Book Summary: “Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld” by James Belich

Replenishing the Earth

Title: Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld
Author: James Belich
Scope: 4 stars
Readability: 3.5 stars
My personal rating: 5 stars
See more on my book rating system.

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Topic of Book

Belich describes the “Settler Revolution” as the British settle the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. He draws comparison with similar settler European settler movements during the period.

If you would like to learn more on the role of Anglo settlers in creating the modern world, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

Key Take-aways

  • The Settler Revolution is as important to world history as the Industrial Revolution.
  • From 1790 to 1930 the population of the English-speaking world expanded sixteen-fold. No other culture has come close to that level of expansion in world history.
  • This “explosive colonization” saw the sudden grow of huge cities, such as Chicago and Melbourne, in one lifetime.
  • It was this settlement of people, not empire, which had the massive impact on the globe.
  • Attitudes towards settlement changed from something only desperate people would do voluntarily to something everyone with ambitions wanted to do.
  • This recently settled areas quickly became as rich, or usually richer, as Britain itself.
  • Horses, wagons and sailing ships had a bigger effect on these waves of settlement than industrial technology.
  • These “Neo-Europes” gave the West a decisive advantage against Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union in the great conflicts of World War I, World War II and the Cold War.
  • Similar, though far smaller, European settlement waves also occurred:
    • French into Algeria
    • Spanish, Italians and Germans into Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and southern Brazil
    • Russians into Siberia
    • Chinese into Manchuria

Important Quotes from Book

English-speakers grew over sixteen-fold in 1790–1930, from around 12 million to around 200 million—a far greater rate than Indian and Chinese growth, as well as Russian and Hispanic.

This book develops a hypothesis along these lines, positing a resonant interaction between the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions and an underestimated ‘Settler Revolution’. The Settler Revolution, it is argued, was itself a synergy between ideological and (initially non-industrial) technological shifts. It happened in particular times and places in two stages: ‘explosive colonization’, which compressed time and supercharged growth, allowing huge cities like Chicago or Melbourne to sprout in a single lifetime, and ‘re-colonization’, which compressed space and reintegrated settler colony and metropolis, giving London and New York the extra hinterlands they needed to grow into mega-cities so early. It was the emergence of the Anglo-world in 1783, a politically divided but culturally and economically united intercontinental system, more than growth-friendly institutions, that incubated and spread these changes. Like the Industrial Revolution, the Settler Revolution was by no means exclusively Anglophone.

European settlement came to dominate three-and-a-third continents, including Siberia. It still does. It was settlement, not empire, that had the spread and staying power in the history of European expansion, and it is time that historians of that expansion turned their attention to it.

In short, in the production of neo-Europeans, one female settler was worth several males, and one early settler was worth several latecomers.

Like the Iberian, British colonies in the Americas began as numerous separate foundations. Unlike the Iberians, the British crown was unable to impose a later centralization, despite various attempts. One could see this decentralization as a deep-seated tendency, or as an historical accident arising from the relative weakness of the British crown. ‘The state’s failure may have been an essential precondition for the eventual success of England’s overseas enterprise.’. Fragmentation was also the rule among the French and Dutch colonies, but the British did have more of it.

On the whole, however, Anglophone settlers tended over time to displace, marginalize, or at least push back the Amerindians, whereas the Spanish incorporated and exploited them in Mexico and Peru. It was the Spanish—or rather their numerous and resilient Inca and Aztec subjects—who were the exceptions among settler societies. The Portuguese Brazilian—and Russian—trend in indigenous relations was more like that of the Anglos.

Russia, the Iberian Peninsula, and the British Isles were each in some sense marginal—on the flanks of Europe, outside its heartland of France, Italy, western Germany and the Low Countries. But they were close enough to interact intensely with the heartland. This blend of separation from, yet proximity to, a neighbouring civilization was shared by other expansive peoples, the Arabs, the Mongols, and indeed the Manchu. Such societies could borrow the techniques and technologies of the adjacent cores, while retaining a certain hardiness, a martial edge.

