Bad samaritans : the myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism

by Ha-Joon Chang

Paper Book, 2008


Contrarian economist Chang blasts holes in the "World Is Flat" theories of Thomas Friedman and other neo-liberal economists who argue that only unfettered capitalism and wide-open international trade can lift struggling nations out of poverty. On the contrary, Chang shows, today's economic superpowers--from the United States to Britain to his native South Korea--all attained prosperity by protectionism and government intervention in industry. We in the wealthy nations have conveniently forgotten this fact, telling ourselves a fairy tale about the magic of free trade and forcing policies that suit ourselves on the developing world. Unlike typical economists who construct models of how economies are supposed to behave, Chang examines the past: what has actually happened. He calls on America to return to its abandoned role, embodied in programs like the Marshall Plan, to offer a helping hand, instead of a closed fist, to countries struggling to follow in our footsteps.--From publisher description.… (more)



Call number



New York : Bloomsbury Press : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2008.

User reviews

LibraryThing member sabreader
Finally, some facts and empirics on globalization, trade and development. This is a book I wish I'd read when I took my economics and international trade courses. Chang shows that the neo-liberal free-trade agenda is based on assumptions and beliefs that in fact do not reflect reality. He shows in
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detail how those countries that did improve their relative position and are now economically developed - the US, UK, Finland, Japan, South Korea - and those developing countries that are doing the best - including China - are those that ignore the neoliberal strictures. All these countries practiced some forms of protectionism, none of them followed the neo-liberal line. Chang makes a good argument that following neoliberalism is the surest way to remain underdeveloped and poor. Chang is not against trade, and shows how it does help countries develop. He's just against the neoliberal version because it prevents development.

This book should be required reading for anyone interested in international trade. It won't change the mind of the true believers - who seem to see neoliberalism as some religious faith - but for most people it'll be an interesting and much needed addition to our understanding of trade and development.
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LibraryThing member dougb56586
This is a very readable discussion of “globalism” from a point of view of an expert dissenter on the topic. The author makes the case that strong first world countries, and international organizations (IMF, World Bank, and WTO) controlled by them, often set rules of free trade which ostensibly
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are fair, but actually favor the first world countries. And moreover, these rules were deliberately ignored by the same countries during the decades or centuries of their own economic development. The arguments are supported with very informative footnotes and references. The author is an economist who grew up in South Korea while South Korea was growing from a very poor country to an industrial power. His description of Korea then and now is one of the most interesting parts of the book. The last two chapters - on democracy and economics, and on culture and economics - are the most subjective, in my opinion. However, the opinions are informative and well supported with references.

If you think economics is dismal and dry, you are correct. But this book overcomes both of those faults.
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LibraryThing member CosmicPariah
This book is one of the best economics books that I have read. The number of insights per page is very high here and no one else seems to be making these arguments which is a rare thing indeed.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Already read this. Very interesting criticism of neoliberal trade policy, and has some very relevant remarks on 'culture' and economic development. Argues that protectionism is a necessary component of international development, to prevent the industries of more developed companies to completely
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dismantle any competition.
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LibraryThing member bness2
Excellent! Anyone concerned about world development should read this.
LibraryThing member Jane-Phillips
For the most part I found this a dry listen, but there were some interesting parts.
LibraryThing member BrentN
Excellent analysis by a London-based economist of how the current world financial system is designed to prevent, not help, developing countries succeed financially.
LibraryThing member robfwalter
One of the more popular lines about economists is, "an economist is a person who sees something working in practice and wonders if they could make it work in theory." Never is this more true than in the world of development economics, where individuals from all sides of politics tend to make grand
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theoretical pronouncements to explain the success of this or that country. Neo-liberals argue that free trade and privatisation are the only way for a nation to develop, because the theory of economics teaches us that when a trade takes place, everybody wins. Anti-colonial leftists argue that self-determination and grass-roots development are essential because they economically empower previously disempowered peoples.

In this book, Ha-Joon Chang dismisses the neoliberal theoretical approach (and doesn't address the less economically focused leftist one). Instead, he opts for a plan for development based on a reading of history. As a current student of economics, I can vouch for the lack of knowledge of economic history among economists graduating today. This is a very dangerous situation because it makes economists susceptible to believing glib statements about the world that don't have any evidence to back them up. Although in some regards economics is a technical discipline (graphs! statistics! regression analysis!), it is still a social science and is thus founded on untestable principles. For instance, the idea of comparative advantage (look it up on wikipedia!) is wonderfully elegant way of explaining how transactions work to benefit both parties. However, Chang argues, the evidence indicates that there is a flaw in the idea, which makes it less attractive, more complex, but historically more accurate. He also points out many other points of history that are assumed by neoliberals (eg. the US and Great Britain through free trade) but are not supported by historical records (eg. they actually adopted free trade only after getting rich).

The book is written in an engaging style and provides a very interesting history lesson. I found it inspiring and it has further reinforced my belief that economic history is a subject much more important than it is given credit for.
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Original publication date



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