French vs. Anglo-American "Imperialism"

For some reason, a portion of our country has adopted France as the standard bearer of "anti-imperialism" (or at least anti-US imperialism). France publicly positions itself similarly, trying to make itself the leader and counterweight to US "Imperialism". I will leave aside for now the argument as to whether the US's recent actions constitute "imperialism". I will instead focus on the French as a role model.

The first thing that struck me was how long the French tried desperately to hold on to their colonial empire. Both the US and Great Britain either liberated or came to an acceptable living arrangement with their major colonies within a few years of the end of WWII. Both seemed to come to terms with the fact that the colonial era was over. The French, in contrast, were still involved in bloody conflicts in Indochina and Algeria to retain their empire through the late 50's and even into the early 60's.

So, I decided to do a little research to understand the relative success of French and Anglo-American colonies. Of course, when judging the success of a former colony, a lot of things come into play, and certainly the freed colony must take a substantial amount of responsibility for its own success and political freedom. However, after a bit of research, it is instructive to see how well prepared for independence Britain, France, and the US left their colonies. Did they leave the country with democratic systems in place and a capable local ruling class, or did they just suck the country dry and try to prevent any locals from gaining any capability.

To make this analysis, I have selected a number of each country's key colonies. Some of the smaller African and island nations have been left out. I also realize that I left off some of the ex-British middle eastern colonies, but I am too tired now to add them back in.

I have used two pieces of data to judge an ex-colony's success. First is GDP per capita, corrected for purchasing power parity, found in the 2003 CIA fact book via World Facts and Figures. The second is the Freedom index prepared by Freedom House.

The results are striking. When arrayed in order of GDP per capita, ex-French colonies occupy only 4 of the top 25 spots. And, if you leave out Louisiana and Quebec, which one can argue are much more shaped by the US and British, and if you leave out Mexico, where there is arguably little French influence and none in the last 150+ years, then ex-French colonies occupy only 2 of the top 25 spots. When arrayed by the Freedom Index, and again leaving out Quebec, Louisiana and Mexico, ex-French colonies only occupy one of the top 25 spots! The ex-French colonies occupy 14 of the bottom 20 poorest slots and 11 of the bottom 15 least free slots. Finally, one could argue that none of the ex-French colonies have really grown up into world players, while British colonies in America, Australia, India, South Africa, Palestine (Israel) and even Egypt play a significant role on the world stage.

Colonies Sorted by Current GDP Per Capita

Parent

Colony

GDP per Capita

Freedom (1=free, 5+ = not free)

GB

United States

37.8

1.0

GB

Bermuda

36.0

1.0

GB

Cayman Islands

35.0

FR

Louisiana

33.3

1.0

FR

Quebec

30.5

1.0

US

Alaska

30.1

1.0

GB

Canada

29.7

1.0

GB

Australia

28.9

1.0

GB

Hong Kong

28.7

1.0

US

Hawaii

28.2

1.0

GB

Falklands

25.0

GB

Singapore

23.7

4.5

GB

New Zealand

21.6

1.0

GB

Israel

19.7

2.0

US

Virgin Islands

19.0

1.5

GB

Brunei

18.6

5.5

GB

Malta

17.7

1.0

FR

French Polynesia

17.5

GB

Gibraltar

17.5

US

Puerto Rico

16.8

GB

Bahamas

16.8

1.0

GB

Barbados

16.2

1.0

GB

Cyprus

16.0

1.0

GB

British Virgin Is.