The British–Dutch relationship from 1688 to 1745 was rather like that of the British–American relationship in 1917–45, with the British shifting from junior to senior partner in the first case, and from senior to junior in the second. Borrowing by late-comers gave very substantial advantages. You could choose between tested alternatives and avoid common mistakes, and someone else met your research and development costs. We might note the obvious analogy with nineteenth-century Japan.

Another shared advantage of the European settling societies was previous experience of conquest and settlement.

This brings us to the final shared characteristic of the settling societies: hybridity. Except between 1580 and 1640, Iberia was split into Spain and Portugal, and Spain itself was made up of Castilian, Catalan, Basque, and other elements. Russia was composed of Muscovites, White Russians, and Ukrainians, as well as Cossacks. ‘Britain’ mixed English, Scots, Welsh, and at least two varieties of Irish. The multiple ingredients of each settling society may have acted as a kind of yeast for each other. Cultural hybrids were better able to merge two techniques and produce something greater than the sum of the parts.

From the 1780s, the Anglophones did begin to diverge from the other great settling societies. We can date one element of the divergence precisely, to 1783, when Britain recognized the independence of its rebellious offspring, the United States. After 1783, the Anglophones were never again to share a single state, never again to have all their eggs in one political basket. They had become a transcontinental, transnational entity, an ‘Anglo-world’.

By 1815, the Eastern United States, the original thirteen colonies, was demographically, as well as economically, capable of being a settling society, as well as a settler society and an intermediary of Old British settlement. It became a leading source of emigrants—to its western territories—as well as a leading destination for immigrants from Europe. Henceforth, there were two great Anglophone settling societies.

Full assimilation into mainstream society in the United States and the British Dominions was relatively easy for groups whose ‘Anglo-ness’ was uncontested. English in America were ‘invisible immigrants’; Americans in Canada merged ‘with scarcely a ripple’. Groups who seemed, on racial grounds, to be clearly non-Anglo found full assimilation, in the sense of being accepted as equals, extremely difficult…  The Irish encountered varying degrees of racial and anti-Catholic prejudice. Like many other minority groups, they also clung to their Irishness beyond the first generation, using the classic mechanisms of ethnic persistence: residential and occupational clustering, their own institutions (churches, schools, clubs, newspapers), and in-marriage.

The two Anglo metropolises, the British Isles and the Atlantic United States, shared a structural triangularity. Each had an important junior partner, Scotland/New England, with a limited natural endowment but educated, enterprising, and migration-prone people. Each had a second ‘junior partner’, the South/Ireland, deeply split within itself into black/white and Catholic/Protestant, but a good source of the shock troops of settlement. Each had a wealthy and populous senior partner, England/Mid-Atlantic states, exploiting but also exploited by at least one of its junior partners, and tending to be left out of ethnic discussions because it was taken for granted.

Between 1791 and 1861, the original thirteen states added two further Eastern states to their number (Vermont and Maine), and grew remarkably from 3.8 million to 15.9 million people. Even more remarkably, they reproduced themselves in the form of eighteen new Western states with a population almost equal to the East, at 15.5 million. Other groups had grown fast in the past, but they had not quadrupled locally in two generations and fully reproduced themselves at a distance.

In all, the settler population of the British West amounted to almost 5 million in 1860. This was only a third the size of the American West, but it matched in little more than half a century the whole settling achievement of British, Spanish, and Portuguese combined over the three centuries to 1800—not bad for a forgotten twin.

The net effect of all this was to produce two giant new entities, the American and British ‘Wests’ of 1920, containing 62 million and 24 million people respectively. Each ‘West’ was a constellation of polities, or ‘newlands’— American states and territories and British colonies and provinces, no less than fifty-one in all by 1912. The staggering demographic growth rate exceeds even that of the ‘Third World’ in the twentieth century, and in the Anglo Wests there was economic growth to match. Their white majorities were, on average, the richest peoples in the world. They dominated such things as world food exports and world gold production, and they hugely boosted the size and power of both the United States and Greater Britain.

