Capital Rules

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest…. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.
–from Chapter One of Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto, published on this day in 1848

Though the list of communist countries has dwindled to a handful, the triumph of free-trade capitalism is both a convenient myth and a dangerous idea, says the controversial Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang in Bad Samaritans:

Today, there are certainly some people in the rich countries who preach free market and free trade to the poor countries in order to capture larger shares of the latter’s markets and to pre-empt the emergence of possible competitors. They are saying “do as we say, not as we do” and act as “Bad Samaritans,” taking advantage of others who are in trouble.…

I am not suggesting that there is a sinister secret committee somewhere that systematically air-brushes undesirable people out of photographs and re-writes historical accounts. However, history is written by the victors and it is human nature to re-interpret the past from the point of view of the present.…. The result is that many Bad Samaritans are recommending free-trade and free-market policies to the poor countries in the honest but mistaken belief that those are the routes their own countries took in the past to become rich. But they are in fact making the lives of those whom they are trying to help more difficult.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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