Kicking Away the Ladder

Linked with Ha-Joon Chang – Korea & England, with Is Equality Passé? and with … Institutions and Economic Development … .

How the Economic and Intellectual Histories of Capitalism Have Been Re-Written to Justify Neo-Liberal Capitalism, (Post-Autistic Economics Review), by Ha-Joon Chang.

This article is based on his new book Kicking Away the Ladder – Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, which was published by Anthem Press, London, on 10 June 2002.

Excerpts: … Almost all of today’s rich countries used tariff protection and subsidies to develop their industries. Interestingly, Britain and the USA, the two countries that are supposed to have reached the summit of the world economy through their free-market, free-trade policy, are actually the ones that had most aggressively used protection and subsidies. Contrary to the popular myth, Britain had been an aggressive user, and in certain areas a pioneer, of activist policies intended to promote its industries. Such policies, although limited in scope, date back from the 14th century (Edward III) and the 15th century (Henry VII) in relation to woollen manufacturing, the leading industry of the time.

England then was an exporter of raw wool to the Low Countries, and Henry VII for example tried to change this by taxing raw wool exports and poaching skilled workers from the Low Countries …

… What can be done to change this?

First, the historical facts about the historical experiences of the developed countries should be more widely publicised. This is not just a matter of “getting history right”, but also of allowing the developing countries to make more informed choices.

Second, the conditions attached to bilateral and multilateral financial assistance to developing countries should be radically changed. It should be accepted that the orthodox recipe is not working, and also that there can be no “best practice” policies that everyone should use.

Third, the WTO rules should be re-written so that the developing countries can more actively use tariffs and subsidies for industrial development. They should also be allowed to have less stringent patent laws and other intellectual property rights laws.

Fourth, improvements in institutions should be encouraged, but this should not be equated with imposing a fixed set of (in practice, today’s – not even yesterday’s – Anglo-American) institutions on all countries. Special care has to be taken in order not to demand excessively rapid upgrading of institutions by the developing countries, especially given that they already have quite developed institutions when compared to today’s developed countries at comparable stages of development, and given that establishing and running new institutions is costly.

By being allowed to adopt policies and institutions that are more suitable to their conditions, the developing countries will be able to develop faster. This will also benefit the developed countries in the long run, as it will increase their trade and investment opportunities. That the developed countries cannot see this is the tragedy of our time … (full text).

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