Anglo booms were part bubble, and at some point the bubble always burst. The busts were called ‘crashes’ or ‘panics’ in their day; the American examples of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893 are well known. They caused numerous bankruptcies and other casualties, but did not necessarily lead to technical depressions, where economies shrank and real income per capita declined. What they did do was decimate growth rates. Busts were marked by the collapse of immigration and of imports of both money and goods. Exports were much less affected. Bust phases usually lasted from two to five years. During them, newlands searched desperately for economic alternatives to growth through growth. Most managed it by developing new export industries or greatly reinforcing old ones—‘export rescue’. Now, instead of growth itself, the mass export of one or two staples to one or two oldlands became the main game of the newland economy. Growth renewed, but at much more modest levels than those of the boom. In this export rescue phase, oldlands and new became more tightly integrated.

The rate of growth in international trade by value has been calculated at little more than 1 per cent a year in each of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In the nineteenth century, it rocketed to 3.85 per cent a year, and the shift would be even more dramatic if volume were measured instead. Intriguingly enough, the growth rate in the twentieth century was lower. Before 1800 and after 1900, other peoples participated just as actively in the rise of mass transfer as the Anglophones. This chapter will show that the nineteenth century spasm of ‘globalization’ was not only faster-growing but also more Anglo-prone. The take-off in mass transfer appears to have begun around 1815, as Europe’s world at least began to recover from 126 years of endemic general warfare.

Before 1815, non-European sources had complemented European sources, by supplying things that could not be produced in Europe, or supplemented them, in relatively small quantities. The New Brunswick timber trade substituted for a European source—lock, stock, and wooden barrel. When Baltic timber came back on stream thereafter, Canadian timber multiplied Britain’s supply.

This meant that in the five years 1815–19, the number of potential passenger berths and cargo space to North America suddenly tripled. For British and Irish, unforced trans-Atlantic migration, hitherto a dream or a nightmare, suddenly became a possibility.

The ancient technology of wind-powered ships also improved greatly from about 1815.

In the United States in 1850, horses still provided over half of all work energy, with humans contributing 13 per cent and inanimate sources of power (wind, water, and steam) the rest… Settler newlands in the nineteenth century featured two full suites of technology, eo-technic and paleo-technic, side by side, and this doubled the action. Log rafts of 12 acres, seven-masted sailing ships, giant wagons with ten-ton loads hauled by twenty span, should be as much symbols of explosive settlement as are steamships and locomotives.

Improvements in transport were not steady or even. They varied regionally, came in waves, and each wave tended to be two-phased. The first phase facilitated the transport of value—people, mail, and small-scale goods; the second facilitated the transport of volume—bulk freight… Rail in old Britain added volume to value in the 1840s, when the number of passengers increased threefold and the weight of freight sevenfold. Steamers on the Atlantic entered the value phase in the 1840s and the volume phase in the 1860s. Steamers on the Mississippi entered the first phase in 1817, and the second in the later 1820s. Sailing to Australia entered the first phase in the late 1820s and the second in the mid-1840s. Step one slashed fares; step two slashed freight rates.

The nineteenth-century long-range mass transfer of goods and people was matched by three other transfers: money, information, and technical knowledge. These transfers too were Anglo-prone.

 ‘The Americans exploited their language, family, business, and friendship ties to give them better access to British innovations than any other country’.

Technology itself, such as rail locomotives, was transferred to colonies such as India. But the cultural infrastructure of technology, the education systems and attitudes that created the capacity to build and run rail systems, was not. Much the same applied to Latin America.

It is well known that the nineteenth century featured one great technological transition: the (paleo-technic) industrial revolution. What is well known is that it also featured two more. One was a high eo-technic ‘non-industrial revolution’, a massive flowering of pre-industrial technology. The other was the rise of mass transfer, which was partly a product of the other two, and of their intersection, but also of other factors such as the ‘peace bonus’ of 1815. The Anglo-world itself gave English-speakers an advantage in mass transfer. Almost everything moved more easily within the system than to or from the rest of the world, and no other culture group was more far-flung. The Anglo advantage in the other two transitions was actually less marked, if the two are considered separately. Britain was certainly first, and the Northeastern United States probably second, to industrialization. But Belgium and the adjacent regions of France and Germany were close behind. Similarly, Anglos controlled more newlands, rich in eo-technic resources, than anyone else. But Spanish-speakers and Russian-speakers came pretty close; their newlands too teemed with wood, water, wind, and work animals. The key point is not so much the Anglo edge in each of the two suites of technology, eotechnic and paleotechnic, but that they overlapped. Belgium had early industrialization. Russian and Spanish-speakers had vast settler newlands. But only the Anglo-world had both.