16.0

1.5

FR

Martinique

14.4

GB

Antigua & Barbuda

11.0

3.0

GB

South Africa

10.7

1.5

FR

Mexico

9.0

2.0

GB

Malaysia

9.0

4.5

GB

Botswana

8.8

2.0

FR

French Guiana

8.3

US

American Samoa

8.0

FR

Seychelles

7.8

3.0

FR

Tunisia

6.9

5.5

FR

Algeria

5.9

5.5

FR

Fiji

5.8

3.5

FR

Gabon

5.5

4.5

GB

Grenada

5.0

1.5

GB

Swaziland

4.9

6.0

US

Philippines

4.6

2.5

FR

Morocco

4.0

5.0

GB

Egypt

3.9

6.0

GB

Jamaica

3.8

2.5

GB

Sri Lanka

3.7

3.0

FR

Montserrat

3.4

GB

Lesotho

3.0

2.5

GB

India

2.9

2.5

FR

Vietnam

2.5

6.5

GB

Ghana

2.2

2.0

GB

Zimbabwe

1.9

6.0

FR

Mauritania

1.8

5.5

FR

Laos

1.7

6.5

FR

Cambodia

1.7

5.5

FR

Senegal

1.6

2.5

FR

Haiti

1.6

6.0

FR

Togo

1.5

5.5

GB

Uganda

1.4

4.5

FR

Djibouti

1.3

5.0

FR

Central African Rep,

1.2

6.0

FR

Chad

1.2

5.5

FR

Burkina Faso

1.1

4.0

GB

Sudan

1.1

7.0

GB

Kenya

1.0

3.0

FR

Mali

0.9

2.0

FR

Madagascar

0.8

3.0

FR

Niger

0.8

4.0

GB

Nigeria

0.8

4.0

GB

Zambia

0.8

4.0

FR

Congo

0.7

6.0

Colonies Sorted by Freedom Rating

Parent

Colony

GDP per Capita

Freedom (1=free, 5+ = not free

GB

United States

37.8

1.0

GB

Bermuda

36.0

1.0

FR

Louisiana

33.3

1.0

FR

Quebec

30.5

1.0

US

Alaska

30.1

1.0

GB

Canada

29.7

1.0

GB

Australia

28.9

1.0

GB

Hong Kong

28.7

1.0

US

Hawaii

28.2

1.0

GB

New Zealand

21.6

1.0

GB

Malta

17.7

1.0

GB

Bahamas

16.8

1.0

GB

Barbados

16.2

1.0

GB

Cyprus

16.0

1.0

US

Virgin Islands

19.0

1.5

GB

British Virgin Is.

16.0

1.5

GB

South Africa

10.7

1.5

GB

Grenada

5.0

1.5

GB

Israel

19.7

2.0

FR

Mexico

9.0

2.0

GB

Botswana

8.8

2.0

GB

Ghana

2.2

2.0

FR

Mali

0.9

2.0

US

Philippines

4.6

2.5

GB

Jamaica

3.8

2.5

GB

Lesotho

3.0

2.5

GB

India

2.9

2.5

FR

Senegal

1.6

2.5

GB

Antigua & Barbuda

11.0

3.0

FR

Seychelles

7.8

3.0

GB

Sri Lanka

3.7

3.0

GB

Kenya

1.0

3.0

FR

Madagascar

0.8

3.0

FR

Fiji

5.8

3.5

FR

Burkina Faso

1.1

4.0

FR

Niger

0.8

4.0

GB

Nigeria

0.8

4.0

GB

Zambia

0.8

4.0

GB

Singapore

23.7

4.5

GB

Malaysia

9.0

4.5

FR

Gabon

5.5

4.5

GB

Uganda

1.4

4.5

FR

Morocco

4.0

5.0

FR

Djibouti

1.3

5.0

GB

Brunei

18.6

5.5

FR

Tunisia

6.9

5.5

FR

Algeria

5.9

5.5

FR

Mauritania

1.8

5.5

FR

Cambodia

1.7

5.5

FR

Togo

1.5

5.5

FR

Chad

1.2

5.5

GB

Swaziland

4.9

6.0

GB

Egypt

3.9

6.0

GB

Zimbabwe

1.9

6.0

FR

Haiti

1.6

6.0

FR

Central African Rep,

1.2

6.0

FR

Congo

0.7

6.0

FR

Vietnam

2.5

6.5

FR

Laos

1.7

6.5

GB

Sudan

1.1

7.0

GB

Cayman Islands

35.0

NR

GB

Falklands

25.0

NR

FR

French Polynesia

17.5

NR

GB

Gibraltar

17.5

NR

US

Puerto Rico

16.8

NR

FR

Martinique

14.4

NR

FR

French Guiana

8.3

NR

US

American Samoa

8.0

NR

FR

Montserrat

3.4

NR

UPDATE #1:

One other interesting benefit of making your colonies strong.  In WWII, ex-British colonies United States, Canada, Australia, and India all made substantial contributions to helping Britain out in perhaps the most dangerous time in their history.  The French were helped out by, uh, the same British colonies.

