they hardly think to question it themselves.   

According to the academic doyens of this theory, “Settler Colonialism” was a violent displacement of indigenous peoples tantamount to genocide.  Settler colonialism supposedly aimed to displace indigenous people, in a deliberate attempt to eradicate them or push them to marginal areas, thus freeing up their land for exploitation by the settling peoples.  The theory may be summarized as follows:  steeped in a racist, patriarchal and capitalist worldview, Europeans left their homelands.  Under the settler colonial banner, sugar-coated by the trappings of Christianity, the Europeans claimed to bring “benevolent government” and “civilization” to the rest of the globe.  In reality, however, they merely reproduced the horrifically racist, patriarchal, capitalist and exploitative system of which they were inescapably a part.  The result was wanton displacement, massacre and genocide of indigenous peoples across the globe.

Let us forget, along with the left, that European expansion brought innumerable benefits to hunter-gatherer and scratch farming peoples across the globe.  This includes unprecedented food security, modern technology, modern medicine, profound educational opportunities, and all the diversions of modern global culture.  Instead, if one accepts this Settler Colonial paradigm as even somewhat true, it is no wonder that European-descended people have been wringing their hands for decades, crippled by self-doubt and an inability to defend themselves or their institutions by reasoned argument. 

However, there are two main problems with this interpretation of indigenous history.  The first is that the Settler Colonial model is derived from outdated, discredited nineteenth-century theory.  It has only risen to prominence on the strength of a few academic activists’ twitter accounts, and it has been taken up by opportunistic tribal elites who see it as a golden opportunity for a power grab—often to the detriment of their own constituents.  But the Settler Colonial model is very easy to discredit once one gets past the catchy slogans, and regains a bit of perspective.  The second problem is that the left’s Settler Colonial model is based on social and historical theory, rather than on economic reality.  It therefore ignores or downplays the economic realities behind the majority of problems facing modern-day indigenous communities.  These are the realities of human capital, and what microeconomists call “skillset matches” between indigenous workforces and modern job opportunities.  Let us quickly pop a hole in the obfuscating ideology of Settler Colonialism in the next section, before turning to the question of indigenous human capital and how to build it.   

2. The First Problem: Settler Colonialism is A Bad Theory.

The “Settler Colonial” paradigm is based on far-left interpretations of history which have no place in mainstream democratic policy discussions.  At its base, Settler Colonial ideas are anti-democratic, because they believe that some groups (i.e. Europeans) are inevitably exploiters, while other groups (i.e. non-Europeans) inevitably exploited. 

When you accept this fundamental cleavage, you preclude democratic progress through conversation and compromise.  This anti-democratic mentality is the same belief held by radical feminists who can ignore 100 years of progress in gender relations as mere window dressing, while pronouncing that men will always exploit women.  It is the same belief held by radical race theorists, who, ignoring 100 years of progress in race relations, see history as an inevitable and ongoing oppression of “non-white” people by “white” people.  And it is the same belief held by the few remaining radical Marxists who believe that “capitalists” will always exploit “working people.”  Hence the calls by all these groups for a re-segregation of society.  This is astonishing when we remember that merely ten years ago almost everyone in the western world thought that we were heading towards a post-racist, post-sexist world.  No wonder such people have a difficult time achieving much happiness in the real world—to them, democracy itself is a sham, and life an unrelenting tale of ineluctable exploitation.     

Somehow, we have let these bitter academic misfits come to dominate our democratic discussion not only of the indigenous past, but also of the post-indigenous present and future.  It is high time that we sweep such toxic negativity out of our political discourse, and turn to a set of solutions which are based on a) scientific facts, b) economic reality, c) a genuine belief in good-faith dialogue, and d) the genuine possibility of progress.  Anyone who talks to you about “Settler Colonialism” likely does not hold stakes in any of the above.

