Kicking Away the Ladder | Ha-Joon Chang

Summary of: Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective
By: Ha-Joon Chang


Dive into the intriguing world of ‘Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective’ by Ha-Joon Chang, and discover how economic growth is not always what it seems. This summary scrutinizes how the United States and Britain built their wealth through protectionism, exploitation, and undemocratic practices, despite the common belief in free trade as the key to their prosperity. Traverse the historical landscape, as the book challenges conventional thought, revealing the complex and sometimes dark paths that these powerful nations have walked to claim their places in the global economy.

The Paradox of US Economic Ideals

The United States, known for its free market ideals, surprisingly achieved economic prosperity and power through protectionism. After the struggle for independence, the newly formed country faced challenges with a weak industry compared to Europe. The solution was protectionism, which taxed foreign products to keep US goods cheaper, fostering domestic growth. This policy persisted well into the twentieth century, with the US having the world’s most protected economy before World War II. Only when the US established dominance did it transition to free trade. The history of US economic policy shows that, while free trade may be the current ideal, government regulation and protectionism can lead to significant growth and success.

Protectionism: The Key to Britain’s Economic Success

Britain’s success in global trade can be attributed to the country’s adoption of protectionism. This strategy was initiated by King Henry VII in the fifteenth century, which involved the poaching of skilled textile workers from the Low Countries and the banning of raw wool exports. These laws protected domestic industry and led to the growth of English textiles. In the eighteenth century, Britain used protectionism again by imposing trade tariffs to encourage the import of raw materials and the export of manufactured goods. This effectively capitalized on the low cost of abundant imported materials and the huge global demand for manufactured goods, turning the small nation into a world-leading economy.

Uncovering the Unjust Origins of Western Wealth

Many Western countries acquired their wealth through exploitation and protectionism. For instance, Britain impoverished North American colonies at the expense of its economy. Similarly, it exploited other state nations to sign unfair treaties, perpetuating an unjust relationship between rich and poor countries.

Democracy and Prosperity

The link between democracy and economic development is unclear. Many developed countries, like the US and UK, weren’t democracies when they became rich and powerful. Democracy is not the only factor that makes a country prosperous. Developing countries should not necessarily be less democratic, but we should consider that developed countries achieved success using methods we would now frown upon.

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