It’s often described as the worst of the “isms” and so, whenever someone prominent appears to practice it, we all get very upset. That “ism” is of course, racism – the concept where people either believe they are superior to others by mere fact that they were born into a particular ethnicity or the feeling that people are awful because of the colour of their skin.
I’m not going to try and discuss the ins and outs of racism but I will make the point that many of us get upset by racism because there’s a bit of a racist in all of us and its one of those things that we don’t realise we are until it actually happens. The little racist in us gets particularly ugly when it comes to explain socio-economics of various societies.
So, you can imagine the storm that took place when the famed investor, Dr. Marc Faber said words to the effect that “America prospered because it was colonized by White People instead of Black People.” At the time of writing Dr. Faber has been unceremoniously booted off various boards and been barred from being a speaker in several conferences. You can follow the story at
While Dr. Faber’s comments may sound crass, I know off a few people who would agree with him. I know people who would argue that Dr. Faber is being a victim of political correctness. Ironically, many of them are people of colour.
I think of my young Muslim politician from Pasir Ris GRC who likes to drink during Ramadan (AKA Thambi Pundek), who proudly told me of his professor in Monash who told the Asian students (i.e. the ones who study and pay real fees) that the rest of the world should bow down to the White Man for giving prosperity, democracy and so on and so on. Thambi Pundek seems very proud of being told that by the learned professor (note that this is what I was told by Thambi – I didn’t actually hear those words spoken by the professor). Thambi isn’t the only one who thinks this is wisdom. I think of the Trump Campaign, where you had people of colour thanking Trump for shitting on them.
This brigade points out to several facts:
- 1. America was a field of plants and animals until the White Man came along and built cities, factories etc etc and made America the superpower that it is today.
- 2. The White Man has made the world prosperous, while the black man has screwed it up. Since colonialism, the Americans and Europeans have prospered and Africa has become a byword for corruption, war and all sorts of nasty things. They will further point out that the only country that has anything approaching a standard of living is South Africa and even then – the wealth is held by the White Minority. The examples go on – in Western cities, the White Neighborhoods are nice and the black ones are not.
I’m not going to try and argue these points for the simple fact that they are true. America really was a nature reserve until Europeans brought industrialization. I’m also going to stress that I always preferred the idea of living in South Kensington in London to Brixton. I hate to say it but in Soho, London the black community were predominantly pimps or drug dealers while the party goers were white. Now that I live in Singapore, the vagabonds are inevitably Tamil i.e. dark skinned.
So, if you look at everything I’ve just said, you might be forgiven for thinking that Dr. Faber is merely a victim of the dictatorship of political correctness. There are those who would argue that he’s correct – there’s a correlation between the colour of your skin and levels of prosperity and development.
While the argument has an appeal (especially if you’re not dark), its grossly oversimplified. Dr. Faber, for all his brilliance as a financial investor, has seriously failed to understand the secret of success. The key to prosperity is not so much skin colour but culture and our perceptions of what constitutes success and prosperity.
Let’s start with perceptions of success. Yes, it was the European settlers who brought the idea of industrialization to the New World, which became the bedrock of American wealth. However, one could argue that the European settlers probably screwed it up to. The “Red Indians” didn’t have industrialization and money but they had a system that was close to nature and other than the odd tribal skirmish, there were no real wars. European settlers brought wealth but they also brought gross income inequality. The Red Indians may not have had industrial wealth but there was a system where ordinary people had a means of survival (you can always hunt, fish and gather crops).
Then, there’s the fact that the Europeans who went to America were not ordinary people from Europe. They were the people who were driven out of their homelands a special set of circumstances, rather like the Mexicans and Latin Americans today. Life couldn’t work for them in their so-called home lands and so they left and had no choice but to make the new place work. They were people with a certain amount of hunger to achieve things. Just as it is today, Americans and Europeans back then were different.
America has had the good fortune of being the place to go to for people who need to leave their homes and are forced to make it work in the place that they move to. These people were initially European but they’re no longer only ones. Today’s America is the place to go to for the hungry from Asia and Latin America, who are all doing their bit to drive America forward. Another investment guru, Jim Rodgers says that if given a chance, he’d hire the Cubans who risk life and limb to cross the Caribbean Sea just to get into America because these are the people with the drive to make things work.
The guys who wrote the Declaration of Independence were White and did do things like own slaves who happened to be black. However, their ideas, when put into practice helped people off all colours and creeds to prosper.
What were these ideas? The groundwork for American success has been the idea that everyone, if given the same chance, can succeed if they put in enough work. There’s also the concept that nobody is above the law. As much as my American friends might complain about there being too many lawyers, America prospered because it was founded on the idea of the “Rule of Law.” Circumstances more important than race.
I live in a part of the world where this could not be clearer. In Southeast Asia, the Chinese have shown a magical ability to build prosperous communities. By contrast, the Chinese in China have only started to enjoy prosperity in the last 40-years. The people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are the same skin tone as the people from the People’s Republic of China but how did the first lot prosper so much while the later didn’t. The answer was the system -there was rule of law in Singapore and Hong Kong but not in China.
Then there’s a question of openness. China remained closed to the world for more than half a century. Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan were open for business. We dealt with the world and learnt from the world. We prospered as a result. By contrast, China built a Great Wall and refused to trade with the world until they were forced to. It was only in 1979, when Deng Xia Peng took over, did the PRC open up. It was only then, when the country started to prosper.
Closed societies inevitably screw themselves. Until recently, most African countries were hell for foreign investors and they traded with nobody. Hence, they rotted away. It wasn’t because they were filled with black people.
Dr. Faber is free to speak his mind but in this instance, he’s shown that he doesn’t get it. America prospered because it had the right people and the right ideas – the fact that they happened to be White is beside the point. Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan prospered because we had the right people and the right ideas. The People’s Republic and India only started to prosper when it got the ideas – this was never clearer when the two Asian Giants were stuffed with poor people going nowhere but the rest of the world had plenty of prosperous Indian and Chinese communities.
Don’t invest in black or white – invest in the rule of law, in open societies and people with hunger. The returns are better.