As an academic, I can personally vouch for the extremism which has taken root in academia in recent years.  At a recent conference, my jaw dropped when I heard a “feminist” colleague adamantly disavow any evidence of gender progress—refusing to acknowledge that a woman’s experience in the working world is substantially better now than it was 100 years ago.  I have seen others deny racial progress in similar terms.  This was not normal 20 years ago.  But recently, the disassociation with reality has become so great—due to their ideological commitments to Settler Colonialism and its parent Critical Race Theory—that academics across the western world are becoming untethered from reality.  One can see the progress of these ideas in the coverage of the UK’s famous Guardian newspaper.  Until 2015, the paper was leftist, but generally not hysterically so.  Beginning with the migrant crisis of 2015 and the Brexit vote which followed in its wake, the Guardian’s coverage became so unhinged, so sure that any opposition to mass migration or Brexit was based on “racism,” that millions of previously leftist readers began to call themselves centrists, in an attempt to shield their own sense of reality from the violence being done to it by the leftwing press.

The real danger of Marxism always lay in a combination of three factors.  First, it used an essentialist logic to posit insurmountable difference between arbitrarily defined ‘groups’ in society.  Second, it posited that under the current “system” it was inevitable that these two groups would come into conflict.  Thirdly, and most dangerously of all, it held that the current “system” had so corrupted the minds of the masses, that they would inevitably vote for non-enlightened (i.e. non-Marxist) candidates in an open election.  Thus, Marxist intellectuals justified a course of action whereby they, the enlightened few, could sidestep the parliamentary process, and declare a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” until such a time as they could re-educate the masses to agree with them.  As anyone with a modicum of historical awareness now realizes, any system in which a group of self-appointed “right-thinking” people attempt to justify extra-parliamentary action, will lead to an extra-parliamentary government.  A.k.a., a dictatorship.

The problem today is that the left does not realize that it is currently doing this same Marxist jig all over again, only this time on the issues of racism and indigenous rights, instead of the old-fashioned “class struggle.”  Settler Colonialism posits an essential difference between two groups (e.g. “settlers” and “natives”), it is positing that the current “system” (western parliamentary government) is so corrupt, that it inevitably exploits non-white people, and thirdly, it posits that the only “solution” to this problem lies in some kind of radical, extra-parliamentary action, as witnessed in the shameful and ongoing Portland riots, the “defund the police” movement, or “anarchist” acts of thuggery and intimidation, such as spray painting graffiti on the houses of parliamentary representatives.

In New Zealand, this is fuelling calls for an allotment of political power based on race—a new Apartheid if ever there was one—between Maori and non-Maori peoples.  This line of thinking further holds that anyone who speaks out in defense of democracy, capitalism, and western culture is a brainwashed or “privileged” menace to all that is right.  Books such as the runaway bestseller White Fragility are trading on exactly this sort of discourse-denying idea.  Those who do not realize that BLM and its indigenous imitators are at heart anti-democratic, and anti-dialogue, need to wake up and smell the coffee that has been brewing across the internet for years.             

Now, other people have done a much more thorough job than I can do here of examining the radical leftist roots of “Critical Race Theory” and its “Settler Colonial” offshoots.  I therefore direct you to some articles by the Princeton physicist and refugee from communism Sergiu Klainerman, who explains the issues very clearly and suggests further reading.[1]  The main thing I can caution on this score is this:  the left naturally wishes to disavow its debt to Marx’s model of perpetual “struggle” and “exploitation,” when propagating its Settler Colonialist ideas.  It is terrified that the political centre will adopt the term “Cultural Marxism” to label a dangerous theory which is just that—it is a Marxist, antidemocratic interpretation of how cultural problems work.  So I would strongly advocate that we call it what it is:  if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, if it does not believe in dialogue or progress, but insists on gagging debate, or the inevitability of violence and struggle—then yes, it’s probably too Marxist to be the basis of mainstream political discourse.  Let alone the basis of real-world political policy.

To conclude this section.  Settler Colonialism in all its guises should absolutely be rejected as an interpretation of indigenous history.  It is not based on reality or facts, but on ideology.  It takes every pain to read events through a far-left lens, where Europeans are always bad, and indigenous people always victims.  It pre-emptively denies the legitimacy of dissenting opinions, and it assumes those arguments will be made in bad faith.  It is simple-minded, wrongheaded, and, just like its Marxist roots, it makes dangerously violent and unscientific ideas seem like common sense.          

