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Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective / Edition 1

Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective / Edition 1

by Ha-Joon Chang
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How did the rich countries really become rich?  In this provocative study, Ha-Joon Chang examines the great pressure on developing countries from the developed world to adopt certain 'good policies' and 'good institutions', seen today as necessary for economic development. His conclusions are compelling and disturbing: that developed countries are attempting to 'kick away the ladder' with which they have climbed to the top, thereby preventing developing countries from adopting policies and institutions that they themselves have used.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843310273
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 07/01/2002
Series: World Economics Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 196
Sales rank: 1,125,725
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ha-Joon Chang teaches at the Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Cambridge.

Read an Excerpt

Kicking Away the Ladder

Development Strategy in Historical Perspective

By Ha-Joon Chang

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2003 Ha-Joon Chang
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84331-027-3


Introduction: How did the Rich Countries Really Become Rich?

I.I. Introduction

There is currently great pressure on developing countries from the developed world, and the international development policy establishment that it controls, to adopt a set of 'good policies' and 'good institutions' to foster their economic development. According to this agenda, 'good policies' are broadly those prescribed by the so-called Washington Consensus. They include restrictive macroeconomic policy, liberalization of international trade and investment, privatization and deregulation. The 'good institutions' are essentially those that are to be found in developed countries, especially the Anglo-American ones. The key institutions include: democracy; 'good' bureaucracy; an independent judiciary; strongly protected private property rights (including intellectual property rights); and transparent and market-oriented corporate governance and financial institutions (including a politically independent central bank).

As we shall see later in the book, there have been heated debates on whether or not these recommended policies and institutions are in fact appropriate for today's developing countries. Curiously, however, many of those critics who question the applicability of these recommendations nevertheless take it for granted that these 'good' policies and institutions were used by the developed countries when they themselves were in the process of developing.

For example, it is generally accepted that Britain became the world's first industrial superpower because of its laissez-faire policy, while France fell behind as a result of its interventionist policies. Similarly, it is widely believed that that the USA's abandonment of free trade in favour of the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff at the outset of the Great Depression (1930) was, in the words of the famous free-trade economist Bhagwati, 'the most visible and dramatic act of anti-trade folly'. Yet another example of the belief that developed countries attained their economic status through 'good' policies and institutions is the frequent claim that, without patents and other private intellectual property rights, these countries would not have been able to generate the technologies that made them prosperous. The US-based National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade claims that '[t]he historical record in the industrialized countries, which began as developing countries, demonstrates that intellectual property protection has been one of the most powerful instruments for economic development, export growth, and the diffusion of new technologies, art and culture'. And so on.

But is it really true that the policies and institutions currently recommended to the developing countries are those that were adopted by the developed countries when they themselves were developing? Even at a superficial level, there seem to be bits and pieces of historical evidence that suggest otherwise. Some of us may know that, in contrast to its eighteenth or twentieth-century nature, the French state in the nineteenth century was quite conservative and non-interventionist. We may also have read about the high tariffs in the USA, at least after the Civil War. A few of us have heard somewhere that the US central bank, the Federal Reserve Board, was set up as late as 1913. One or two of us may even know that Switzerland became one of the world's technological leaders in the nineteenth century without a patent law.

In light of such counter-evidence to the orthodox view of capitalism's history, it is fair to ask whether the developed countries are somehow trying to hide the 'secrets of their success'. This book pieces together various elements of historical information which contradict the orthodox view of the history of capitalism, and provides a comprehensive but concise picture of the policies and institutions that the developed countries used when they themselves were developing countries. In other words, what this book is asking is: 'How did the rich countries really become rich?'

The short answer to this question is that the developed countries did not get where they are now through the policies and the institutions that they recommend to developing countries today. Most of them actively used 'bad' trade and industrial policies, such as infant industry protection and export subsidies – practices that these days are frowned upon, if not actively banned, by the WTO (World Trade Organisation). Until they were quite developed (that is, until the late nineteenth to early twentieth century), they had very few of the institutions deemed essential by developing countries today, including such 'basic' institutions as central banks and limited liability companies.