UPDATE #2:

Welcome new visitors.  If you are not tired of post-election posts, this libertarian's take is here.

  • boo

    Regarding Quebec and Canada, France surrendered in 1760 to GB (including territory currently known as Ontario), and significant English settlement in Ontario didn't really start until sometime after.
    Perhaps some of the confusion stems from the fact that the British allowed Quebec to retain its culture and legal system, but it was a colony of GB in a more significant sense than France.

    At best you can consider it a hybrid.

  • LarryD

    Alaska, Hawaii, and Lousiana are all full fledged US states, you can't really count them as colonies.

    Wikipedia has a list of dependent territories, from that list I would class American Samoa, Guam,
    Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands as qualifying as U.S. colonies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dependent_territories
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorporated_territory

  • Poke

    Perhaps you merely proved that Britain chose better spots to colonize. Or perhaps you merely demonstrated the anglophile bias in your almanac.

    Mainly I suspect you suggested the superiority of building a society on British Common Law over the Continental traditions.

  • Nate

    Many of the former British colonies (the US, Canada, Australia, etc.) had their native population and society replaced by Europeans. They began differently, were run differently, and developed differently from any of the French possessions. A list with New Zealand and Djibouti on it is not in any way meaningful.

    A more reasonable list would look at each nation's former sub-Saharan African colonies as a unit, former Southeast Asian colonies as a unit, etc. Comparisons to the colonies the Portuguese held on to until the 1960s (Goa), 1970s (Mozambique and Angola), and 21st century (Macau) would also be instructive. There might be something to your thesis, but this chart doesn't show it.

  • James Dudek

    How can Hong Kong be a 1.0 on the "Freedom Scale"?

  • Matt edens

    Just a comment, Mexico's experience as a french "colony" was the short-lived reign of the Emperor Maximillian, 1863-1867, an Austrian Duke put on the throne by French bayonets (a little adventure launched during France's 2nd Empire under Napoleon II...)

    Oh, and the majority of US states can be considered, for all practical purposes, colonies due to the nature of their settlement and organization as "territories" prior to statehood.

  • R. Grenier

    The French hypocrisy is clear. Especially if you look at their "unilateral" action recently in the Ivory Coast. Guess they have selective use for the UN. Too bad they weren't so eager to intervene in Haiti (another former colony that is a mess).

    Why they were given control of their colonies again, after their asses were saved with our blood during WWII is a bit of a mystery to me? Help please? Did we not have to fight Vichy troops in North Africa, prior to storming Normandy in order to put the tri-couleur back atop the Eiffel tower?

    Anyway, as a Canadian, I take exception with equating the tiny colony of New France with the current day province of Quebec (complete with equalization payments from richer provinces). Even the Quebecois openly acknowledge that they were abandoned by France in the late 1750's. While they may like to think differently, Quebec is no less a province of Canada than Louisiana is a state in the US.

    The only true colonies exist off the cost of Newfoundland (the tiny Islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon). The supposed "non-Imperial" French hang on to this property purely for fishing and other off-shore rights. Either way, the French have left a mess of almost everywhere they colonized. It would not be so annoying if they weren't so duplicitous and sanctimonious about it.

  • Salt Lick

    In college, my Mexican roommate used to say he didn't mind that America had stolen half of his country in the Mexican-American War of 1845, but it pissed him off we stole the half with all the good roads.

  • dearieme

    An anecdote on British versus Latin colonies: a few years ago, a Spanish government minister complained that Britain should not retain the colony of Gibraltar because she had broken the treaty by which she held it. Her crime? The Spanish had originally required that neither Jews nor Moors be allowed to settle there, but the current Gibraltarian Prime Minister was both a Jew and a Moor. The British tend to be proud about a chap like Sir Joshua Hassan, the aforesaid P.M.

  • William

    I think your analysis of ex-British and ex-French colonies is a little naive. Colonialism, be it Anglo-Saxon or Gallic, did a lot of damage. I am British. We pretty much asset-stripped our colonies, and established a system of control based on mis-management, brutality and corruption. And like the French, the British did fight colonial wars in the 1940s and 50s, most famously the "Malaya Emergency" and the "Kenya Emergency." The post-independence history of Britain's African possessions makes for grim reading. Uganda suffered hideously under Amin, while Nigeria was misruled by Abacha. The civil war in Sierra-Leone is still burning. Remember the apartheid regime in South Africa? And Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe is hardly a shining example of good-governance. In Asia, there is also a lot to be ashamed about. India and Pakistan have been on the brink of nuclear conflict for many years. Burma still operates under a military junta. Sri Lanka has been afflicted by a civil war, and this animosity dates from colonial times and Britain's "divide and rule" tactics. Yes, and don't forget how "white" Australia was created by killing the indigenous population.