3. The Second Problem: Settler Colonialism Ignores Economic Reality.

The second problem with the Settler Colonial paradigm, and the main focus of this essay, is its wilful denial of economic reality.  That is, it wilfully ignores the hard economic reality that the indigenous peoples in question were, as of 200 years ago, mostly hunter gatherers who practised some farming and cultivation.  Let me be clear:  this is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  These cultures were extremely vibrant and complex on many fronts, as recent research has increasingly revealed.  When you turn the clock back, not too long ago everyone’s ancestors had similar economic regimes.  C’est la verité.  Why think of the past in a negative light?  In today’s super-productive capitalist society, having a hunter-gatherer past can be something to celebrate and cherish.  It can and should be a source of critique, creativity and inspiration.      

But from an economic perspective, it helps no one to mince words.  Economically speaking, the hunter-gatherer system has been consigned to the wastebin of history for very solid reasons.  It is by far the most fragile, least productive, and least economically sophisticated system in human history.  It also produces the lowest levels of human capital.  In terms of calories produced per acre, it is wildly inefficient compared with the farming techniques practised across the Old World by 1500 CE.  In the year 1600, England was literally 300 times more populous per square acre than indigenous North America.  This is because wheat farming produces far more calories per acre than hunting and gathering could ever do.  Rice farming, which was prevalent in parts of India and East Asia, is more productive still, and is the main reason why Asia has long been, and remains, the most populated continent in the world.   

The purpose of raising this issue is absolutely _not_ to belittle in any way, people who come from indigenous background.  Far from it.  I raise the issue to create clarity, erase bad blood, and point policy in the most useful direction, for the express benefit of post-indigenous peoples, and everyone else for that matter.  I raise the issue because I believe that the main reason why indigenous and post-indigenous people today face special problems integrating into the modern global economy, is because their intergenerational skillsets were especially mismatched to industrial society as it came to dominate the globe over the last 200 years. Again: this is no one’s fault; but sooner or later, agricultural/urban regimes were going to take over the world, and those people who were furthest from the epicentre of these regimes, would have to play catchup, quickly.  That is the phase we are in now.  Over time, this skill gap has been closing and will continue to close.  But the goal of policy should be to a) recognize the precise nature of these gaps based on their actual historical causes, and b) use this precise understanding to formulate more effective policies than can be achieved with the dangerous, misguided “Settler Colonial” policies currently favoured by left-leaning political parties.  The goal, restated, is to close these skillset gaps as quickly as humanly possible, without destroying the institutions (British-style democracy) which provide all of us with our high living standards and enviable suite of human rights.  In the process we can celebrate and empower native traditions, in a way which is beneficial for all citizens of our democracy.    

First, a little background.  The pre-industrial world had three main types of economy:  hunter-gatherer, nomadic, and agricultural/urban.  The modern global economy developed out of the third type, i.e., agricultural/urban.  Hunting and gathering is by far the oldest.  In this system, people follow herds of animals and/or migrate to areas where vegetable resources are plenty.  In later versions, people also supplemented with crops, but frequently moved on as soil and game became exhausted.  The second system—nomadic—does not interest us here.  It is based on the domestication of flocks of animals, who were herded to winter and summer pasturage.  Examples of nomadic peoples include the Mongols, the Berbers of North Africa, and the ancient Hebrews before they created a kingdom.  These groups often inhabited marginal land at the edge of agricultural societies, which were unsuited to permanent agriculture.  The third type, agricultural/urban, began in Turkey in 10,000 BCE.  For the first few thousand years, it was only agricultural, and had not yet led to the development of cities.  From Turkey, agriculture slowly spread to the fertile regions of the Old World, including most of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  In the long run, this system proved to be far more productive in terms of calories per acre than the other two.  It therefore produced a population far in excess of anything that hunter-gathering or nomadic herding could do.  These excess people began to congregate in cities, which gave rise to the specialization of labour, the development of permanent records (writing and statuary) and the development of technology.  As you may recall from grade school, this is what led to the creation of the first “civilizations” in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Asia, and later, Mesoamerica.  So ironically then, the first permanent agricultural societies, are what sustained the growth of the first cities.  Thus the term agricultural/urban. 

