Weekend Reading

Today we are back to a world that would be familiar to Sir Thomas Roe, where the wealth of the west has begun again to drain eastwards, in the way it did from Roman times until the birth of the East India Company. When a British prime minister (or French president) visits India, he no longer comes as Clive did, to dictate terms. In fact, negotiation of any kind has passed from the agenda. Like Roe, he comes as a supplicant begging for business, and with him come the CEOs of his country’s biggest corporations.

For the corporation – a revolutionary European invention contemporaneous with the beginnings of European colonialism, and which helped give Europe its competitive edge – has continued to thrive long after the collapse of European imperialism. When historians discuss the legacy of British colonialism in India, they usually mention democracy, the rule of law, railways, tea and cricket. Yet the idea of the joint-stock company is arguably one of Britain’s most important exports to India, and the one that has for better or worse changed South Asia as much any other European idea. Its influence certainly outweighs that of communism and Protestant Christianity, and possibly even that of democracy.

No amount of publishing, teaching excellence, or grants can compensate for an affiliation that is less than favorable in the eyes of a search committee. The fate of aspiring professors is sealed not with job applications but with graduate-school applications. Institutional affiliation has come to function like inherited wealth. Those who have it operate in a different market, more immune from the dark trends – unemployment, adjunctification – that dog their less-prestigious peers.

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