In raw numbers, the Anglo exodus may seem little different from the others. In fact, for better or for worse, it was different. The Anglo diaspora began earlier, was more permanent, and its migrants went to reproductions of their own society, not someone else’s.

Much non-Anglo migration was not only late but also temporary. Of the 30 million Indians who left their country in the century after 1840, 24 million or 80 per cent returned. ‘It is most accurate to understand flows of people of this kind as constituting a kind of circular migration instead of an emigration.’.. While Chinese migration overseas was significant and interesting, the main Chinese destination was nearby Manchuria. Of the 25.4 million Chinese who made this move between 1891 and 1942, 16.7 million or 66 per cent returned…. Swedish, Spanish, and Italian rates of return were almost as high. Of the 2 million Italians who migrated to Argentina between 1876 and 1914, 55 per cent had already returned home by the latter year…. One reason for high rates of return was that, from the 1880s, improvements in shipping made returning home much cheaper and easier than before. Anglo return migration therefore rose too, but was only about 25 per cent averaged over the whole of the long nineteenth century

A third difference was that Anglos went to reproductions of their own society, while most other emigrants did not. Of the total of 56 million European overseas emigrants, 1820–1932, over 42 million or 75 per cent, whatever their origins, went to Anglophone destinations.

In fact, the primeval westering instinct took a couple of centuries off, 1607–1780s. ‘At first Americans moved only slowly out into the wilderness. For most of the two hundred years preceding 1800 they clustered near the eastern coastline.’ America faced east, not west, until the 1780s.

Before 1800, most Britons saw emigration as social excretion. Much eighteenth century emigration was compulsory and disreputable, the fate of convicts and people so hopeless that they indentured themselves as temporary slaves as a last resort.

I think some patterns are discernible and that at the broadest level they cohered into what might be described as an ideology—the ideology of the Settler Revolution, or settlerism for short. Settlerism ranked in historical importance with the other great Anglophone ‘isms’ of its day, such as socialism, evangelism, and racism.

Settlerism, then, was a vague but powerful ideology of migration that emerged on both sides of the Atlantic around 1815. It converted emigration within the Anglo-world from an act of despair that lowered your standing to an act of hope that enhanced it. It transferred a valued identity across oceans and mountains—not simply an identity as Britons or Americans, but as virtual metropolitans, full citizens of a first-world society.

Settlerism, settler populism, and mass transfer buttressed, and were buttressed by, two pairs of Anglophone institutions. The first pair consisted of representative assemblies and the common law. It derived from Old Britain and was successfully transferred to North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and to Australasia in the nineteenth.

The second pair consisted of a wide franchise among white men and a strong tendency towards political decentralization, replicating or ‘cloning’ small colonial polities rather than extending large ones. This second pair was not British, but neo-British.

Decentralized settlements and contract colonization were initially standard practice for the great European settling societies. Iberian and Russian monarchs then succeeded in reasserting central authority, whereas British monarchs did not… Representative assemblies were granted, beginning with Virginia in 1619. Some British colonies were proprietary, owned by elite groups or individuals, and some proprietors might have preferred to avoid elected assemblies, or at least to restrict the franchise. But the British tradition of representation combined with two other factors to thwart them. One was relatively easy access to land ownership, which multiplied freeholders and therefore voters. The other was the need to attract settlers in competition with other colonies… ‘In order to attract new settlers, colonial proprietors found it expedient to promise political and religious freedom.’.. Similarly, British colonies found that ‘property rules mimicking the common law were good for business. They attracted emigrants.’ The notion that the common law was an American birthright too was ‘hardening into orthodoxy during the 1720s and 1730s’.

But the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and the debates foreshadowing it from 1784, ensured that the template of American expansion was to be cloning rather than extension.

With these cautions in mind, we can posit four types, or stages, of colonization: incremental colonization, explosive colonization, recolonization, and decolonization. Each type involved a distinctive kind of link with oldlands.

