Bloomsbury Press, New York, Bad Samaritans is one of them. Using straightforward language that generally avoids using the lexicon of economists, and explains it well when it is used, Ha-Joon Chang writes a strong narrative about the ills of the capitalist world.
It is a combination of anecdotal history and comparative history that uses many good statistical elements to support his common sense arguments. Most chapters begin with an interesting anecdotal tale that illustrates the theme of that chapter, and all chapters end with an effective summary of his arguments.
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His title is most appropriate as he readily supports his position that free trade is a myth, and a realistic presentation of the history of capitalism demonstrates the reality behind the myth. The main underlying position that demolishes the myth of capitalist free trade and its supposed successes with globalization is that all the current wealthy countries achieved their wealth not through free trade, but through the use of highly protective tariffs and effective use of subsidies and laws that regulated foreign business within their own country.
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He starts with his own country, Korea. Chang then starts his journey around the globe. Along the way, he exposes this double standard, as well as debunking myths about democracy as an accompaniment to free trade and economic development, and also eliminates culture as a reason for success or lack thereof, and corruption as an excuse for failure. From these leading examples and conclusions it is easy to further the argument that free trade is not working because it forces developing countries to eliminate the very same protective barriers that the rich countries used to gain their wealth.
Rather than free trade, the argument turns to support the idea of using protective tariffs and subsidies in areas where undeveloped countries need them, in order to grow their economies as the rich countries initially did.
There is no real desire on the part of the American neo-liberals nor their counterparts elsewhere to actually aid the world. In geographical terms it becomes a heartland — hinterland relationship with the poorer countries remaining poor and supplying raw materials to the gathering wealth of the heartland. There is no genuineness for the current western governments to help developing countries become economically stronger and more competitive.
The arguments against free trade then become more specific concerning different aspects of the arguments. First, the regulation of foreign investment is considered, with the prime example being Nokia in Finland. The free trader arguments are reversed and applied common-sensically — if the rich countries believe in free trade so much, why not let the developing countries decide if they want to restrict foreign investment or not rather than impose non-restrictive regulations through trade agreements?
Once again, historical examples show that the rich countries previously copied much information and technological information while denying protection to foreign ideas in order to create their own wealth. Simply put, if the neoliberals truly believed in promoting development they would make it easier to acquire the information needed to do so rather than prevent its acquisition.
Chang provides two strong examples of re-directing government spending away from military spending to education, health, or infrastructure development, or promoting economic growth through creating a welfare state which supports working mothers, children, education, hospitals, retirement and all those other nasty socialist ideas that the people of the world want but the neoliberals say hinder development. It all depends on your definition of development — more GDP for the transnational corporations, or more security and safety for the general populace.
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I would hope that peaceful persuasion as per Chang would succeed, but the state of the world today does not hold hope for optimism on this front. The rhetoric of free trade continues, while the wars to back it up and the unequal and oppressive regulations to control it continue to defy its very basic premise of freedom and democracy. A wonderfully accessible work, Bad Samaritans should be read by anyone and everyone paying any attention to either national or global political affairs.
Those wishing to refute free trade have a readily accessible volume.
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This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. All rights reserved Powered By Media Seniors. For his part, my father, a man with a healthy appetite who loves his beef, had to survive as a secondary school student during the Korean War on little more than rice, black-market margarine from the US army, soy sauce and chilli paste.
At the age of ten, he had to watch helplessly as his seven-year-old younger brother died of dysentery, a killer disease then that is all hut unknown in Korea today. It was exactly how I remembered my childhood. Standing behind me and Joe were two young women in their early twenties. It looks like Vietnam! I felt like an historian of mediaeval England who has actually witnessed the Battle of Hastings or an astronomer who has voyaged back in time to the Big Bang.
Our next family house, where I lived between and , at the height of Korean economic miracle, not only had a flushing toilet but also boasted a central heating system. The boiler, unfortunately, caught fire soon after we moved in and almost burned the house down. But the story does offer an insight into the state of Korean technology in that far-off, yet really so recent, era. In started primary school. It was a second rate private school that had 65 children in each class.
We were very proud because the state school next door had 90 children per class. Years later, in a seminar at Cambridge, a speaker said that because of budget cuts imposed by the International Monetary Fund more on this later , the average number of pupils per classroom in several African countries rose from something to something in the s. Then it hit me just how bad things had been in the Korean schools of my childhood.
Given the conditions, it was little wonder that education involved beating the children liberally and teaching everything by rote. They were there to pre-empt any student xii Prologue demonstrations against the martial law being imposed by the president of the country, former General Park Chung-Hee.
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Thankfully, they were not there to take on me and my friends. We Korean kids may be known for our academic precocity, but constitutional politics were frankly a little bit beyond us nine-year- olds. But the victories were also ensured by election rigging and political dirty tricks. His third and supposedly final term as president was due to end in , but Park just could not let go.
