Kicking away the ladder

South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang, in his book “Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective” criticizes the Washington Consensus, a policy set which is agreed upon by international organizations such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the majority of mainstream economists, and that is argued to be necessary for underdeveloped countries to follow in order to develop. According to Ha-Joon Chang, although countries that in favor of Washington Consensus emphasize the importance of principles such as a liberal foreign trade regime, liberal investment policy, protection of intellectual property rights and transparent corporate governance for economic development, contrary to the principles they now agree on, these countries did not follow such policies in their development process which they experienced in 19th century: they followed protective foreign trade and investment policies and did not show much “sensitivity” to the intellectual property rights of other countries.

Ha-Joon Chang refers to German economist Friedrich List’s “It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him.” quote and argues that developed countries are now kicking away the ladder that they used in their development process.

Ha-Joon Chang’s comments on economic development are also reflected in carbon policies. As I mentioned in the article “Who is Responsible For?” most of the human-induced carbon emissions, which are the biggest triggers of climate change, originate from developed countries. Indeed, there is a tight correlation between development and carbon emissions. When the graphs showing carbon emissions and global economic activity are examined one after the other, it can be seen that the decrease in total carbon emissions shows that something is wrong in the global economy[1].

This relationship between carbon emissions and development raises concerns in developing countries that are expected to implement decarbonization policies. According to a report in the Financial Times[2], Kenya raises an urgent question for countries in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. “Is it possible for a poor country to achieve a high living standard without intensive use of fossil fuels?” According to the same report[3], many African leaders, experts and energy executives argue it is a gross hypocrisy to insist that Africans freeze their carbon emissions, let alone cut them from already low levels. They say the demand to do so is tantamount to asking a whole continent to stay poor in perpetuity.

In summary, it is very important for our common future to establish the necessary just transition mechanisms so that no one feels that developed countries are “kicking away the ladder” regarding the policies pursued in the name of combating climate change.



[3] Ibid.

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