To about 1800, all settling societies practiced incremental or ‘normal’ colonization…

Subsistence farming was important. Apart from highly specialized sugar regions, even plantations produced most of their own food. Unless they had indigenous majorities, like Mexico City, towns were small, few, and relatively slow-growing… Incremental colonies faced outwards across the sea to their oldlands; the interior was the backcountry. Links with the oldland were important but limited, normally amounting to the irregular visits of small sailing ships. Mass transfer, of people, ideas, money and bulky goods, did not exist. Above all, the pace of demographic and economic growth was limited.

We can call it ‘explosive colonization’, of which economic booms were an important part but not the whole. Now, mass transfer made its appearance, but still with constraints, emphasizing value rather than volume. It was good at the large-scale transfer of people, money, information, and ideas, but not good at transporting vast quantities of bulky goods. Massive boom-time local demand, growth through growth, was the main economic game.

Explosive colonization always ended with a bang, usually a big one, and the third type of colonization emerged. With the bust, grand dreams of great independent futures faded, growth slowed, and export rescue eventually took hold. Now the mass transfer of volume cut in. The physical links between oldlands and their Wests improved and thickened into virtual bridges—hundreds of large ships, sailing or steaming regularly; whole systems of long-range canals; whole systems of trunk railroads. Newland economies were reorganized to supply long-range exports—wood, wool, cotton, and food—to the oldlands in vast quantities. Staples exports now replaced growth itself as the main economic game. Distance was transcended, oldland and newland economies adapted to fit each other, and the Anglo-Wests became the virtual hinterlands of the great oldland cities, London and New York. Economic staples flowed one way, from newlands to old; cultural staples and manufactures flowed the other way.

We can call this process ‘recolonization’. Recolonization meant that the Anglo Settler Revolution was not only a massive expansion but also a process of reintegration. Colonizing forces exploded outward with unprecedented velocity in the nineteenth century, but instead of fragmenting into the independent nations of Spanish American reality and British Dominion mythology, they were then reeled back, re-secured firmly to the metropolis by recolonization.

Explosive colonization followed by recolonization produced the enormous yet well-integrated greater United States of the late nineteenth century. To the 1890s, Britain acted as an additional oldland for the United States, supplementing the Northeast’s supply of migrants, money, and markets to the American West and so to some extent ‘recolonizing’ the United States. From about 1900, the American oldland ceased to need this supplementation, and ‘decolonization’ from Britain accordingly took place.

Fuelling the flames once the fire had started was a diverse but interacting complex of economic activities that lay at the heart of each Anglo boom. These activities were all centred on growth and development. They included the attraction, transport, supply, and support of immigrants; the provision of easy credit; speculative markets which enhanced expectations, prices and investment; and the rapid creation of towns, farms, and transport infrastructure. Contemporaries described the collective effect of these activities as ‘Progress’, and ‘the progress industry’ is a useful generic term for them. Most components are well known to historians. But few grasp that the progress industry was a motley whole, and that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

The most obvious element of the progress industry was the rapid construction of transport systems: roads, bridges, canals, river-works, harbours, and railroads. This was known as ‘public works’ in Australasia and ‘internal improvements’ in the United States, but government borrowing or land subsidies featured large in both. Huge inflows of oldland money funded these speculations and public works. Among the most consistent identifiers of booming newlands is the excess of imports, of both goods and capital, over exports.

At the broadest level, we can very roughly map the eras in which booms predominate. The United States normally imported more goods than it exported until 1873, New Zealand until 1886, Australia until 1891, and Canada until 1913. Until these years—staples theorists may have to read this twice—these economies were primarily import driven… imports of goods and capital normally greatly exceeded exports in each newland in each boom, often by a factor of two to one… Imports would then plummet with the bust, often creating an export surplus – notionally a healthier balance of trade. But the surplus was achieved less by rising exports than by falling imports.

The biggest extractive industry was forestry. Even normal consumption of wood was much higher in the nineteenth century than today. Much that is now made of metals, concrete, and plastics was then made of wood, including bridges, rail carriages, ships, and some roads. Almost everything was boxed and barrelled. American wood consumption per capita in 1900 was five times that in 1970, and it was higher still before 1900.

The demand for horses and oxen was particularly strong in newlands, during booms… In effect, farmers in the nineteenth-century newlands were not just farmers, but also producers of the motors and motor fuels of the day.