If this is the case, aren't the developed countries, under the guise of recommending 'good' policies and institutions, actually making it difficult for the developing countries to use policies and institutions which they themselves had used in order to develop economically in earlier times? This is the question that this book hopes to address.

1.2. Some Methodological Issues: Drawing Lessons from History

The nineteenth-century German economist Friedrich List (1789–1846) is commonly known as the father of the infant industry argument, namely, the view that in the presence of more developed countries, backward countries cannot develop new industries without state intervention, especially tariff protection. His masterpiece, The National System of Political Economy, was originally published in 1841.

List starts the book with a lengthy historical discussion. In fact he devotes the first 115 pages of his 435-page text to a review of trade and industrial policies in the major countries of the western world up to his time. Included in his survey were the experiences of Venice (and other Italian states), the Hanseatic cities (led by Hamburg and Lübeck), the Netherlands, England, Spain and Portugal, France, Germany and the USA.

Many of these accounts go almost completely against what most of us know (or think we know) about the economic histories of these countries. Particularly striking to the contemporary reader are List's analyses of Britain and the USA – the supposed homes of liberal economic policy.

List argues that Britain was actually the first country to perfect the art of infant industry promotion, which in his view is the principle behind most countries' journey to prosperity. He goes as far as saying that we should 'let [whoever is not convinced of the infant industry argument] first study the history of English industry'. His summary of the British road to industrial success is worth quoting at length.

[H]aving attained to a certain grade of development by means of free trade, the great monarchies [of Britain] perceived that the highest degree of civilisation, power, and wealth can only be attained by a combination of manufactures and commerce with agriculture. They perceived that their newly established native manufactures could never hope to succeed in free competition with the old and long-established manufactures of foreigners [the Italians, the Hansards, the Belgians, and the Dutch] ... Hence they sought, by a system of restrictions, privileges, and encouragements, to transplant on to their native soil the wealth, the talents, and the spirit of enterprise of foreigners.

This is a characterization of British industrial development which is fundamentally at odds with the prevailing view of Britain as a valiant free-trade, free-market economy fighting against the dirigiste countries on the Continent, eventually proving the superiority of its policies with an industrial success unprecedented in human history.

List then goes on to argue that free trade is beneficial among countries at similar levels of industrial development (which is why he strongly advocated a customs union among the German states – Zollverein), but not between those at different levels of development. Like many of his contemporaries in countries that were trying to catch up with Britain, he argues that free trade benefits Britain but not the less developed economies. To be sure, he acknowledges that free trade benefits agricultural exporters in these economies, but this is to the detriment of their national manufacturers and thus of their national economic prosperity in the long run. To him, therefore, the preachings on the virtues of free trade by British politicians and economists of his time were done for nationalistic purposes, even though they were cast in the generalistic languages of what he calls 'cosmopolitical doctrine'. He is worth quoting at length on this point:

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical tendencies of his great contemporary William Pitt, and of all his successors in the British Government administrations.

Any nation which by means of protective duties and restrictions on navigation has raised her manufacturing power and her navigation to such a degree of development that no other nation can sustain free competition with her, can do nothing wiser than to throw away these ladders of her greatness, to preach to other nations the benefits of free trade, and to declare in penitent tones that she has hitherto wandered in the paths of error, and has now for the first time succeeded in discovering the truth, [my italics]

As for the USA, List points out that the country had previously been misjudged by the great economic theorists Adam Smith and Jean Baptiste Say as being 'like Poland', namely, destined to rely on agriculture. Indeed, Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations sternly warned the Americans against any attempt at infant industry promotion:

Were the Americans, either by combination or by any other sort of violence, to stop the importation of European manufactures, and, by thus giving a monopoly to such of their own countrymen as could manufacture the like goods, divert any considerable part of their capital into this employment, they would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness.

Two generations later, when List was writing his book, many Europeans still shared Smith's view. Fortunately for them, List argues, the Americans firmly rejected Smith's analysis in favour of 'common sense' and 'the instinct of what was necessary for the nation', proceeding to protect their infant industries with great success after 1816.

List's observation was more than vindicated subsequently, as the USA remained the most ardent practitioner – and the intellectual home – of protectionism for a century after he wrote those passages but also became the world's industrial leader by the end of that period (see section 2.2.2 of Chapter 2). List was also proven right by subsequent historical events with regard to his comment on 'kicking away the ladder'. When its industrial supremacy became absolutely clear after the Second World War, the USA was no different from nineteenth-century Britain in promoting free trade, despite the fact that it acquired such supremacy through the nationalistic use of heavy protectionism.

These are important historical facts that we will establish in greater detail in the next chapter. For the moment, however, I would like to draw the reader's attention to List's methodology, that is, his historical approach to economics.

This approach, if applied appropriately, does not limit itself to the collection and cataloguing of historical facts in the hope that some pattern will naturally emerge. Rather, it involves searching for persistent historical patterns, constructing theories to explain them, and applying these theories to contemporary problems, while taking into account changes in technological, institutional and political circumstances.

This approach, which is concrete and inductive, contrasts strongly with the currently dominant Neoclassical approach based on abstract and deductive methods. This sort of methodology was in fact the staple of the German Historical School, which was the dominant school of economics in many continental European countries before the Second World War, and can be found in works written in English by authors such as Polanyi and Shonfield. The School included among its leading members the likes of Wilhelm Roscher, Bruno Hildebrand, Karl Knies, Adolph Wagner (of Wagner's Law fame), Gustav Schmoller, Werner Sombart and (contentiously) Max Weber. Weber, these days mistakenly known only as a sociologist, was in fact a professor of economics in the Universities of Freiburg and Heidelberg.

It is today rarely acknowledged that the German Historical School's influence before the Second World War went well beyond Continental Europe. Yet the school strongly impressed one of the founding fathers of Neoclassical economics, Alfred Marshall, who remarked that its work has 'done more than almost anything else to broaden our ideas, to increase our knowledge of ourselves, and to help us to understand the central plan, as it were, of the Divine government of the world'.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many leading American economists were directly and indirectly influenced by this School. Although he eventually drifted away from its influence, the patron saint of American Neoclassical economics John Bates Clark, in whose name the most prestigious award for young American economists is given today, went to Germany in 1873 and studied under Roscher and Knies. Richard Ely, one of the leading American economists of the time, also studied under Knies. Ely subsequently influenced the American Institutionalist School through his disciple, John Commons. Ely was one of the founding fathers of the American Economic Association(AEA); to this day, the biggest public lecture at the Association's annual meeting is given in Ely's name, although few of the present AEA members would know who he was.

After the Second World War, when the development of post-colonial countries became a major issue, the historical approach was deployed very successfully by many founding fathers of 'development economics'. The likes of Arthur Lewis, Walt Rostow and Simon Kuznets formulated their theories of the 'stages' of economic development on the basis of their extensive knowledge of the history of industrialization in developed countries. Also influential was the 'late development' thesis of the Russian-born American economic historian, Alexander Gerschenkron, who, drawing on European experiences of industrialization, argued that the continuously increasing scale of technology would make it necessary for countries embarking on industrialization to deploy more powerful institutional vehicles in order to mobilise industrial financing. Gerschenkron's work provides an important backdrop to Hirschman's pioneering work in development economics. Kindleberger's classic textbook on development economics makes extensive reference to historical experiences of the developed countries, once again with numerous references to Gerschenkron.

In the 1960s, the heyday of development economics, there were even some collections of essays intended explicity to derive lessons for currently-developing countries from the historical experiences of developed countries. As late as 1969, Gustav Ranis, a leading neoclassical development economist (although of an older, gentler vintage), wrote an article entitled 'Economic Development in Historical Perspective' for the key mainstream journal American Economic Review.

Unfortunately, during the last couple of decades, even development economics and economic history – two sub-fields of economics for which the historical approach is most relevant – have been dominated by mainstream neoclassical economics, which categorically rejects this sort of inductive reasoning. The unfortunate result of this has been that the contemporary discussion on economic development policy-making has been peculiarly ahistorical.

The development literature is certainly full of theoretically-based propositions (e.g., free trade benefits all countries) and may also draw extensively on contemporary experiences (e.g., the literature on the East Asian 'developmental state'). However, we rarely now see discussions that are based on the historical experiences of the now-developed countries (hereafter NDCs). To be sure, there are some scattered historical references, but these are often based on highly-stylized characterizations of historical experiences, and moreover tend to refer only to Britain and the USA. The supposed free-trade, free-market histories of these countries are held up as examples for developing countries. Yet these discussions of the British and US experiences are extremely selective and thus misleading, as will become clearer later in this book.


Excerpted from Kicking Away the Ladder by Ha-Joon Chang. Copyright © 2003 Ha-Joon Chang. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: How did the Rich Countries Really Become Rich? Policies for Economic Development: Industrial, Trade and Technology Policies in Historical Perspective; Institutions and Economic Development: 'Good Governance' in Historical Perspective; Lessons for the Present; References; Notes; Index

What People are Saying About This

Stanley Engermann

Ha-Joon Chang has examined a large body of historical material to reach some very interesting and important conclusions about institutions and economic development. Not only is the historical picture re-examined, but Chang uses this to argue the need for a changing attitude to the institutions desired in today's developing nations. Both as historical reinterpretation and policy advocacy, "Kicking Away the Ladder?" deserves a wide audience among economists, historians, and members of the policy establishment.(Stanley Engermann, Professor of Economic History, Rochester University, USA.)

Peter Evans

While the countries of the global South are pressured with increasing intensity to adopt idealized versions of Anglo-American institutions, their growth rates relative to the industrial North are declining. In "Kicking Away the Ladder?", Ha-Joon Chang addresses this problem head-on by building on a careful historical analysis of the institutions that the now developed countries actually used to make their way to higher levels of affluence and contrasting these with the prescriptions that they are currently imposing on the South. This is an original and provocative work, an immensely valuable contribution to current debates on development. Even those who disagree with Chang's arguments will find them too carefully grounded and cogently argued to be set aside. This book will become the focus of a broad and lively debate that will enrich development theory and challenge contemporary global policy-makers.(Peter Evans (University of California, Berkeley).)

John Toye

In this lively, knowledgeable and original contribution to international political economy, Ha-Joon Chang puts economic history at the centre of the current trade liberalization debate, arguing that developing countries should not be denied policy instruments used by Europe and America for their own development. He deserves our thanks for making this argument with rare force and skill.(John Toye, Professor of Economics, University of Oxford, UK.)

Lance Taylor

People have "always known" that leading economies used directed policies to industrialize when they were less affluent and then told poorer countries not to do the same. But this common knowledge had never been adequately documented until Ha-Joon Chang took on the task. "Kicking Away the Ladder?" is a scholarly tour-de-force and essential reading for industrial policy-makers in the 21st century.(Lance Taylor, Professor of Economics, New School University, USA.)

From the Publisher

'A provocative critique of mainstream economists' sermons directed to developing countries… It demands attention.' —Charles Kindleberger, Emeritus Professor of Economics, MIT

'A scholarly tour-de-force… Essential reading for industrial policy-makers in the twenty-first century.' —Lance Taylor, Professor of Economics, New School University

'…A lively, knowledgeable and original contribution to international political economy.' —John Toye, Professor of Economics, University of Oxford

'…An original and immensely valuable contribution to current debates on development.' —Peter Evans, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Charles Kindleberger

A provocative critique of mainstream economists' sermons directed to developing countries, amounting to "Do as I say, not as I did". It demands attention.(Charles Kindleberger, Emeritus Professor of Economics, MIT, USA.)

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Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
GLmer More than 1 year ago
The economist Ha- Joon Chang in his book “kicking away the ladder” addresses his topics in a logical and orderly manner. He focuses on the economic policies that were applied by the developed countries in the 19th and 20th century as a strategy geared towards driving economic growth. He highlights the irony or paradox that lies in the suggestions or proposals made by developed countries to developing countries in the light of “relevant” economic policies. The policies employed by developed countries were fundamentally different from those which they recommend as a panacea for developing countries. His first chapter explains how the rich countries became rich while the second chapter underscores how industrial and trade policies are structured to reduce inequalities between the developing and developed countries. Chapter three dwells mainly on good governance and a proper institutional framework while chapter four is just a conclusion of the book. Mr. Chang elaborates on the varied policies recommended to developing nations with the goal of fostering economic growth in these countries. In order to improve on their level of economic growth, an agreement has been reached for developing countries to embrace sound policies and set up good institutions. The book opines that it is highly paradoxical when the developed countries convince the developing countries to adopt democratic reforms which they never used when they were at a similar stage or the same stage of development, thus distracting them [developing countries] from using a similar path to economic growth. From a historical viewpoint, Mr Chang disagrees with the view held by other theorists with regards to the use of laissez faire and free trade by developed countries in their infant stages of development. He believes that countries like the US and the UK that recorded high levels of economic growth, diverted tested and successful economic models after achieving economic power and then created barriers to economic growth for other countries. The book proffers how the US and UK promoted and protected their infant industries and later on convinced the international community to adopt free and open trade policies. He postulates that the protection of infant industries is one of the most strategic secrets in ensuring a country’s economic growth. Therefore, preventing the developing countries from using the same policies which had been used by developed countries a century ago, developing countries are stripped off the potential of achieving economic growth. In conclusion, Chang in his book “Kicking Away the Ladder” advocates for the creation of good institutions and application of sound policies for developing countries. Chang propounds a number of policies that should be used alongside the stable macroeconomic policies and investment regime. Good institutions should safeguard property and ensure transparent corporate governance. These policies and institutions are considered good only if they are implemented with fairness but they do not operate in isolation since other factors must be integrated to achieve development. Agricultural and industrial resources are vital to development in developing countries, thus must be strongly considered. Many developing countries are reliant on agriculture, which is the bedrock of their economy necessitating close attention.
Willp More than 1 year ago
In this pioneering book, Ha-Joon Chang, Assistant Director of Development Studies at Cambridge University, explores development strategies in theory and practice. First, he studies how the developed countries became developed using active industrial, trade and technological (ITT) policies. Then he looks at the role that social institutions play in economic development. Finally, he proposes some lessons for the present.

He shows how Britain was the first country to perfect the art of infant industry promotion. Then he looks at the USA, which still has subsidies for its farmers, quotas for textiles, huge state spending on military R&D, trade sanctions against many other nations, and state funding for R&D in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries ¿ all protectionist measures.

All the developed economies used active ITT policies, yet they now promote free trade for all, claiming that it will benefit all. Renato Ruggiero, the first Director of the World Trade Organisation [WTO], said in 1998 that this world order has `the potential for eradicating global poverty in the early part of the next century¿.

But free trade policies have failed: they haven¿t delivered the promised growth. Free trade harms the less developed countries¿ national manufacturers and thus their prosperity in the long run.

A study of 116 countries showed that their GDP per head grew 3.1% a year with 1960-80¿s interventionist policies, but only 1.4% with the post-1979 Thatcherite policies. This study also proved that the quality of a society¿s institutions is not the key to growth; so does the similar slowdown in the developed countries since 1979. The World Bank and the IMF impose conditions that they say will ensure that `good governance¿ aids economic growth, but good institutions are the result, not the cause, of economic development.

Chang shows how the developed countries¿ states have vested interests in keeping poor countries as providers of cheap raw material and labour, in preventing them from emerging as rivals. The WTO restricts developing countries¿ ability to pursue active ITT policies. The WTO is a modern version of the unequal treaties that Britain and others imposed on China and other semi-independent countries in the 19th century.

The developed countries¿ states are indeed kicking away the ladder to stop others climbing up after them. They say, `Do as I say, not do as I did¿. But today we too need active ITT policies to get us out of the slump.