Escape from Empire: The Developing World's Journey through Heaven and Hell

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The American government has been both miracle worker and villain in the developing world. From the end of World War II until the 1980s poor countries,including many in Africa and the Middle East, enjoyed a modicum of economic growth.

New industries mushroomed and skilled jobs multiplied, thanks in part to flexible American policies that showed an awareness of the diversity of Third World countries and an appreciation for their long-standing knowledge about how their own ...

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Escape from Empire: The Developing World's Journey through Heaven and Hell

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Overview

The American government has been both miracle worker and villain in the developing world. From the end of World War II until the 1980s poor countries,including many in Africa and the Middle East, enjoyed a modicum of economic growth.

New industries mushroomed and skilled jobs multiplied, thanks in part to flexible American policies that showed an awareness of the diversity of Third World countries and an appreciation for their long-standing knowledge about how their own economies worked. Then during the Reagan era, American policy changed. The definition of laissez-faire shifted from "Do it your way," to an imperial "Do it our way." Growth in the developing world slowed, income inequalities skyrocketed, and financial crises raged. Only East Asian economies resisted the strict prescriptions of Washington and continued to boom. Why? In Escape from Empire,Alice Amsden argues provocatively that the more freedom a developing country has to determine its own policies, the faster its economy will grow. America's recent inflexibility — as it has single-mindedly imposed the same rules, laws, and institutions on all developing economies under its influence — has been the backdrop to the rise of two new giants, China and India, who have built economic power in their own way. Amsden describes the two eras in America's relationship with the developing world as "Heaven" and "Hell" — a beneficent and politically savvy empire followed by a dictatorial, ideology-driven one. What will the next American empire learn from the failure of the last? Amsden argues convincingly that the world — and the United States — will be infinitely better off if new centers of power are met with sensible policies rather than hard-knuckled ideologies. But, she asks,can it be done?

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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Shea
A valuable contribution to the appraisal of international development disappointments, not least because of the meticulous analysis of American economic foreign policy in the twentieth century.
From the Publisher
"A valuable contribution to the appraisal of international development disappointments, not least because of the meticulous analysis of American economic foreign policy in the twentieth century." Patrick Shea Political Studies Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262012348
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 6/29/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice H. Amsden was Barton T. Weller Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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  • Posted January 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Brilliant study of economic development

    This brilliant book by the Professor of Political Economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology charts the developing countries¿ relations with what Amsden calls the two postwar US empires. The first was from 1950 to 1980, the second ¿arose in 1980, with the elections of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.¿ The second worshipped the holy trinity of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation. In the first, the developing countries grew by 5% per year, in the second, by 3%.<BR/><BR/>Only twelve of more than a hundred countries under colonial rule gained any manufacturing experience. As Amsden notes, ¿unlike Britain, Japan promoted colonial manufacturing.¿ Some of the twelve, especially China and India, have become economic powers. But as she writes, ¿global absolute power has become a relic of the past. Absolutism cannot be preserved by the United States, nor can it be acquired by China.¿ And yet still, as the International Labour Organisation reports, half the world¿s workers ¿ 1.4 billion people, the highest number ever recorded ¿ earn less than $2 a day.<BR/> <BR/>Developed countries¿ states import low-paid immigrant labour, to keep wages low, rob developing countries of their skilled labour and stop rival producers emerging. At home, they promote the interests of finance capitalists, whose incomes depend on mergers and privatisations not on developing manufacturing. Abroad, they promote palliative economics and oppose the development of manufacturing. They sponsor NGOs, `small is beautiful¿ and petty-bourgeois trade, not production.<BR/><BR/> Countries need to defend their manufacturing industries against economic aggression. As Amsden observes, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, ¿Keynes believed that in times of depression and world strife, haggling over tariffs might inflame hostilities, whereas leaving tariffs in place might lead to peace. Contrary to popular belief, protection might increase trade, not decrease it. Industrialization needed raw materials, manufactured parts, components, and machinery. Some of these inputs would be purchased locally, others would be imported. If an industrializing country grew faster than under free trade by virtue of tariffs, it might import more of these inputs, not less. Trade would boom.¿ Tariffs are a useful defence against economic aggression. States should attach performance standards to state subsidies.<BR/> <BR/>She concludes, ¿To break the chains of static comparative advantage that for centuries bound them to mining minerals and manufacturing miniature dolls, developing countries must again be free to choose their own model.¿

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