The specialization of labour, the invention of writing, and the advancement of technology went into overdrive during the European Renaissance.  With the Europeans’ mastery of global circumnavigation, it was inevitable that their agricultural/urban society was going to be introduced into all corners of the globe.  In areas where a similar society already existed, such as the Middle East and Asia, European colonists made very little impact.  These areas had high population densities, and they had relatively high technology and cultural levels which made it difficult for Europeans to settle or make too much impact.    

But in areas of the world which were still inhabited by hunter-gatherers, European expansion had a dramatic impact.  These lands seemed almost empty to European eyes, and the potential for turning much of this newly-explored area into rich farmland put dollar signs in front of their eyes.  Hunter gatherers inhabited millions of acres of prime real estate, and they lacked numbers to stake enforceable claims.  It’s easy to try and blame any one group, but in reality, governments of the day had very limited control over what happened, once technology and exploration had advanced to certain levels.  If one group of Europeans had not settled, someone else would have.  Eventually, it would have been the Japanese.  It was only a question of time.  And yet with sustained contact, European expansion dramatically improved the living standards of those hunter-gatherers who chose to settle down and adopt farming as their primary mode of food production.  Beginning with George Washington, himself a keen advocate for the protection of Native Americans, encouragement to adopt farming was the basis of American indigenous policy from the get-go.  Uncounted millions of these people intermarried and became part of the hybrid societies which characterize the English and Spanish diasporas today. 

4. A New Model of Indigenous Skillset Matching.

And now we come to the crux of the matter.  We once had a guest lecturer in my Caribbean History course at the University of Toronto.  He was a (black) professor from a Caribbean university, and he opened his lecture by bluntly asking:  “Why don’t black people own businesses in the Caribbean?  Why is it always Chinese, Indians, or Middle Easterners who come in and buy up all the businesses?”  Like the rest of us, this professor had no good answer to the question, which has vexed advocates of black communities across the globe for decades.

This professor’s question could be asked in many societies around the globe, wherever former hunter-gathering peoples are—in the aggregate—having difficulties integrating into modern society.  (It should go without saying that every group has outliers, including many people far more accomplished than any or all from the “dominant” group—but the goal of policy is to move the aggregate, so that is our focus.)  The problem of under-representation in professional and entrepreneurial fields persists in most countries across the globe, whether we discuss Belize, Haiti, Peru, Tahiti, Canada, or New Zealand.  In all of these societies, an influx of immigrants from former agricultural/urban societies has moved in to take many of the key economic positions, while indigenous or post-indigenous groups—in the aggregate—languish at the lower echelons of the economic hierarchy.  The idea that this is based on racism—when in many instances these countries are run by majority black or indigenous governments—seems even more transparently false, the more countries we add to our sample.  (This is also a case where the US example illogically dominates discussion, and the US history of slavery has obscured the search for the real causes of a global problem.) 

At any event, this phenomenon has had inter-generational effects.  In the USA, black Americans have accumulated an average wealth of some $17,000 USD per household, while the average white family has a net worth of $174,000 USD.  In Canada, aboriginal communities are rife with foetal alcohol syndrome, suicide, and domestic abuse.  In New Zealand, aboriginal communities face high unemployment, high incidence of babies being placed into state care, and other problems.    

Now, the standard leftist response to these remarkably similar sets of problems is:  racism.  But looking at global society as a whole, this theory does not fit the known facts.  The idea that a lack of black or indigenous entrepreneurialism can be ascribed primarily to racism seems to fall down at the fact that Europeans were also rather racist against Middle Easterners, Indians, and East Asians, until very recent decades.  And yet these groups still exhibited higher levels of entrepreneurial achievement in developed economies worldwide. 

