Void lon iXaarii's Reviews > Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang
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's review
Nov 27, 2011

it was ok

This book brings out very interesting facts and perspectives, and some beautiful historical data that you rarely find referenced. It's a pity this leads the author to very pre-selected conclusions. You know, i never really got why Mises insted in his treaty of economics to first analyze things on a pure logic abstract level. Now I do: as he apparently knew even almost a century ago, one can use history to argue quite opposing views, by picking data and times from a complex system, and indeed many do.
The attraction that this book has (beside the brilliant writing and cool data) is that it appeals to our common moral value of freedom (especially from unjust & harmful forces), but I find it sad that the author not only stops at fighting against freedom from supra-national international forces but even goes on to after having argued from freedom of choice to use this newfound freedom to take that freedom away from the individuals. I find highly dubious that he puts the freedom of a nation state above the freedom of the individual. He must believe that he or people like him will then be able to then guide the individuals with their all knowing powers... which i find suspect. Why should proud powerful people have the power to manipulate the choices of their countrymen just so that in a talk amongst them they can brag who's country is the most powerful or skilled in a certain area?
For example a big point of his is arguing for protectionism and directed economies, which are exactly that: the freedom to choose of a nation distorted so that somebody up high can tell the people which industry to focus on. That's fine if those people had godly powers, but if they happen to be human like us, what if they steer the masses in a direction that you don't want? Sure, it's great if they decide to focus on a certain industry you work in or are benefited from, but what if they use their tariffs or subsidies to guide towards one that's wasteful, or just useless or unimportant to you?
As an example of the authors powers of (sneaky) persuasion at one point he uses the emotional logic of saying that protecting an infant industry is like him investing in his young son and saying how cruel it would him for him not to help him while he is young. True, but the sneakiness in his manipulative example lies in the fact that that in fact a country doesn't have only one son... it has millions. So let's go back to his example: lets say he didn't have 1 but 10 sons, and you happen to be one of them. And lets also be realistic and say that no family has infinite resources, so if it happens that a good university is in a distant place with many living and learning expenses: it may be that the family has only enough resources to 'protect' one of it's suns. Of course everybody arguing such things believes they are the gifted ones who'd get the perks, but what if you happen to be one of the other 9? What if you were born later or were a slow kid only showing gifts later, and by that time that family money has been spent? That is the case with countries: there are myriad industries to pick ones, and often the best ones for the future are yet so small that the government doesn't even have a name for them as they are yet only practiced in the garages of young entrepreneurs? In that case all the wise choices of their overlords directing growth are actually taking resources away from what would be most important to the people, what would make them most happy, all in the name of "they know better what the people want than the people", a logic we've seen often through history, along with it's often painful consequences. I'm not saying that sometimes, in some cases, in some few obvious things they might get it right... but like with a casino, the odds are against them, and yet they keep trying to hit that sweetspot jackpot attracted by that big theoretical win.

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