Courtesy Reuters

Economic Planning in the British Colonies

UNTIL the decade before the last world war, British policy in the colonies had aimed chiefly at the establishment of order, the extension of the rule of law, the control of abuses, the creation of sound administration, the practice of justice and the supply of essential public works, such as roads. This was thought the proper preparation for self-government. The abolition of colonial status was the long-range objective. "Development" was largely left to the administrators on the spot. Sometimes they were helped to pay for their administration by a grant-in-aid from the British Treasury; but, in the main, they raised the revenue they needed by indirect taxes and provided only the services which could be paid for from that revenue. The Government of Britain laid down broad principles of policy, but the local governor, who enjoyed a wide discretion, could do little for health and educational services and even less in developing the economic resources of the territory.

Economic policy in those days was based on free access by all nations to raw materials, free markets and non-discrimination, all without regard for the interests of the indigenous people. There was little regulation or control of economic development. Such enterprise as came about was often wasteful and inefficient and not infrequently led to exploitation of materials and human beings, particularly in the areas of non-European settlement. British achievements in the field of colonial administration were considerable, and in many areas colonial governments protected native rights and regulated the incursion of alien enterprise. But the prevailing economic conception of the period was expressed in terms of concession hunting and the opening up of territories for the production of minerals and all the raw materials wanted by the expanding industrial economies of Europe and America. The plantations founded by foreigners not infrequently disturbed the native economies profoundly. Intolerable labor conditions were often permitted in enterprise designed to meet the demands for cheap commodities. Some of this enterprise brought railways, roads, markets and further opportunities

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