I recently came across this article - ‘There’s No Other Job’: The Colonial Roots of Philippine Poverty which highlights that:

Decades after independence, the Philippines lacks the kind of factory economy that has lifted up other Asian nations, tying millions to farm work.

and builds an argument for how US colonisation and its subsequent policies are responsible for its dire economic status today.

This made me wonder - how much of Philippines economic wealth was appropriated by the US when it colonised it?

  • 1
    Not what you're asking for but in terms of the larger question of how different colonial histories shaped the comparative economic development trajectories of different Asian countries including the Philippines, Ann Booth's book is a must-read: library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/30241
    – Brian Z
    Commented Mar 31 at 22:20
  • I've seen plausible estimates which come to the counter-intuitive answer that few, if any, colonial nations make a long-term profit from their colonies once full costs and benefits are accounted for. (This is a comment rather than an answer, because I read this twenty years ago and am far too lazy to try to track it down...)
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Mar 31 at 23:23
  • 2
    @MarkOlson - seems reasonable that specific individuals made profits, while the nations had to do the heavy lifting.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 1 at 14:35
  • 2
    @Jon Custer Definitely. Lots of people made big bucks out of colonialism. I'd also bet that even if nearly all colonial powers wound up losing money from of their colonial programs, some of them may have made some net profit from some specific colonies.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Apr 1 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


I don't expect you'll find a meaningful number that answers this question. There is no straightforward method that allows us to quantity the economic costs and benefits of a colonial relationship.

To whatever extent the US may have forcibly appropriated land or other resources, this probably wasn't the primary source of economic benefit to US interests. Rather an important consequence of US possession of the Philippines was that it was opened up to so-called "free" trade. As a result, according to encyclopedia.com:

American goods comprised only 7 percent of Philippine imports in 1899, but had grown to 66 percent by 1934. These goods included farm machinery, cigarettes, meat and dairy products, and cotton cloth. The Philippines sold 26 percent of its total exports to the United States in 1899, and 84 percent in 1934. Most of these exports were hemp, sugar, tobacco, and coconut products. Free trade promoted U.S. investment, and American companies came to dominate Philippine factories, mills, and refineries.

It is difficult to say exactly how much profit US capital accumulated as a direct result of colonial policy in the Philippines, but it was substantial.

Another factor that should be added to this is the connection between colonization and labor migration. The US economy continues to benefit from it's relationship with the Philippines in this respect. As of 2019, 5% of the nurses in the US were trained in the Philippines, and the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionately lethal toll on them. In this way the Phillipines is effectively subsiding the US healthcare industry. This would not be the case, at least not to the same extent, without the colonization that took place over a century ago.

  • 3
    That last paragraph's conclusions are really grasping at straws and misses some major context: e.g. nurses from the Philippines seek out the US, not the other way around. And calling 5% "subsidizing" is a gross exaggeration. This answer would be better served without that paragraph, since, besides interpretation of evidence, it's irrelevant to the question, which specified during occupation.
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 31 at 23:42
  • 2
    Catherine Choy's book has explored the colonial roots of the Philippines' nursing export industry in great detail if you're so interested.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Apr 1 at 0:34
  • Can you add that (with relevant quotes) to the body of the answer?
    – cmw
    Commented Apr 1 at 2:11

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