So let’s look at this issue from an economist’s perspective.  From this point of view, the main problem facing black families in the US today, is a lack of skills which translate into a high-earning job.  One of these is educational attainment.  There is a huge literature on how this skillset gap has affected various groups in economic history, e.g. by the likes of Gregory Clark and the (transgender author) Deirdre McCloskey.[2]  Human capital also measures things such as valuable social connections, which can help create a network of job opportunities.  And it has long been realized that people who marry end up earning a premium over those who remain single, or who get divorced.  Advocates such as Barack Obama have been promoting marriage, and education, and other human-capital developing trends amongst the black community for years.    

As an economic historian, I can now take this simple economic observation about skillset matching and human capital a step further, and posit a new model.  This ties together many problems facing post-indigenous populations around the globe, but whose common cause has so far gone unrecognized, despite staring us in the face all along.

The reason why hotels, gas stations, and restaurants across the developed world have been snapped up by immigrants from China, India and the Middle East, while representatives of indigenous and black communities remain below expected levels, is because families in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe entered the Industrial Era with centuries of shopkeeping and household management experience under their belts.  While people from indigenous and post-indigenous communities by definition had a different set of skills, which was not suited to shopkeeping, home economics, and drudge labour.  And the advantages enjoyed by urban cultures were not just personal and familial, but institutional.  In Arabic society, universities had been training scholars in the arts of rhetoric, philosophy, and recordkeeping for centuries prior to the year 1900.  In Maori society?  There were no such institutional advantages.  Their own skillsets were thus a further match from what the modern industrial economy paid for, while the skillsets of Asians and Middle Easterners were much more compatible with the shopkeeping, industrializing economy of the Europeans.  As any microeconomist will tell you, if you have a set of workers whose skillsets are closer to what you need, you will require much less retraining time, and productivity will increase at a much faster rate.        

Let us examine in a little more detail, the types of skillsets which agricultural/urban societies require, versus that of hunter-gatherer societies.  Even rural people from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe had been subjected, for millennia, to strict routines imposed upon them by their agricultural lives.  The one problem with agriculture is that myriad tasks have to be done every year, like clockwork.  There is absolutely no question, there is no objection possible.  First you plough, then you harrow, then you seed, then you harvest, then you preserve.  If these tasks are not done, precisely and in order, at the right season of the year, then your entire community will starve to death.  The penalty for failure to adhere to a rigid schedule is thus nothing less than famine.  In Holland, dairy farmers famously took this agricultural rigidity to an even higher level of discipline:  to maintain sanitary dairy farms requires extraordinary levels of hygiene.  This permeated the habits of the entire culture, thus helping to ensure an extremely high bar of personal and household hygiene which continues in Holland to this day.  (And makes the Dutch a bit too uptight, perhaps.)

In hunting and gathering societies, however, one of the major problems is not generating calories, but conserving them.  Because it takes an extraordinary amount of effort and energy to hunt successfully, this was only done as often as was strictly necessary.  This is why many European accounts of hunting-gathering societies describes such peoples as spending a lot of time simply sitting on the ground.  There is an economic logic to this strategy.  Why waste energy unnecessarily?  Caribbean natives repeatedly remarked at how much food Europeans ate.  So the aim was efficiency:  for the same reasons that big cats spend most of their days sleeping, hunting and gathering people spend a lot of their time resting or doing small tasks, because this conserves calories, which is an essential part of their survival strategy.  Likewise, hunting and gathering people do not as a rule create permanent settlements, meaning that they do not, as a rule, accumulate objects over several generations.  This has obvious advantages, but it also precludes the development of sophisticated culture, beyond oral stories which change from generation to generation.  It precludes the development of writing, which means that complex ideas cannot be preserved and improved upon.  Likewise, in such a situation complex social organizations and divisions of labour are impossible to maintain. 

When industrial ideas took over the world from the later nineteenth century, this new reality provided people from agricultural/urban societies with new opportunities, which the descendants of hunters and gatherers were less suited to exploit.  People from Asia and the Middle East had the advantages of centuries of literacy, permanent cities, a highly specialized division of labour, relatively high levels of pre-industrial technology, long experience with complex social organizations, and centuries of rigid time schedules, which were in many ways parallel to what Europeans had been experiencing over the same time period.  It is not to be wondered then, that Japan was the first society outside of Europe to modernize into a major industrial state, while culturally similar states in East Asia have gone on to achieve similar levels.

