Quick Reflection on : Chang Ha-Joon, Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations & The Threats To Global Prosperity (London: Random House Business Books, 2007) 276pp

Sadly, persistent poverty alongside high economic growth is what explains the current situation in Africa. This is reflected in increasing inequality among citizens of the same nations. Inequality, however, is not an African issue. It is becoming a ‘conventional’ condition in neoliberal world that we are now living.

To understand neoliberalism and its sustenance ‘methods’ even with chains of failure evidence, one has to read Chang’s book. The book provides a provoking explanation of neo liberal policies and their proponents, whom Chang calls ‘Bad Samaritans’.   The Bad Samaritans through the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of IMF, World Bank, and WTO promotes neo liberal policies, which are meant to benefit them at the cost of depriving developing countries.

Using a kind of “theory” he calls ‘Kicking away the ladder”, Chang uses historical evidence to explain how the Bad Samaritan are fighting against policies that they themselves deployed to get where they are. With vivid examples he explained how countries such as Britain and USA used protectionism to build up their infant industries but they are now, through WTO, restraining developing countries from deploying such policies. In the same way, the Bad Samaritan are still subsidising their industries often in subtle means such as through ‘Research  & Development’ while acting as if the world is operating in a free and fair trade.

Chang has covered different areas including patents and copyrights, corruption, democracy and free market, and cultural and development. His analysis is rich and of critical perspective, in which he would explain the rationale used by neoliberals (the Bad Samaritan) to justify their policies then he would counter them with historical and contemporary real life examples. He showed how ‘anti-neo-liberal policies’ such as protectionism and subsidies explain the economic development of East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Having been raised in South Korea and witnessed the economic transformation over a few decades and now a professor at Cambridge University, Chang mixes his personal experience, insight of developing world, and academic rigour to bring forth arguments and counter arguments that help us to understand neoliberalism.

The book covers areas that ‘economics’ books will not touch. These include discussion on culture and development. I particularly loved the provoking title of the chapter, “ Lazy Japanese and Thieving Germans”….can you imagine at one point, the Japanese were known as lazy?? …to cut the story short, we Africans should not get baptised into stereotyped description of us and our continents. We need to work hard and prove those stereotypes wrong.

 At some point in the book, in particular when Chang was discussing ‘corruption’ and ‘patents/copy rights’, I got really scared and almost not agreeing with him. Actually, readers who are not careful might get it all wrong. However, at the end of each of those chapters, an objective reader will understand the arguments. In all those chapters, I learnt to be critical even when things that we hate are used as justification for certain policies.

This book is crucial for African policy makers who blindly embrace neo-liberal policies. Reading the chapter on Foreign Direct Investment  (Titled ‘The Finn and the Elephant”), I could never stop thinking about my country-Tanzania. I don’t know the details of our FDI contracts and so I can’t comment much, but from the hindsight, I think we need to revisit the contracts and be more careful to protect our very own manufactures (or we only have producers?) against   foreign companies.

(May be that’s why Chang only cites the example of Tanzania (the donor darling) once in reference to HIV/AIDS drugs…)

 Well, on a different note, while reading the book, I could not stop thinking of Acemoglu and Robinson book ‘Why Nations Fail’… I now think the two authors put a blind eye to the ‘kicked ladder’ when they tried to explain their theory.

 All in all, as readers we need to read more widely before getting baptised into one idea. Reading widely helps us to have a balanced view of situations informed by critical analysis of information from different sources.

Finally, I would advice political economists students (undergraduate) and even upper levels to read this book. It will give them a critical step towards understanding the polarised world of increasing inequality amidst economic growth. Most importantly, it will urge them to fight the unfair policies and ‘save’ humanity!

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3 Responses

  1. shirumisha
    shirumisha at | | Reply

    Its good that Africa economy is growing and yet its our challenge to reduce inequality. Yes, the unholy trinity and their founders (western block) may set blocks to our growth but we still need to come with our own initiative to counter their blocks. For instance Africa could focus improving the education sector as means to reduce the inequality by giving its citizen a fair shot. Africa must come with its own initiatives. Perhaps, a more strength on management. For example Tanzania allocates 19.2% of its budget to Education but still the sector faces many challenges; the problem here seems to be efficiency and effectiveness on our action.

  2. Reflections on Stiglitz J. ‘The Price of Inequality’ (London: Penguin Books, 2012) | Aikande Kwayu

    […] In connection to the above point, I, at one time, felt as if Stiglitz contradicted himself when he maintained that ‘for if globalization is not managed better than it has been, there is a real risk of a retreat, into protectionism or forms of begger-thy-neighbor policies’ (p.348) and then in the immediate next pages he is concerned with the imbalance trade (export vs. imports) in the USA. How then will the USA restore balance of payment if not through protectionism? That’s my humble question. The question was (I guess) steered by Ha Joon Chang’s book on Bad Samaritans in which he seems to support protectionism especially in de…. […]

  3. thickface
    thickface at | | Reply

    This was posted a long time ago but its good someone is talking about this important book. i encourage every African to read it given that the soft copy is all over the internet.
    However the biggest challenge here is that Africans (at-least the ones I’ve met) would rather drink snake poison than pick up a book! Most would rather die…actually they do. Yet its these same fellows that make a lot of noise…

    But well said…

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