Idi Amin\'s Exiles

Apropos Brian's post that mentioned Amy Chua's World On Fire is an article by Val McQueen in TCS earlier this week about one of the "market-dominant minorities" Chua uses as an example in her book: Indians in East Africa. Mixing ethnonationalism with populist anti-wealth rhetoric, Idi Amin expelled 40,000 Indians from Uganda in 1972, most of whom eventually settled in Britain.

Having decided to eject the country's wealth-creators, he further ruled that these people, uprooted from their country of birth, could take with them only what they could carry. They had 90 days to get out. [...]

Back home Idi Amin distributed the property they'd been forced to leave behind among his friends and presided noisily over the decline of Uganda. The Asians, meanwhile, were billeted in drab refugee centers until they found their feet, and they displayed a resilience that still astounds.

What a difference two generations can make. [...]

How does one account for a group of people who came from the Third World to the First World with nothing but a suitcase, within three generations, overtook around 99.5 percent of the natives in terms of wealth?

Like the Chinese, ethnic south Asians have a reputation for possessing shrewd commercial instincts and a willingness to sacrifice short term advantage (i.e. going to work for someone else in return for a regular salary) in the service of a long-term goal. The entire family stays focused.

Those families in the 1970s were indeed strangers in a strange land. They didn't waste time on regrets. They hunkered down and got to work. The parents of Tom Singh traipsed around neighbourhoods peddling goods from door to door for years. As did others. They were thrifty. They worked long hours. They saved their money and reinvested it in themselves. Indians keep it all in the family and the mates of their children marry into the business also. Tom Singh's parents amassed some money from their door-to-door peddling, but it was their son Tom and his wife who opened the family's first store, and subsequently 200 more.

What's the difference between the Uganda of Idi Amin's time and societies such as Britain and America? Why does one expel them while the others allow them to create wealth? The proximate answer is that the latter countries have laws that channel entrepreneurial drives to productive ends. But the more interesting and ultimate cause is that there are cultural traditions that create those laws and allow them to exist in the first place. Relative to most other societies, Americans (and probably to a similar but lesser degree, Britons) do not see wealth as a zero-sum game. They realize that you becoming rich does not have to mean me becoming poor. We can, in fact, both become richer.

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Great post! An obsession

Great post! An obsession with redistribution overlooks the fact that wealth first has to be created.

Yea, most Americans believe

Yea, most Americans believe that they too can be wealthy. Contrast this with many Europeans, who believe that being wealthy is a pipe dream; and even worse, that to strive after it is vulgar. It takes a certain cultural condition to believe that wealth can be had by everyone, and that it isn't ugly to desire it.