This involved dissolving the parliament and establishing a rigged electoral system to guarantee him the presidency for life. His excuse was that the country could ill afford the chaos of democracy. It had to defend itself against North Korean communism, the people were told, and accelerate its economic development. The first steel mill and the first modern shipyard went into production, and the first locally designed cars made mostly from imported parts rolled off the production lines. New firms were set up in electronics, machinery, chemicals and other advanced industries.
Exports grew even faster, increasing nine times, in US dollar terms, between xiii Prologue and We learned that it was our patriotic duty to report anyone seen smoking foreign cigarettes. The country needed to use every bit of the foreign exchange earned from its exports in order to import machines and other inputs to develop better industries. As a result, despite having quite a few relatives living in the LIS, I had never been outside Korea until I travelled to Cambridge at the age of 23 to start as a graduate student there in This is not to say that no one smoked foreign cigarettes or ate illicit cookies.
There was some smuggling, especially from Japan, but most of the goods involved were things brought in—illegally or semi-legally—from the numerous American army bases in the country. Those American soldiers who fought in the Korean War may still remember malnourished Korean children running after them begging for chewing gum or chocolates.
Even in the Korea of the s, xiv Prologue American army goods were still considered luxuries. This was a cheaper version of the classic Korean stew, kimchee chige, using kimchee cabbages pickled in garlic and chilli but substituting the other key ingredient, pork belly, with cheaper meats, like surplus bacon, sausages and spam smuggled out of American army bases.
A maternal uncle, who was a general in the Korean army, used to accumulate supplies during joint field exercises with his American colleagues and gave them to me as an occasional treat. American soldiers cursed the wretched quality of their field rations.
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If that was the case with a well-fed upper-middle-class child like me, you can imagine what it must have been like for the rest. When I went to secondary school, my father gave me a Casio electronic calculator, a gift beyond my wildest dreams. Many ended up as housemaids in urban middle-class families, working for room and board and, if they were lucky, a tiny amount of pocket money.
In the textile and garment industries, which were the main export industries, workers often worked 12 hours or more in very hazardous and unhealthy conditions for low pay. Some factories refused to serve soup in the canteen, lest the workers should require an extra toilet break that might wipe out their wafer-thin profit margins. Conditions were better in the newly emerging heavy industries—cars, steel, chemicals, machinery and so on—but, overall, Korean workers, with their average hour working week, put in longer hours than just about anyone else in the world at the time.
Urban slums emerged. Families of five or six would be squashed into a tiny room and hundreds of people would share one toilet and a single standpipe for running water. Many of these slums would ultimately be cleared forcefully by the police and the residents dumped in far-flung neighbourhoods, with even worse sanitation and poorer road access, to make way for new apartment blocks for the ever-growing middle class.
If the poor could not get out of the new slums fast enough though getting out of the slums was at least possible, given the rapid growth of the economy and the creation of new jobs , the urban sprawl would catch up with them and see them rounded up once again and dumped in an even more remote place. Few people outside Korea were aware that the beautiful public parks surrounding the impressive Seoul Football Stadium they saw during the World Cup were built literally on top of the old rubbish dump on the island which nowadays has an ultra-modern eco-friendly methane-burning power station, which taps into xvi Prologue the organic material dumped there.
In October , when I was still a secondary school student, President Park was unexpectedly assassinated by the chief of his own Intelligence Service, amid mounting popular discontent with his dictatorship and the economic turmoil following the Second Oil Shock. But it was brutally ended by the next military government of General Chun Doo-Hwan, which seized power after the two-week armed popular uprising that was crushed in the Kwangju Massacre of May Despite this grave political setback, by the early s, Korea had become a solid middle-income country, on a par with Ecuador, Mauritius and Costa Rica.
But it was still far removed from the prosperous nation we know today. By that time, Korea had become competent enough to copy advanced products and rich enough to want the finer things in life music, fashion goods, books. But it was still not sophisticated enough to come up with original ideas and to develop and own international patents, copyrights and trademarks. It was the same with trademarks.
Those who had more delicate consciences would settle for near-counterfeits. Counterfeit goods were rarely sold as the genuine article. Those who bought them were perfectly aware that they were buying fakes; the point was to make a fashion statement, rather than to mislead. Copyrighted items were treated in the same way. Today, Korea exports a large and increasing quantity of copyrighted materials movies, TV soaps, popular songs , but at the time imported music LP records or films videos were so expensive that few people could afford the real thing. As for foreign books, they were still beyond the means of most students.
Coming from a well-off family that was willing to invest in education, I did have some imported books. But most of my books in English were pirated. I could never have entered and survived Cambridge without those illegal books. By the time I was finishing my graduate studies at Cambridge in the late s, Korea had become a solid upper-middle-income country. The surest proof of this was that European countries stopped demanding that Koreans get an entry visa. Most of us by then had no reason to want to emigrate illegally anyway.
But that is a story for later.
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