Ha-Joon Chang has a new book promoting protectionism, titled Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. In an article in this month’s issue of Prospect magazine (hat tip to Pablo), he writes:
As for Africa, its per capita income grew relatively slowly even in the 1960s and the 1970s (1-2 per cent a year). But since the 1980s, the region has seen a fall in living standards. There are, of course, many reasons for this failure, but it is nonetheless a damning indictment of the neoliberal orthodoxy, because most of the African economies have been practically run by the IMF and the World Bank over the past quarter of a century.
While I agree that the IMF and the World Bank haven’t done a great job, I think it’s wrong to portray them as the caretakers of Africa and the institutions responsible for its disappointing growth rates. They’ve never had that much power, and I’ve never seen another academic suggest it. Research on African economic performance has focused on institutions and geography. As Paul Collier summarizes (pdf):
Africa’s growth failure has attracted competing explanations. During the 1980s the World Bank diagnosed the problem as inappropriate economic policies, Berg (1981) offering the
first clear statement of this position. Bates (1981) was the first to explain these dysfunctional policy choices in terms of the interests of powerful groups, notably the taxation of export agriculture. During the 1990s the limited response to reform induced a broader search for explanations (Collier and Gunning, 1999, 1999a). Recently three further explanations have gained currency: institutions (Acemoglu et al., 2001), leadership (Jones and Olken, 2005), and geography (Sachs, 2003).
Is there any academic research that concurs with Chang in blaming the IMF and World Bank for Africa’s disappointing growth?