Boom towns were the bases of explosive colonization. They gathered, supplied, and supported the armies that marched out to the camps of the progress industry and the farms of boom-time agriculture. They provided rest and recreation, hotels, banks, newspapers, and post offices. They were also themselves sites of explosive colonization, whose lead industry was building themselves, often several times over.

Another major industry in settler cities was manufacturing. Because sailing ships and wagon trains were not good at moving bulk, large or heavy items tended to be made on the spot, leading to a precocious semi-industrialization.

In effect, technology was compressed, or ‘de-hydrated’, in the oldlands into skills, manuals and machine tools, making it more portable. It was then ‘re-hydrated’, and sometimes adapted, in the settler cities and distributed from them to fuel the boom. Much the same applied to information and money.


Bust phases lasted from two to ten years, during which the shattered shards of the boom were usually reassembled into a new economic system, more modest but steadier. A great re-colonial reshuffle took place involving some form of export rescue: the mass export of one or two staples to one or two oldland markets. Farmers who survived the bust bought up the holdings of neighbours who had not, creating more viably sized medium units. On the other hand, large farm holdings were sometimes broken up.

Manufacturing shifted from boom-time rehydration to the processing of exports, as in the vast industrial meat packing plants of Australasia and the Midwest. The production, processing, and transport of staples dominated the economy, and most output was exported to the oldland. Unlike booms, export-rescue phases were indefinite and cumulative. The Old Northwest experienced three types, pumping first wheat, then hogs, then beef to the Northeast. Australia also experienced three: wool, then wheat, then refrigerated meat and dairy products. Each new export supplemented rather than displaced its predecessors. Growth rates were far lower under recolonization than explosive colonization, but could still be quite respectable, and average real incomes tended to grow after the worst of the bust was over.


The settlement process in Algeria does show some signs of the hyper-colonial pattern.

Incremental Settlement until 1848

By 1886, the settler population of Algeria had reached 430,000, only half of them French.

Wine become the export rescue product, but little private French capital.


Little migration from China before 1887.

From 1898 to 1908 population went from 7 to 17 million with a quintupling of imports.

Immigrants doped bigger plows and six oxen instead of one.

Soybean was the export rescue product. By 1930 it was 60% of world production with Japan as the main market.

To support their industrialization and population growth, Japan invaded Taiwan, Korea and transformed them into sugar and rice producers for Japan. Japan used the coercive Irish model.


The only non-Anglophone country to experience full hyper-colonization, home and away, was Russia.

Mid-1880s-1900 and then 1906-1914: 5 million Russian migrants to Siberia, predating the Trans-Siberian railway. Steamships and canals played an important role.

French banks financed migration and massive imports

Cossacks and convicts were earlier settlers, then came peasants

Wheat and butter were the export rescue products

Siberian farmers had more acres, more horses, more machines, and higher yields than those in Old Russia, and higher living standards too.


Surge in coffee production was concentrated in Sao Paulo in 1890s-1900s

Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, so planters turned to immigrants for labor.

Sao Paulo grew rapidly in 1890s, but it was an export driven growth.

Brazil in 1901 had GDP per capita of $190 vs $780 for Argentina

Italy and Portugal provided the immigrants


Argentina painfully achieved independence from Spain 1810–16, but the region under settler control remained very limited. ‘By the 1820s the frontier of settlement had scarcely advanced beyond that of 1580.’

In the nineteenth century a ranching system emerged in which large landowners employed the famous Argentine gauchos to manage their herds.

Rail-building began in 1863

This mix of combustibles succeeded in igniting arguably the first full non-English-speaking settlement boom in the world, apart from the French Algerian mini-boom of 1848–51. It sputtered in the late 1860s, flared fully to life in 1870, and was brought to a premature close by the international bust of 1873.

