By the early 20th century, a small number of European states ruled not only the territory and people within their own boundaries but also a large share of the rest of the world. According to one calculation, Europeans conquered some 84 per cent of the world between 1492 and 1914, before losing the vast majority of these territories by 1960 (Hoffman 2015: 2). That same period saw a rapid and substantial divergence in per capita incomes between the poorest and wealthiest countries, with trade and industrialization bringing previously unknown levels of prosperity to some regions while others saw little sustained growth. Together, these two transformations have shaped the world today.
In broad terms, this book explores the link between them. The conquest and rule of so large a share of the world reflected imbalances in political, technological and military capacities which grew during the period of industrialization. It remains the subject of debates whether resources gained by European powers may have aided them in the process of industrialization, or whether empires diverted resources that might have been more profitably invested at home. For the colonies themselves, the impact of colonial interventions varied widely across space and time, which makes it difficult to sustain simplified narratives of resource extraction.
Discussions of the economic impact of colonial rule using a variety of theories and methods are now more than a century old, and can be roughly divided into three groups. In one, the range of different colonial experiences came as a result of European decisions and policies, which provided a solid foundation for economic development in some colonies but not in others.
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