Bad Samaritans Review Essay

Sadly, persistent poverty alongside high economic growth is what explains the current situation in Africa. This is reflected in increasing inequality among citizens of the same nations. Inequality, however, is not an African issue. It is becoming a ‘conventional’ condition in neoliberal world that we are now living.

To understand neoliberalism and its sustenance ‘methods’ even with chains of failure evidence, one has to read Chang’s book. The book provides a provoking explanation of neo liberal policies and their proponents, whom Chang calls ‘Bad Samaritans’.   The Bad Samaritans through the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of IMF, World Bank, and WTO promotes neo liberal policies, which are meant to benefit them at the cost of depriving developing countries.

Using a kind of “theory” he calls ‘Kicking away the ladder”, Chang uses historical evidence to explain how the Bad Samaritan are fighting against policies that they themselves deployed to get where they are. With vivid examples he explained how countries such as Britain and USA used protectionism to build up their infant industries but they are now, through WTO, restraining developing countries from deploying such policies. In the same way, the Bad Samaritan are still subsidising their industries often in subtle means such as through ‘Research  & Development’ while acting as if the world is operating in a free and fair trade.

Chang has covered different areas including patents and copyrights, corruption, democracy and free market, and cultural and development. His analysis is rich and of critical perspective, in which he would explain the rationale used by neoliberals (the Bad Samaritan) to justify their policies then he would counter them with historical and contemporary real life examples. He showed how ‘anti-neo-liberal policies’ such as protectionism and subsidies explain the economic development of East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Having been raised in South Korea and witnessed the economic transformation over a few decades and now a professor at Cambridge University, Chang mixes his personal experience, insight of developing world, and academic rigour to bring forth arguments and counter arguments that help us to understand neoliberalism.

The book covers areas that ‘economics’ books will not touch. These include discussion on culture and development. I particularly loved the provoking title of the chapter, “ Lazy Japanese and Thieving Germans”….can you imagine at one point, the Japanese were known as lazy?? …to cut the story short, we Africans should not get baptised into stereotyped description of us and our continents. We need to work hard and prove those stereotypes wrong.

 At some point in the book, in particular when Chang was discussing ‘corruption’ and ‘patents/copy rights’, I got really scared and almost not agreeing with him. Actually, readers who are not careful might get it all wrong. However, at the end of each of those chapters, an objective reader will understand the arguments. In all those chapters, I learnt to be critical even when things that we hate are used as justification for certain policies.

This book is crucial for African policy makers who blindly embrace neo-liberal policies. Reading the chapter on Foreign Direct Investment  (Titled ‘The Finn and the Elephant”), I could never stop thinking about my country-Tanzania. I don’t know the details of our FDI contracts and so I can’t comment much, but from the hindsight, I think we need to revisit the contracts and be more careful to protect our very own manufactures (or we only have producers?) against   foreign companies.

(May be that’s why Chang only cites the example of Tanzania (the donor darling) once in reference to HIV/AIDS drugs…)

 Well, on a different note, while reading the book, I could not stop thinking of Acemoglu and Robinson book ‘Why Nations Fail’… I now think the two authors put a blind eye to the ‘kicked ladder’ when they tried to explain their theory.

 All in all, as readers we need to read more widely before getting baptised into one idea. Reading widely helps us to have a balanced view of situations informed by critical analysis of information from different sources.

Finally, I would advice political economists students (undergraduate) and even upper levels to read this book. It will give them a critical step towards understanding the polarised world of increasing inequality amidst economic growth. Most importantly, it will urge them to fight the unfair policies and ‘save’ humanity!

Initial news accounts, including those in The New York Times, reported that some 38 neighbors looked down from their apartments but did nothing to call the police or intervene, even while the assailant stalked and stabbed Miss Genovese over the course of a half-hour before fleeing. Subsequent information has raised doubts about the initial accounts — many of the neighbors may not have seen or heard the attack, or realized its severity — but the case prompted hand-wringing about moral decline and discussions of legal reform. In 1967, Vermont adopted a law requiring people to render reasonable assistance to someone who is in grave danger, but the penalty for noncompliance is only a token civil fine.

The issue came to the fore again in 1983, when Cheryl Araujo, a 21-year-old woman, was gang-raped on a pool table in a New Bedford, Mass., tavern while patrons stood by. Minnesota and Wisconsin later adopted laws like Vermont’s establishing a general rescue duty; some states have reporting requirements.

But with the exception of a few jurisdictions, the “no duty” rule remains largely the same as it was famously described by William L. Prosser, the dean of American tort law: “The expert swimmer, with a boat and a rope at hand, who sees another drowning before his eyes, is not required to do anything at all about it, but may sit on the dock, smoke his cigarette, and watch the man drown.”

Of course, some exceptions to the “no duty” rule exist in common law. Police officers, firefighters, doctors, emergency workers and others have legal or other requirements to help, often even when off duty. Motorists involved in accidents can’t leave the scene. Parents, spouses, teachers and employers have duties to protect. If you injure someone through negligence and then don’t help her, you could face higher civil damages. If you voluntarily try to rescue someone, you may be liable if you then stop and the victim is harmed.

The “no duty” rule can be traced to the spirit of rugged capitalist individualism, the Darwinist idea that the common good is advanced through the struggles of selfish individuals. But the law doesn’t just allow moral monsters to act with impunity. Social science suggests it exacerbates the problem. Experiments have long revealed the symbiosis of law and morality: being told that a behavior is illegal makes it also seem more immoral.

One defense of the no-duty rule is that common law exists to prevent people from harming one another, not to compel people to help one another. But modestly impinging on the individual freedom to do nothing seems reasonable when a life hangs in the balance. Such a duty is common in Europe, where some countries have criminal penalties for violators.

A sensible statute might read like this: “Any person who knows that another is in imminent danger, or has sustained serious physical harm, and who fails to render reasonable assistance shall be fined up to $5,000, imprisoned for up to three months, or both.” Civil liability could also be established, as in other countries.

A duty to help would not require bystanders to endanger themselves or provide help beyond their abilities; it could simply require warning someone of imminent danger or calling 911. It wouldn’t bring back the two boys, but it would require us to accept our fundamental moral duty to help those in grave peril.

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