If people from Asian agricultural/urban societies were the main beneficiaries of the spread of the European model of capitalism, then it stands to reason that those societies and peoples whose skillsets were less suited to the drudgery, discipline, and complex social organizations of industrial society were going to have the most difficult time adjusting to the realities of industrial-age routines.  Again, this is no one’s fault, and it’s really no grounds for judgment.  It’s simply a question of skillset matching.  And now our job is to help those cultures with more disparate skillset inheritances, to take advantage of the modern economic culture.  Maybe in the process, post-indigenous communities can help us to create a less exploitative, less anxiety-inducing system of modern work.  I would certainly be up for that.

Meanwhile, don’t take my word for skillset mis-matches as the basis of many problems in indigenous communities today.  Joe Whittle, an American Indian activist who wrote for the Guardian, put it in terms very similar to what I am describing here.  And I hope that should Joe read my article, he would see it as complimenting his own thoughts—and suggesting, in good faith, policies which will help to move things in the right direction.  As Joe put it:

 “Indigenous people are not supposed to have money. We were never meant to. My tribes occupied our homelands consistently for 13,000 years without it, and we were rich beyond our wildest dreams. We had advanced seasonal permaculture, hunting and fishing patterns, and vast amounts of leisure time. Yet we’ve had about 150 years to change 13,000 years of subsistence lifestyle into a complete dependence on money. To us, that is an incredibly weakened state.”

It is therefore up to all of us to recognize this extreme cultural disconnect faced by Joe’s people and other peoples with similar histories.  And to do what we can to create a system which—using realistic, fact-based assessments of the situation—maximizes opportunities for indigenous and post-indigenous peoples the world over.  Of course, until someone comes up with an alternative for money (which they will not—believe me, we’ve tried), then any successful policy will have to help indigenous people adopt to the global realities of the money economy, and the sooner, the better.          

5. Conclusions.

In recent years, the left has peddled a new theory borrowed from radical academics, known as “Settler Colonialism.”  According to this worldview, European expansion across the globe should not be seen as a source of improved living standards and opportunities (which it unquestionably was), but as the occasion of mass genocide of indigenous peoples (which is in the majority of cases, exaggerated by current propaganda.)  Such charged language and ideology has done nothing to address the root causes of post-indigenous problems, but has served as a vehicle for political opportunism by a few indigenous activists, while accelerating widespread disillusionment with democracy across the English diaspora.

In fact, the alienation encouraged by such anger and resentment has made matters worse for the people they are purporting to help.  This happens when indigenous people eschew education or job opportunities for fear of discrimination.  As a black British police inspector said in a recent interview, he might never have joined the force as a youth, if he was always reading in the paper that the police were racist.  Instead, he maintains that in reality the London police force proved to be one of the least racist institutions he could hope to encounter.  It was the basis of his professional success and much personal satisfaction over the course of a long career.   

One of the easiest things to do when discussing legacies of the colonial past is to be distracted from the most obvious fact of all:  the incredible prosperity and opportunities enjoyed by all countries in the English Diaspora.  Right now, people living in the English diaspora:

– Enjoy amongst the highest living standards on Earth

– Enjoy very high levels of personal security

– Enjoy the greatest suite of human rights in the history of the human race

– Have amongst the best educational opportunities on Earth  

– Have amongst the highest racial and gender equality ever enjoyed by any society

– Have amongst the best-functioning democracies on Earth

This data is freely available on the UN websites, through their Human Development Index (HDI), the UN Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), and also various charts from the World Bank, OECD, and the Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.  There is a pretty solid reason why English Diaspora countries are amongst the most sought-after places of emigration on earth—it’s because we offer the highest living standards and best all around living experience created by any society in global history.  Anyone who scoffs should imagine living in a country with a “flawed democracy” or worse; perhaps this would give them a much-needed dose of reality.  Keen for a stint in Belarus, anyone? 

