If developing countries could implement ideas as quickly as a smartphone downloads data, they may choose to upload historian Niall Ferguson’s six killer apps for prosperity. Ferguson’s “apps” are philosophies gleaned from Western culture that he asserts promote wealth, stability, and innovation, ensuring steady growth over long periods of time.
These six ideas (fully outlined in Ferguson’s book Civilization: The West and the Rest)are competition, a scientific revolution, property rights, modern medicine, a consumer-oriented society, and a strong work ethic. According to Ferguson, these “apps” answer the questions as to why, beginning in 1500, small European polities eventually began to dominate the globe, both through colonialism and economics.
Ferguson’s central premise is that colonialism has not been a bad movement on the whole and that his killer “apps” can explain why the West rose quickly in dominance and continue to be on the forefront. He believes that these “apps” can be shared with developing countries to provide a roadmap for continued economic improvement.
Competition-Ferguson compares China to Europe in 1500. He argues that the Chinese empire remained under an isolationist regime, leading to little competition among polities. Europe, long fragmented, encouraged competition and lead to increased travel to seek meaningful opportunities abroad.
Scientific revolution- Ferguson claims that breakthroughs in science are mostly attributed to European innovations, particularly in weaponry which allowed to military predominance.
Property rights-Ferguson believes that the firm grounding in respect for democracy and property ownership lead to successful economic growth with a government reflective of these ideals.
Modern medicine-The west found vaccinations for smallpox and yellow fever and doubled life expectancies. Many of these vaccinations were disseminated in the colonies and seen as important matters of public health.
Consumer society-In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Britain was a keen example of an all-encompassing spending society, and idea exported to the colonies and also reflective of sweeping popularity of Western clothing.
Work ethic-Ferguson directly attributes hard work to the rise of Protestantism, which stressed hard work, saving, and reading.
Many have also criticized
Ferguson’s emergence as a dominant thinker in the United States with the Iraq war and a rise in neo-conservatism. Ferguson, however, has distanced himself from an association with neo-cons. While initially a vocal supporter in the beginning phases of the war, he gradually distanced himself and blamed former President Bush for a lack of resources and mismanaging local government.
The main problem with Ferguson’s theory is that he seems to embrace colonialism as a successful top-down approach to implementing free-markets, trade, and all the successful aspects of the killer “apps”. Although certainly an interesting composite of growth strategies, Ferguson doesn’t seem to account for the moral questions associated with colonialism. Critics, mostly from the left, have expressed frustration at Ferguson’s lack of explanation regarding whether it is ethical to invade another country, to dominate livelihoods, and ultimately, whether the effects of colonialism prevent previously occupied countries from progressing.
Ferguson is relatively blasé about the effects of occupation, pushing aside the implications of Britain's regime in India or French rule in West Africa, because he always seeks to ask what the alternatives might have been. He says, “The rulers of western Africa prior to the European empires were not running some kind of scout camp. They were engaged in the slave trade. They showed zero sign of developing the country's economic resources. Did Senegal ultimately benefit from French rule? Yes, it's clear.”
There is a great deal of importance in recognizing the impact that colonization has had on the bureaucratic and social structure of developing countries. Mark Tully, a former India bureau chief of BBC and author of acclaimed books about contemporary India, has often commented
that the police force, known for corruption, brutality, torture, continues to function under a similar structure and with a similar psyche to that of the British Raj.
How much of Ferguson’s ideology can we give credence towards?