Opium, history and economics

Britain's opium policy severely damaged the economy of eastern India while perhaps helping that of western India


Illustration: Ajay Mohanty

Shankar Acharya
Until half a century ago, the conventional Western view of the West’s (mostly Europe and US) remarkable economic rise since 1700 was explained in terms of scientific progress, technological innovations, entrepreneurship, and relatively free movement of goods, capital and labour. Fifty years of scholarship and revisionist historiography since then has pointed to other significant contributory factors, including imperial conquests and colonialism, the genocidal expropriation of land from native “Indians” in America by immigrants from Europe, and the deployment of millions of slaves, shipped brutally across the Atlantic from West Africa. To this list might now be added the massive expansion in the cultivation, processing and cross-border marketing and distribution of opium under colonially imposed conditions of near-forced labour, monopsony purchase,
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First Published: Sep 13 2023 | 9:34 PM IST

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