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Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism | [Ha-Joon Chang]

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

With irreverent wit, an engagingly personal style, and a battery of real-life examples, Ha-Joon Chang blasts holes in the "World Is Flat" orthodoxy 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.
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Publisher's Summary

With irreverent wit, an engagingly personal style, and a battery of real-life examples, Ha-Joon Chang blasts holes in the "World Is Flat" orthodoxy 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 shameless 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 - via our proxies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization - ramming policies that suit ourselves down the throat of the developing world.

Unlike typical economists who construct models of how economies are supposed to behave, Chang examines the past: what has actually happened. His pungently contrarian history demolishes one pillar after another of free-market mythology. We treat patents and copyrights as sacrosanct - but developed our own industries by studiously copying others' technologies. We insist that centrally planned economies stifle growth - but many developing countries had higher GDP growth before they were pressured into deregulating their economies. Both justice and common sense, Chang argues, demand that we reevaluate the policies we force on weaker nations.

Bad Samaritans 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.

©2007 Ha-Joon Chang; (P)2007 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Would Be Better As An Article"

    Would have made an excellent Atlantic article - not enough for a book. It is good that Chang challenges the conventional wisdom of the Washington consensus on free-trade. As an Economist reader I'm happy to my assumptions challenged. The best chapters are routed in history - not argument.

    I very much enjoyed hearing a first-hand account of the risk of South Korea, from one of the world's poorest countries to one of the wealthiest - and the policies that allowed this transformation. This story is particularly interesting to me as my in-laws are Korean immigrants. But Chang does not have enough new to say for a whole book, and ends up repeating himself and his argument far too often.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carroll Alexandria, VA, United States 09-08-11
    Carroll Alexandria, VA, United States 09-08-11 Member Since 2010
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    "A unique counterpoint to the media"

    A well positioned series of counters to the much lauded "conventional wisdom" spouted in the press. All I verified checked out. So a useful way to hear both sides of our 'rich country' spin on trade & money.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ginger Birmingham, Al USA 10-20-08
    Ginger Birmingham, Al USA 10-20-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Everyone should have to read this book"

    If you couple this book with Alan Greenspans book and hold our current economic crisis against them you can easily see where we have failed to apply what we know but instead began to believe our own propaganda.
    The only truly successful Free MArket Societies are regulated one. It is not arguable. History simply proves it.

    15 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Toronto, ON, Canada 10-20-11
    John Toronto, ON, Canada 10-20-11 Member Since 2006
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    "after three listens, i still want to come back"

    this book is phenomenal. the perspective is fascinating, and the arguments provide an enlightening counterbalance to free market talk show hosts who forget the important functions of government. i don't know when i read this again, but i've kept coming back to it over the years, and will again soon.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Reich Northern, CA 05-30-10
    Chris Reich Northern, CA 05-30-10 Member Since 2005

    Business Physicist and Astronomer

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Greats Points"

    This book delivers great points for those who believe the U.S. does only "good" around the world. I enjoyed the arguments very much and agree with the viewpoint of the author.

    However, I liked "The Open Veins of Latin America" better. That book is better composed and more succinctly and historically makes similar points.

    It's worth your time but don't expect an easy or comfortable read. It's a kick in the gut---and we deserve it.

    8 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kamran Houston, TX, United States 11-20-08
    Kamran Houston, TX, United States 11-20-08 Member Since 2005
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    "Not Convinced!"

    I read this book as someone in favor of free trade looking for counter arguments from someone who is not. This book, however, failed to change my view. The author makes several good arguments, but ultimately fails to see practical implication of his own views. He repeatedly uses the success of Japan and S. Korea as best evidence that protectionist policies work. In another attempt, he compares an infant industry to a human infant and argues just as an infant needs care until reaches self-sufficiency, infant industries need protection until they are capable of withstanding foreign competitions.

    I see several things wrong here. First, the protectionist policies are successful precisely because other countries are not protectionists. If protectionism were to be adopted as a wholesale policy by all countries, it would certainly bring about economic disaster as companies will be squeezed to sell only to their own nationals.

    Second, the comparison of infant industries to infants has some validity, but it is too simplistic to be meaningful. Trying to prove a general point using one example is dangerous since often the opposite point can be proved using a counter example.

    At last, the author argues for a dynamic protectionism. That is to protect different industries at different periods for different length of times. To pretend to know where, when and for how long help must be provided is sheer madness. Governments can't plan for much simpler things, let alone, the whole economy. Besides, once a company obtained protection, it will devise everything in its power to keep it. It will choke off other potential candidates for help. In long-run, country will have only few companies or industries that will benefit from this policy and other companies or industries are choked off at their infancies. Perhaps, this is why countries like S. Korea (Samsung, Hyundai) or Finland (Nokia) have only a few companies accounting for most of their exports.

    30 of 47 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Doug Costa Mesa, CA, United States 02-24-13
    Doug Costa Mesa, CA, United States 02-24-13
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    "Good points, but driven into the ground"

    This text is first and foremost an argument based on history. That is not to say it isn't valid, however. Chang does an excellent job reminding us how the "rich countries" got that way and he cites example after example of countries that have developed remarkably well doing exactly the opposite of what neo-liberalism prescribes.

    Most importantly Chang rightfully exposes the track record of neo-liberal policies and points out what very few in the mainstream press are willing to point out. That the disasters caused by these economic policies far outnumbers the few moderate success stories. Free Market thinkers talk a big game, but essentially have nothing to show for their policies.

    If you are looking for an in-depth look at the world economy today this probably isn't the book for you, but if you want a break from the neo-liberal revisionist histories and gain some insight on how economic policies have shifted then this book is definitely worth it.

    I especially like the last chapter where Chang discusses the perception of different cultures and how that affects and distorts our opinions of poor countries.

    His personal experiences of growing up in an impoverished Korea and witnessing it's rapid ascent into economic success is very powerful, and rare to hear coming from an economic intellectual.

    The biggest weakness of the book is repetitiveness. Chang is keen on making his point with many examples and case studies, which is understandable, but at times it can seem like he is repeating the same things over and over. I wouldn't listen to this book in one sitting or in large chunks. Keep the listening to around 1-2 hours at a time and the repetitiveness doesn't seem so bad.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Len Cambridge, MA, USA 09-12-12
    Len Cambridge, MA, USA 09-12-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Brilliant as history"

    Chang has written a fine corrective to the reigning conservative tradition of developmental economics. The strengths of his approach are a grasp of the long duree of historical development (which doesn't usually figure in most economic theory), a strong narrative style (as evidenced in his account of South Korea and the "science fiction" with which he imagines Mozambique's rise to prosperity), and the witty use of detail (the reconstruction of how Germans and Japanese were widely regarded as stereotypically "lazy" in the nineteenth century is both interesting and historically accurate). His historical depth allows his view to avoid doctrinaire claims -- he certainly doesn't argue that protectionism is always good. There are not a lot of weaknesses, other than the fact that he is too quick to discount culture and religion as factors in economic development. (He should take Weber more seriously.) I would have liked to see the historical range pushed back even further -- the paradoxical connections between the rise of the bourgeoisie and absolute monarchy could be another support for his argument. I will definitely be looking for other books from this provocative thinker.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Terrell Loves Park, IL, USA 04-11-10
    Terrell Loves Park, IL, USA 04-11-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Excellent"

    Does a great job of de-bunking the free market myth.

    4 of 10 people found this review helpful
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