  • Alexej

    As already stated before, there was a very substantial emigration from Britain to its colonies, due to extreme poverty raging in the British society during the first time of the industrial revolution. And not to forget the Irish potato famine, etc. So many ex-British colonies held a substantial European population. By contrast, France almost never suffered from poverty during 17.-19. century, due to far lower population density, more agriculturally suitable climate, etc. So the emigration from France to the colonies was neglectable (with the exception of Algeria). Both GB and FR managed to mostly destroy the previous societal order in their colonies, but in Britsh colonies it was supplanted by Britain-like order by the masses of emigrants, while the French just stabilized the status quo (for comparable British colonies, see Birma or Nigeria, where no Brits emigrated to). So, after the motherland withdraw, the status quo collapsed.

  • http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote Habib

    Allons enfants de la patrie
    Le jour de gloire est arrivee

  • http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote Habib

    Allons enfants de la patrie...
    Le jour de gloire est arrivee!

  • Emily

    For all of you ignorant fools, why don't you learn a bit of history. First of all, you need to know the history of both countries before you can open your mouth about stating something. You couldn't be more wrong about the French. Get over World War II. Look at what the wonderful USA has beeing doing in Iraq for nearly three years now. The USA exists because of Marquette and Joliet's discovery of the great lakes in the midwestern USA. Marquette and Joliet were jesuits discovering the new country.. The French actually found the USA before the English did. So please, be nice with the French.

    -- An American in Paris

  • iliketodoitdoit

    The British did do a lot of good in the various colonies they occupied. Nigeria and Ghana are not the same back water type like Ivory Coast. They are very poor African nations but relatively compared with other west african nations (french occupied) they are much better off in terms of development and gdp per capita. Mugabe screw Zimbabwe not the British. Britain's association with Zimbabwe stopped when Rhodesia declared Independence ... Britain actually demanded that blacks be given power hence the separation by the white minority. Zambia (Norther Rhodesia) is in better shape. Let us not forget Botswana which has the best African gdp performance over the last couple of decades - almost comparable to the growth in Asian countries. All in all, Britain's african colonies are better off than French or Portugese territories. The biggest indication that Britain did something right is that all these countries choose to be members of the commonwealth, a voluntary association. Britain can be attacked for various things, but we should remember the comparatively they were better than other Europeans.

  • M

    Long live independant Quebec!

  • Patrick

    Whatever the bad connotations surrounding Colonialism, being French, British, Portuguese, Spanish or Dutch, the thing remains that the whole world and the organisations brought in to its "orderly sustainability" is an astounding vivid legacy of colonisation as a social phenomenon. We need to live with its influences which are not restricted to the only negative aspects that we always refer to. Can we dare to advance that Tourism is one of the legacies of the Colonial system?

  • Tronzilla

    Every country seeks power no matter what.But different countrys seek different power.Example france wishes to be a equal counter part to the usa you need power to do that and the french dont have much influance on the world.Another example is Brittian would like power but its not going the against usa approach.The brits would rather work with americans to gain influance in the world regardless everybody wants power.I wish i had the power to be invisible.

  • sibhi

    being an indian, i take serious offence when people go about praising british colonialism. my country was one to suffer under the colonial government. The very existance of pakistan and the atrocities commited in punjab and other states of india are glaring examples of divide and rule which the british used against us and turned our own people against each other. on the other hand, pondicherry was an island of peace in india. when india achieved independance, the french sensing the change, offered to relinquish the colony back to india. so much for sily anglo saxon bias... it certainly doesn't convince us here!!

  • I

    "The biggest indication that Britain did something right ..."

    I am always dumbfounded when I read comments like this...for you to think that any of the former colonists actually "did something right" amazes me. You clearly have no clue how significant the effects of colonialism are. Much more than economics, the loss of a significant aspect of african culture, and the haphazard delineation of african countries, are the roots of so many issues in africa today.

