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Book Recommendation: Bad Samaritans

I'm pretty sure that I've recommended my prof Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans' book in the past, based on some advance chapters I had seen. Now that I've read the book fully through, let me double up on that recommendation and say that I think it is the finest and most accessible distillation of his ideas to date, and it's even getting grudging praise from the mainstream press. Thom Hartmann has a much longer review just published, but let me point out a few highlights:

  • This is a book about globalization that you could buy for your parents. Ha-Joon is a very witty guy who has appropriated the best of Thomas Friedman's anecdote-heavy style, and turned the conclusions on their head. For instance, in a chapter on whether the poorest countries should adopt neo-liberal trade policy and compete with the big guys, Ha-Joon darkly muses on whether he would win any parenting awards by subjecting his own son to grinding labor market competition.
  • The examples skew towards the U.S. and Europe, rather than more recently developed countries in Asia, which I think only makes it more accessible for the non-globe trotting audience here in the U.S. There are some great historical examples from the U.S., Europe and Japan about how the popular press and punditry hundreds of years ago (and even more recently in Japan) tried to discourage them from branching out into different production now thoroughly associated with the countries.
  • He doesn't dodge some of the difficult debates in economic development, such as whether democracy is necessary for development, boldly noting that the U.S. was not a democracy in the formal sense until 1965. He also doesn't pander to the anti-corruption line, as he explains that latest neo-liberal trap. Corruption may be wrong, but it's only in certain instances that it retards development.
  • Finally, Ha-Joon makes analysis of imperialism a lot less frightening to your middle-of-the-road reader. It's presented in a factual way related to power in the global economy, with all the best in British political economy as opposed to sectarian tradition (the chapter on FDI has a great line from the Keynesian economist Joan Robinson: the only thing worse than being exploited by capital is not being exploited by capital.) He also clearly exposes the parallels between the unequal treaties of the 19th century, and WTO policies today.
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