Chang and the romance of anarchy
I discovered Ha-Joon Chang while fatefully browsing the LSE talks on youtube — the relative heights of my secret obsession with economics in recent months. His opinions were contradictory enough to inspire a cathartic epiphany although admittedly, I have always had a propensity for loving Syd Barrett, anarchy, and overthrowing the Queen. ‘Brilliant commentary on global inequality’, I called his arguments against the IMF policy. When he called ‘Freakonomics’ a popular thing, I tried and failed at a cartwheel. Actually picking up and reading a copy of his ‘Kicking Away The Ladder’ however, turned that magic to ash. *cue sad music*
Far from serving no purpose, to a fashion buying graduate whose expertise centred around structuring rebranding campaigns, managing fragile egos, and coordinating angry models in the Milanese summer, the book was quite frankly a godsend in policy, trade politics, and development history. It went to great lengths to compare the Industry, Technology and Trade policies of NDCs (Now Developed Countries) during their period of development to those of the NICs(Newly Industrialised Countries). It relentlessly bombarded the reader with the rich details of historic statistics on import & export taxes, chronological finger pointing by the nations, and also most importantly, sweeping generalisations founded on a rock-solid assumption that the meaning and context of development has remained unchanged since the great plague of London.
Being the stubborn mule I am, I refused to give up on Chang. I pushed the humongous disappointment aside and gave ‘Restructuring Korea & Inc’, one of his better books, a try. It paid off. The book was arguably better in terms of reasoning, structure, and logic. Here, Chang does make a better case for institutional substitution with respect to development. He rightly points out that by allowing the chaebols (the Korean business groups) to pool resources and manage them privately, they developed otherwise impossible industries. Samsung’s and Hyundai’s respectful breaks into the global market are both inspiring examples of this well-managed power. There’s a reason monarchy was inefficient (and still might be). It’s shady institutional accountability, which is again Chang’s answer to the 1997 Korea crisis. Make up your mind Chang — do you like it or no?
Lastly, about the 3 polite disclaimers at the end of the book. They were eerily similar to Farage jumping ship after riding the entire Brexit campaign by preaching how the 350 million pounds sum might have served UK’s education & public health services as opposed to lining EU’s pockets. In that, they were misleading, provocative, and probably inaccurate.
So the question remains: Did controversy make Chang’s literature popular? Did controversy seek out his popularity? Who knows, Farage might have an answer.