Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang.
Bloomsbury Press: NY, 2008.

I found this book to be an excellent critique of free trade dogma. The author uses history (the development of countries now rich and crises of those practicing neo-liberal economics) to refute the all too common harangue that free trade is the only way to succeed in the global market. With my limited knowledge of economics (basic economics and government classes), I have never believed the free trade mantra and have not read or heard anything giving a convincing argument-only that it is the best and necessary for success. In fact, it seems that, as in politics, supporters believe uttering the phrase is all that is required to win an argument. The author states that some degree of globalization is necessary but that protections need to be in place for developing countries to be able to compete (as has been true of all of the rich countries as they were developing). The author only discusses how the reigning policies affect developing countries (as he is from Korea and most concerned with their issues) not how the policies affect even the rich countries themselves (i.e. the loss of manufacturing and production in the U.S. and lower standard of living for the middle and lower classes). I think many of his comments also apply to our (the U.S.) situation in the past 3 decades, though we may not have been as greatly impacted as developing countries-yet (or maybe it's just happening more slowly). All of the success stories given have a mixture of open trade and protectionism, instead of following the orthodoxy that regimes of recent decades have tried to force on us, and the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization have tried to force on developing countries. My belief is that, if it isn't working for either us or developing countries, we need a new direction.

Bad Samaritans is accessible to those with at least an average high school education level (whether from school or life) and a desire to know about the subject. It is clear and sensible, and those wanting a stronger American economy could learn from it. It would also be a good selection for government or economics classes.

I believe the title is unfortunate for distribution in the U.S., as is the repetition of referring to rich countries as "Bad Samaritans." It is interesting to me that the author dismisses culture as too broad to define economics and then lumps us all into the category of "rich countries." Our country as a whole has little control over what is happening economically (and is suffering from current policies). It is a few forceful people who control the situation-not countries. Everyone else is following blindly, because they don't understand. However, with a little education and understanding a movement can be created which can have some effect on those controlling. For now, my advice is to ignore the stigmatization and read the overall message.

My local library had a running list this summer of book suggestions for the Presidential candidates to read. I missed my chance to add it, but I recommend this book!

related-free trade vs protectionism, capitalism vs subsidies and state ownership, IMF, World Bank, WTO
RL=YA-adult (adult book)

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