One size fits nobody

Benevolent developmental imperialism? Says who?

Published September 11, 2006 5:50PM (EDT)

Robert Wade is the most rigorous, fact-based, uncompromising critic of free trade I've had the pleasure of acquainting myself with over the last 10 months. He's also one of the world's leading experts in East Asian economic growth and industrial policy. His analysis, covered here in June, of how the current rules of the globalization game prevent other nations from copying the example of Taiwan, South Korea and Japan in their efforts to develop is particularly compelling. His breakdown of how the numbers for global poverty are calculated is also darn illuminating.

So when Brad DeLong links to a review written by Wade of a new book by Ethan Kapstein on free trade and globalization in the September issue of Foreign Affairs, that's a must read in these parts. And if you're looking for ammo to put in your anti-free trade blunderbuss, Wade's got plenty.

The one drawback to commissioning a review by a powerhouse like Wade, who has a very distinct set of views on the topic that Kapstein is writing about, is that you get the feeling that no matter what angle Kapstein might have followed, Wade's take would be pretty much the same. This makes it difficult to judge for oneself Kapstein's "Economic Justice in an Unfair World."

For example, by Wade's own account, Kapstein's proposed new trade regime would "give more explicit recognition to 'diffuse' or 'relaxed' reciprocity in trade negotiations, rather than 'tit-for-tat' or 'strict' reciprocity." In other words, lesser developed countries would not have to open up their markets as fully as more developed countries. This sounds more or less like the recommendation made by Joseph Stiglitz, who says that countries should only be obligated to open up their markets fully to nations that are below them on the development ladder.

But then Wade goes on to shred Kapstein for not recognizing differences between nations, and accuses him of adopting "a standard neoliberal position: developing countries should liberalize trade indiscriminately and integrate fully with the world economy."

This is confusing. How does "relaxed reciprocity" equal "indiscriminate" trade liberalization? The only way to answer that question is to read Kapstein directly.

However, an even more confusing matter is Brad DeLong's addendum to his cut-and-paste snip from the review. "Wade seems, if I read him correctly, to ask us to think about neoliberalism plus -- where the 'plus' seems to take the form of some sort of benevolent developmental imperialism to remove the rulers and reform the institutions of the two billion [people who are living in the world's slow growth countries]."

DeLong is not reading Wade correctly. Wade's primary goal in this review is to argue that different nations need to be treated differently -- that forcing all the nations of the world, regardless of their development status, to conform to the neoliberal rules of the game as practiced by the world's elite nations is a recipe for disaster. Benevolent developmental imperialism is the last thing he wants us to think about, unless from the harshest viewpoint possible.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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