Argentina’s second boom began about 1878, and lasted throughout the 1880s, intensifying from 1885. This boom was anything but modest. £154 million of British money flowed into Argentina in the 1880s, compared to £59 million into much larger Brazil in the same decade. Imports exceeded exports in 1878, and in every year between 1882 and 1890, by margins of up to 40 per cent of Argentina’s British money went to rail, which was three-quarters British owned, whereas French investors and the Brazilian government owned most Brazilian lines. Italian and other shippers allied with Argentine boosters and chain migration to draw in 800,000 mainly Italian migrants in the 1880s—into a country with a population of only 1.8 million in 1869

The boom began with General Julio Roca’s ‘Conquest of the Desert’, 1878–9, the climactic war that finally destroyed Araucanian independence… The Araucanians, a people who had handled normal European settlement for three centuries with almost contemptuous ease, succumbed to explosive settlement within a decade.

Bust followed in 1890

Wheat and then beef were the export rescue products.

In 1890s Buenos Aires got a good artificial harbor.

British money began to flow in again about 1898, and flooded in from 1904 to 1913, with a brief dip in 1907. Immigration and imports followed roughly the same pattern. Between 1896 and 1913 a staggering 4 million people, now featuring large numbers of Spanish as well as Italians, poured into Argentina, while total British investment reached £480 million—about 12 per cent of all Britain’s overseas investments, and an increase of almost £300 million on 1895. Seven thousand kilometres of railway were built in the 1890s and eleven thousand in the 1900s. Vast tracts of the pampas were fenced for beef or ploughed for wheat, and there was urban and industrial development too. Manufacturing establishments doubled from 23,000 in 1895, to 49,000 in 1914. Real wages were only 60 per cent of those in the United States, but well over twice those of Spain. Buenos Aires, already a big city of 433,000 people in 1890, grew modestly to 664,000 in the 1890s, but then mushroomed anew to 1.57 million by 1914—five times the size of contemporary Los Angeles and four times the size of Sao Paulo. Like other settler gateway cities during booms, it was primarily inlet not outlet; three-quarters of Argentina’s imports but only one-third of its exports flowed through it Buenos Aires in 1914 was much richer than the mega-cities of twenty-first-century Latin America.

The upper part of the pyramid was quite broad; 21 per cent of Buenos Aires economically active inhabitants were middle class. The city had electric streetcars from 1898 and a good subway system was built in 1913, just six years after that of New York. Argentina’s Bust Three began in 1913, and was worsened by the diminution of international trade during World War I.

Buenos Aires and Santa Fe. These two provinces, plus Buenos Aires City, increased over eightfold in population, 1869–1914, while the rest of the country merely doubled. The colonization of the Argentine pampas in the later part of the long nineteenth century was just as explosive as its English-speaking counterparts. With the possible exception of neighbouring Uruguay, it was far more explosive than any other part of Latin America. The Argentine economy was ‘much more dynamic that those of Chile, Mexico, Colombia or Brazil’.

A hypercolonial perspective suggests that Argentina’s relative success to the 1920s was attributable to three factors, apart from its rich natural endowment: a powerful but partial series of settler transitions; a particularly cohesive, influential, and well-connected elite; and links with Britain which were better than those of Latin America but worse than those of the Dominions. It so happens that these three factors also help explain Argentina’s relative failure after the 1920s.

During Boom One, Argentine government migrant recruitment was concentrated in northern Italy. Between 1876 and 1914, about 2 million Italians, mostly from the north, poured into Argentina, where they were the largest migrant group—48 per cent of all immigrants, 1857–1924. Wits came to define Argentines as ‘Italians who speak Spanish and think they are British’.

A general Italian diaspora, eventually involving up to 8 million people, began about 1880, as Italian, particularly Genoese, shipping lines entered the migration business.

Northern Italians provided booming Argentina with an entrepreneurial and energetic lower middle-class, urban businessmen and tenant farmers, but they were less committed to their new homes than their Anglo equivalents.

There was a three-century gap between the two main Spanish settlements of Argentina, and the settlers came from different regions—Andalusia in the far south of Spain led in the late sixteenth century and Galicia in the far north in early twentieth.

Between 1890 and 1914, with a heavy concentration after 1900, 1.25 million Spanish flowed into Argentina, about half from Galicia which had only 11 per cent of the Spanish population.

The Spanish rate of return was lower than the Italian, but still high at 46 per cent by 1930, and in-marriage and voluntary segregation was high in both groups. Above all, both Spanish and Italian immigrants avoided Argentine citizenship like the plague. Fewer than 4 per cent of Spanish took citizenship, and the Italian rate was below 2 per cent. Immigrants received most legal rights without citizenship.

