Heterodox Economics

Bad SamaritansI just finished Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang. It is refreshing to read an economist who attacks the free trade movement. I’ve long said that I look forward to a time when I disagree with Paul Krugman. The truth is that we disagree about some fundamental issues. But our political system is so out of balance that an economists who is at best a centrist is considered some kind of wacko leftist.

Ha-Joon Chang’s thinking is more in line with my own. A Reader[1] at Cambridge, I suspect despite his brilliance, his heterodoxy will trump all and he will never win the Nobel Prize.

In Bad Samaritans, Chang argues that the neo-liberal philosophy of free trade hurts developing nations. He shows that selective protectionism is good for weak countries trying to nurture new industries. Two primary examples of this are Japan and their protection of their auto industry and Finland with Nokia. As he points out, if these countries had allowed free trade, Toyota would now be at best a small subsidiary of GM.

The broader picture is of a world in with major countries impose policies on minor countries that give advantages to big companies over small companies. This isn’t surprising, of course. But it is chilling. I wonder if the people will take control of their world before the neo-liberal free trade fueled corporate zombie “people” destroy the whole system. How would I choose to die: from an untreated infection on a subsidence commune or from starvation inside a cardboard box in a ally in San Francisco? They both have their appeal.

Meanwhile, Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism just arrived. Now the question whether I will read it or what I should—Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train. Maybe a little of both.


[1] In the UK and other places, Lecturer is what we in the states call an Assistant Professor. A Reader is an Associate Professor. And Professor is a Full—or what we always called Fool—Professor.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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