Ha-Joon Chang

Most of us, including myself, do bad things not because we derive great material benefit from them or strongly believe in them, but because they are the easiest thing to do. Many Bad Samaritans go along with wrong policies for the simple reason that it’s easier to be a conformist. Why go around looking for ‘inconvenient truths’ when you can just accept what most politicians and newspapers say? Why bother to find out what is really going on in poor countries when you can easily blame it on corruption, laziness or the profligacy of their people?

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  1. shinichi Post author

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

    by Ha-Joon Chang

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    What is right and what is easy

    Suppose I am right and that the playing field should be tilted in favour of the developing countries. The reader can still ask: what is the chance of the Bad Samaritans accepting my proposal and changing their ways?

    It may seem pointless to try to convert those Bad Samaritans who are acting out of self-interest. But we can still appeal to their enlightened self-interest. Since neo-liberal policies are making developing countries grow more slowly than they would otherwise do, the Bad Samaritans themselves might be better off in the long run if they allowed alternative policies that would let developing countries grow faster. If per capita income grows at only 1% a year, as it has in Latin America over the past two decades of neo-liberalism, it will take seven decades to double the income. But if it grows at 3%, as it did in Latin America during the period of import substitution industrialization, income would increase by eight times during the same period of time, providing the Bad Samaritan rich countries with a vastly bigger market to exploit. So it is actually in the long-term interest of even the most selfish Bad Samaritan countries to accept those ‘heretical’ policies that would generate faster growth in developing countries.

    The people who are much harder to persuade are the ideologues – those who believe in Bad Samaritan policies because they think those policies are ‘right’, not because they personally benefit from them much, if at all. As I said earlier, self-righteousness is often more stubborn than self-interest. But even here there is hope. Once accused of inconsistency, John Maynard Keynes famously responded: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?’Many, although, unfortunately, not all, of these ideologues are like Keynes. They can change, and have changed, their minds, if they are confronted with new turns in real world events and new arguments, provided that these are compelling enough to make them overcome their previous convictions. The Harvard economist Martin Feldstein is a good example. He was once the brains behind Reagan’s neo-liberal policies, but when the Asian crisis happened, his criticism of the IMF (cited in chapter 1) was more trenchant than those by some ‘left-wing’ commentators.

    What should give us real hope is that the majority of Bad Samaritans are neither greedy nor bigoted. Most of us, including myself, do bad things not because we derive great material benefit from them or strongly believe in them, but because they are the easiest thing to do. Many Bad Samaritans go along with wrong policies for the simple reason that it’s easier to be a conformist. Why go around looking for ‘inconvenient truths’ when you can just accept what most politicians and newspapers say? Why bother to find out what is really going on in poor countries when you can easily blame it on corruption, laziness or the profligacy of their people? Why go out of your way to check up on your own country’s history when the ‘official’ version suggests that it has always been the home of all virtues? – free trade, creativity, democracy, prudence, you name it.

    It is exactly because most Bad Samaritans are like this that I have hope. They are people who may be willing to change their ways, if they are given a more balanced picture, which I hope this book has provided. This is not just wishful thinking.There was a period, between the Marshall Plan (announced sixty years ago, in June 1947) and the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1970s, when the rich countries, led by the US, did not behave as Bad Samaritans, as I discussed in chapter 2.

    The fact that rich countries did not behave as Bad Samaritans on at least one occasion in the past gives us hope. The fact that that historical episode produced an excellent outcome economically – for the developing world has never done better, either before or since – gives us the moral duty to learn from that experience.

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