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The Colonial Labour Question: Trade and Social Policy in Interwar Africa

22 June 2020

Bastian Becker presented a paper entitled "The Colonial Labour Question: Trade and Social Policy in Interwar Africa" at the Annual Conference of the Council for European Studies (online, self-organized due to Covid-19 cancellation).


Social protection is a central instrument to fight poverty and inequality in the Global South. Today, almost all countries have at least some social protection schemes in place. In former colonies, the historical roots of these systems can often be traced back to colonial times. In this paper, we argue that spending on social services for the local population was seen as a necessary condition to expand the trade-based colonial economy from the interwar period onward. Using novel data on health and education expenditure in 36 former British and French African colonies during the height of their empires (1925-36), we show that trade volumes account for a large share in the variance of social expenditure. Our results suggest that similar mechanisms are at play within the two empires, and that differences between them are in degree rather than in kind.

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