We should not take these opportunities for granted.  Very few countries on earth—only a tiny proportion of people alive today, are so privileged as to be part of a society colonized by England.  If, for example, New Zealand had been colonized by Spain, the odds are, our society would be a semi-dysfunctional, Latin American-style flawed democracy.  (Look for a minute at the EIU’s DI; zoom in on Latin America).  As economic historians have been saying for decades, the power of institutions is real.[3]  Not to appreciate the historical gifts we have been given, to view them only with bitterness?  Is the height of ‘privilege’. 

Today in New Zealand, Maori groups are faced by a suite of social problems which require urgent attention.  Many of these are similar to the social problems faced by post-indigenous groups across the world, as the story of Joe Whittle suggests.  For decades, the global left has encouraged a feeling of victimization amongst these groups, by naively ascribing “racism” as their root cause.  This has fuelled anger and resentment, but has done little to actually identify, let alone solve, the roots of these problems.

Why re-racialize society?  Why get people thinking more about their race, rather than less?  If this sounds retrograde to you, then perhaps it actually is.    

This paper has suggested a simple, obvious economic model for viewing the root causes of post-indigenous problems in global history.  This model is based on the fact that hunting and gathering and related economies create intergenerational skillsets which are less compatible with the modern urban global economy, than the skillsets possessed by people coming from agricultural/urban societies in Eurasia and North Africa.  This fact is recognized by many actors on the ground, but the current “Colonialist/Racist” paradigm encourages them to ignore reality and cleave to destructive slogans instead.    

Building on the insights of the New Institutional Economics, our theory does more to account for the observed patterns of professionalization and entrepreneurialism amongst Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern individuals in global society, and a lack of expected levels of professionalization and entrepreneurialism amongst post-indigenous groups, than any previously proposed theory. 

Based on these observations, it should now be possible to move more quickly and efficiently to address the real causes of the socioeconomic problems facing post-indigenous communities today—by focusing on human capital building and skillset matching. 

In order to do this, we will have to as a society get the word out, that the current Settler Colonial model which informs leftist thinking on indigenous problems, is dangerously wrong.  Instead of moving us forward, the left is pushing us backwards, into the nineteenth century from whence their theories originate.  Their theory is based on outdated, angry, illogical, and indeed anti-democratic assumptions about how society and history function. It creates opportunities for indigenous elites to “influence capture” out of all proportion to what they should rightfully be able to claim in a modern democratic society.  And it encourages a re-racialization of society, when most of us realize that we should be moving towards post-racism.  It creates a haven for anarchists, and encourages young people to loot and burn, rather than learn valuable skills.  While this type of quasi-Marxist thinking may be prevalent in sociology departments of universities, it is a terrible, highly damaging basis for a realistic and progressive post-indigenous policy. 

Only once we overcome the prejudices and economic illiteracy of the left, can we work together as a society to address the real causes of indigenous problems in New Zealand and across the globe.  The way forward is not some anthropology professor’s vision of social justice.  The way forward, as ever, is a scientific grounding in fact, and a humane appreciation of how to bend economic realities in favour of indigenous groups in the present and in the future.  That path forward starts with an understanding of the historical path dependencies that determine the present spread of human capital amongst various social groups.  Only then can we intelligently manipulate these path dependencies with a minimum of damage and wasted effort, and a maximum benefit for everyone.        


[1] Klainerman’s articles are on racism and Critical Race Theory (which is a cousin of the Settler Colonialism Theory), but the logic, the tactics, and the danger posed to society are similar to that of the “Settler Colonial” activists.  https://www.newsweek.com/princetons-president-wrong-university-not-systemically-racist-opinion-1530480 and https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/09/princeton-not-racist-but-race-obsessed/

[2] Clark, a Farewell to Alms, and McCloskey, Bourgeois Equality.

 [3] For the contrast between Latin American style and English diaspora style institutions, a fuller explanation of just how important institutions are to creating economic prosperity—and how easily this can be lost when good institutions are damaged, see Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail.