Ha-Joon Chang: In Conversation
The renowned Cambridge Economist, author of the classic work Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective was interviewed in May by Serene Richards, a freelance journalist and Universty of London LLM candidate in International Economic Law Justice and Development.
Nestled amongst the leafy streets of Cambridge is the University’s Economics faculty. This, unassuming, 1960s building, plays host to one of the world’s leading development economists: Ha-Joon Chang. An international best selling author, Chang is no stranger to controversy, he is known for his critical analysis of economic orthodoxy and draws upon economic history in much of his work. His most recent book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism gallantly contributes to the ongoing critique surrounding our global economic system. In 2005 the South Korean born economist was awarded the Wassily Leontief prize for Advancing the Frontier of Economic Thought for his book “Kicking Away the Ladder”. I enter his office, quaint and amassed with books. His manner, affable and upbeat, we begin.
You co-wrote a paper entitled “Industrial Policy and the Role of the State in Egypt” which outlined an alternative development policy, comparing Egypt to the East Asian experience, can you tell us a little about your vision at the time?
“We wrote it in 1995/4, it was a time when they [the IMF] were accelerating liberalization and privatization. We felt that in a relatively closed economy like what Egypt was before, liberalizing and opening can bring some benefits because you have more competition and foreign exchanges and so on. But we were worried that this brought, at best, short-term benefits. You really need a long-term strategy to take your country to another level. Back in the early 60s Korea and Egypt had similar levels of income, two of the poorest countries in the world. Today Egypt still is a poor country, with a per capita income of $2000 compared to South Korea’s $20,000. So, what happened during those 50 years that made such a huge a difference is an important question. Of course, there were problems with the earlier economic strategy under Nasser. In my view, it was too closed – but, liberalising everything without any strategy and privatising, without any clear view of what should be done was not a very promising strategy. Unfortunately we have been proven right in that sense because they’ve done a lot of things since the 90s, but where did it end up?”