Bad Samaritans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am

Bad Samaritans
by Ha-Joon Chang
Random House HK$114

Ha-Joon Chang tears apart conventional views on globalisation and development in an accessible book that cuts through the free-trade tripe. The Cambridge University economist begins by assessing his own country, South Korea, whose economic 'miracle', he says, is not the result of faith in the free market but rather clever and pragmatic market incentives and state direction. Chang then shows that almost all developed countries today have become rich by spurning neo-liberal policy, including Britain and the US, supposedly the homes of free trade. Using economic theory, history and empirical facts, he points out that some of the best firms are state-owned and run, adding, among other things, that free trade reduces freedom of choice for poor countries; low inflation and government prudence may harm economic development; and free market and democracy are not natural partners. Free trade, Chang argues, pushes developing countries to specialise in sectors with low productivity growth. References to must-read volumes, some of them obscure (for example, Daniel Defoe's 1728 A Plan of the English Commerce), are a plus.