Globalization and Social Inequality

By now most of us are familiar with the term “Free Trade,”  but do we really understand what it means?  More importantly, do we understand the implications it has on the international economics that drives global trade (especially the way the system affects development efforts in poor countries)?  In his 2008 book “Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism” Ha-Joon Chang attempts to shed some light on this subject, in a way that’s accessible to the lay person (those not deeply immersed in economic theory).  I’ve just finished reading it, and this has been an eye-opener.  Ha-Joon’s basic premise is that the current structural mechanisms used for ‘helping’ poor countries to grow their economies: opening up their markets, promoting certain flavors of democracy and (among other things) protecting foreign intellectual property rights, may actually be hindering long-term development efforts…rather than fostering them in a healthy way.  Because the system is ultimately global, and cyclical, this in turn even harms (or at the very least reduces the net benefit to) rich countries in the medium to long-term.  To put it more simply Ha-Joon calls into serious question the effectiveness and motives of ‘Neo liberal’ Free Trade policy, as currently imposed upon poor countries by rich nations (vis-à-vis the IMF, WTO, and World Bank).  He also spends time throughout the book offering intriguing, thought-provoking glimpses into the past (often overlooked) histories of the rich nations, and how they behaved politically & economically during their own decades of growth and development.  If you live in a Capitalist, highly democratic society some of these insights may find intriguing.  Ha-Joon presents his case in a way that encourages the reader to judge the merits of his argument and evidence, and come to their own conclusion as to whether this issue is as compelling and pressing as he feels it is.  So do I.

Who is this book for? Just about anyone with slightest curiosity about basic economic principles (as so often presented in the media), with a desire to understand their basic meaning and implications on global trade & economics.  Those with an interest in promoting just, responsible stewardship of the world’s wealth & natural resources, and seeing the rich countries well and truly reaching out to help lift up the poor nations of the world, would gain much from a reading of this book.  Anyone with an interest in American Foreign Policy, International Business (isn’t all business essentially ‘international’ these days), Trade Economics and Intellectual Property Rights pretty much owe it to themselves to consider what Ha-Joon Chang has to say on these topics.  If you are an Economist, or a budding Economist, or in a leadership position in an underdeveloped nation, and you haven’t already read this book, do yourself and your country a favor and give it a read as soon as the opportunity permits.

A final note: While much of what is presented in his argument could easily perpetuate a sense of cynicism and inevitability, Ha-Joon even manages to interject several rays of hope into the equation.  Although, unless you read the book all the way through, you may miss out on that part.

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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