NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How the West Grew Rich

June 20, 2003

Did the West enrich itself at the expense of minorities and the Third World through its distinctive crimes of slavery and colonialism? The widely held view, says writer Dinesh D'Souza, is "yes." Thus some are demanding reparations for slavery, and Third World extremists believe they are poor because the West is rich.

However, there is nothing distinctively Western about slavery or colonialism

  • Slavery has existed in every known civilization, from China to pre-Columbian America, but what is uniquely Western was the movement to abolish it.
  • Although the institution of slavery in the West was oppressive for the slaves, their descendants benefited because it brought African-Americans into the orbit of Western freedom.
  • The same is true of colonialism, by which Western ideas like democracy, self-determination and inalienable rights came to Asia, Africa and South America.

Paradoxically -- and unintentionally -- the descendants of those who endured servitude and foreign rule are vastly better off than they would have been had their ancestors not endured captivity and European rule.

If oppression and exploitation did not make the West rich and powerful, what did? The answer is that the West invented three institutions that never existed before: science, democracy and capitalism.

  • The scientific method -- which means experimentation, and verification -- was a Western invention.
  • Capitalism-- which implies property rights and courts to enforce them; free trade and stock exchanges; credit and double-entry bookkeeping -- developed in the West.
  • Tribal participation is universal, but democracy -- which requires elections and peaceful transitions of power; separation of powers, and checks and balances -- is a Western institution.

The real cause of Western wealth and power is the dynamic interaction of science, capitalism and democracy, which created a commercial, technological, participatory society.

Source: Dinesh D'Souza (Hoover Institution), "How the West grew rich," Washington Times, June 17, 2003.


Browse more articles on International Issues