    And just to point out, there is no basis for comparing Nigeria and Ivory Coast, have u even considered the size and population of both countries? The resources available? do you know how much oil Nigeria produces daily?

    And just to confirm, do you really think that Ghana is significantly more advanced than Ivory Coast? Based on what? GDP per capita? or your personal visits to both countries?

    Check your facts...check your facts!and please do some more research, before you jump to the defense of Britain...

  • Evil Otto

    iliketodoitdoit babbled:
    "The British did do a lot of good in the various colonies they occupied. Nigeria and Ghana are not the same back water type like Ivory Coast. They are very poor African nations but relatively compared with other west african nations (french occupied) they are much better off in terms of development and gdp per capita. Mugabe screw Zimbabwe not the British... All in all, Britain's african colonies are better off than French or Portugese territories. The biggest indication that Britain did something right is that all these countries choose to be members of the commonwealth, a voluntary association. Britain can be attacked for various things, but we should remember the comparatively they were better than other Europeans."

    What a load of utter horsecrap. Selective citation is the commonest refuge of a scoundrel, an idiot, a loser or all three. Funny how you seemed to have left out the former British African colony of Sierra Leone, which is among the very worst, war-ridden, crime-ridden, poorest, devastated countries on the African Continent. As bad or worse than Ivory Coast or any of the French colonies. Or how 'bout Uganda, ruled for years by one of history's worst thugs who-- oddly enough-- was helped by the British on his road to power. (Idi Amin served among the British forces.) Or Zimbabwe, led by the enlightened Robert Mugabe. In fact, if you're comparing British and French ex-colonies in Africa, by many measures the Brits come out much worse-- e.g., the British colonies are by far the ones hardest hit by the AIDS crisis, the French colonies far less so.

    Even elsewhere in the world, the British record is checkered at best-- Burma and Pakistan are led by dictatorships, Bangladesh is dirt-poor. Even in the British "successes" like Australia, the British made those countries in large part by almost exterminating the native populations. In Ireland, the British brutally killed millions in the population over centuries, while in India, estimates are that up to 40 million Indians died due to British forced famines in the late 1800's. To the extent that *some* (definitely not all or even most) British colonies thrive today, it's by dint of the native peoples, not something special about the British system imposed there.

  • Dutchboy

    The Irish potato famine never happened.
    Our good Irish friends just forgot where they planted them. ( pretty easy to do if you've ever
    had Irish whiskey).

    Too bad New Amsterdam was taken by the British from the Dutch and renamed New york. Just imagine,a red light district and legal pot smoking in New york, now that's freedom.

  • french monkey

    France, led by napoleon, conquered almost all europe. Why not count them as former french colonies in your wonderful, very true and absolutely not directedf analysis.

    Sorry if i made mistakes (you know french children are so dumb they can't learn any other language).

    Have a good day, ladies and gentleman, and my the Entente Cordiale between England and France live long.

    PS: Please, can americans understand that we, french, don't want the end of the USA, but just that the american people start to ask themselves some questions.

  • Indio Man

    Hurray!!! to the colonizers,

    first you rape them
    then you leave them poor
    now they are you're bitch because you told them that they owe you lots of money.

    You even give them a group them,
    What you called them? Yeah! "Third World".

  • Tunde

    While some of your sentiments are hopefully heartfelt. I am sorry to say that the British and French are pirates. They pillaged and continue to pillage their former colonies.
    As a Nigerian, the premise that any country that enslaves (yes I said it ENSLAVES) a group of people in their own land (the land of their forefathers) and then "Voluntarily" should be given any credit for how stable or unstable these colonies are.
    As Europeans you taught Africans the art of corruption on a grand scale. The most un-African thing to do is to steal from your people/family. But look at our continent today. The Abachas, Mugabes, Mobutus and others.
    While your blog is a form of dialogue. I do not think you understand the position of the African in this situation. You can say whatever to appease yourselves but tell that to the Camerounian that is taught in grade school that he/she is a decendant of the Gauls or the Nigerian busboy I observed calling a white person "master" just last year at a restaurant on Eleke cresent (the street the American embassy is on).
    You can talk about Gross Domestic Product all day but you all need to check yourselves and then talk about the way your ancestors robbed us of our humanity.
    --- Nigerian in the U.S.