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July 24, 2007

Ha-Joon Chang: Let Kids be Kids, and Love Alexander Hamilton

My old prof' Ha-Joon Chang has a book coming out soon called "The Bad Samaritans," and it promises - like his other works - to be a hoot.

He has some advance teasing of the book in Prospect Magazine and in the London Independent:

I have a six-year-old son. His name is Jin-Gyu. He lives off me, yet he is quite capable of making a living. After all, millions of children of his age already have jobs in poor countries.

Jin-Gyu needs to be exposed to competition if he is to become a more productive person. Thinking about it, the more competition he is exposed to and the sooner this is done, the better it is for his future development. I should make him quit school and get a job.

I can hear you say I must be mad. Myopic. Cruel. If I drive Jin-Gyu into the labour market now, you point out, he may become a savvy shoeshine boy or a prosperous street hawker, but he will never become a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist. You argue that, even from a purely materialistic viewpoint, I would be wiser to invest in his education and share the returns later than gloat over the money I save by not sending him to school.

Yet this absurd line of argument is in essence how free-trade economists justify rapid, large-scale trade liberalisation in developing countries. They claim that developing country producers need to be exposed to maximum competition, so that they have maximum incentive to raise productivity. The earlier the exposure, the argument goes, the better it is for economic development.

Check out the Independent to see how the story ends...

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