The straddling or sojourning character of migration to Argentina, its dominance of the middle class, and its lack of political power left the field clear for the continued leadership of Argentina’s home-grown elite to the early 1940s, when the populist Juan Peron took power.

The Argentine ranchers dominated national politics, and provided twelve out of fourteen ministers of agriculture between 1910 and 1943. They used their political power, their own resources, and their good British connections to enrich themselves and develop the country, two things they saw as synonymous. They helped attract money and migrants to Argentina’s booms, but they also monopolized land, credit, and government help and largely prevented the emergence of the small-to-medium family farms that characterized agriculture in the Anglo newlands from about 1890.

In boom times, Australasian sheeplords and North American cattle barons were not so different from the great Argentine ranchers. It was during busts that their fates really began to diverge. In the Anglo-world, busts usually resulted, first, in a reshuffling of land into medium-size units for market reasons. It resulted, secondly, in a populist backlash that gave teeth to closer settlement schemes and other government help for small farmers, such as agricultural education and assistance with credit. It was the supply of credit to small farmers that was the big difference between the Canadian prairies and the Argentine pampas.

In 1914, 58 per cent of Pampas farms were held by tenants, of whom 78 per cent were foreigners.

One component of the Settler Revolution was the great nineteenth-century flowering of non-industrial technology. Sailing ships had their limits, but from 1815 they were reliably transferring unprecedented flows of timber across the Atlantic one way, and unprecedented flows of people and money the other. Inland, great canals such as the Erie put rivers where you wanted them, while Anglo newlands had up to ten times the horses of Old Britain in proportion to population. Flows of money, information, ideas, and written imagining also grew greatly at this time, particularly among the English-speakers. Industrial technology such as improved printing presses helped, but so did non-industrial shifts, such as improved literacy and mail services and changing attitudes to lending. The biggest change of all, and the second key component of the Settler Revolution, was in attitudes to moving. Emigration ceased to be an act of desperation and became an act of hope. It sloughed off centuries of stigma, and transformed itself into settlement, the long-range reproduction of metropolitan society rather than permanent exile from it. The reproductions were to be of metropolitan society without the mistakes, and without the real and alleged deprivations common folk had suffered in the oldlands. The newlands were to provide decent lives as well as decent livings.

Instead, settlers retained strong links with their oldlands through the various vectors of the mass transfer of value and volume. Transfers of value (money, people, and information) fueled explosive colonization. Transfers of volume rescued busted settler economies, and fueled oldland growth, urbanization and industrialization. Industrial technology, especially steam transport, returned the favour by increasingly supercharging explosive settlement. Steam vessels made rivers two-way and later shrank oceans, while rail pierced mountains and spanned continents. Under explosive colonization, the colonizing crusade was led from the front. The task of the oldlands, as boom settlers saw it, was to keep pouring out migrants and money, leaving newlanders to control both. Time after time, we have seen inversions of the theoretical relationship between ‘periphery’ and metropolis. When frontiers were booming, the message they consistently sent back home was to stop carping and keep pouring. Of course, if a settlement boom ran up against formidable indigenous resistance, it was the obvious duty of the metropolis to supply the troops, or at least the money and technology, to crush it. Who were the puppets and puppet masters here, West or East, the Dominions or their Britain?

Under recolonization, the balance of power shifted back to the oldlands to some extent, especially to their mega-cities, London and New York.

In war, recolonized Western Americans and Dominion Britons fought hard for their oldlands on the basis of perceptions of shared identity as well as interests. From the point of view of the oldlands, recolonization thus brought two benefits during the military crises of the Civil War for the American Northeast and the two world wars for Britain. First, it supplied fresh armies of newlanders, ready and willing to fight like Northerners and Britons because they thought they were Northerners and Britons. Second, recolonized virtual hinterlands allowed oldlands themselves to be much bigger. Without reliable outsourcing, Old Britain could only have sustained half its actual population during World War I. In this and other respects, the Settler Revolution was crucial for oldlands too.

If you would like to learn more on the role of Anglo settlers in creating the modern world, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

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