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Capitalism explained: This is how you make it fun, engaging, interesting

South Korean institutional economist specialising in development economics, Ha-Joon Chang’s session on the Secret History of Capitalism was one of the most interesting interactions at the Jaipur Literature Festival. He made something as dry as economics, free trade, protectionism and tariff rates fun, engaging and interesting.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 23, 2017 14:36 IST
A Mariyam Alavi
Jaipur Literature Festival
Ha-Joon Chang during the session The Secret History of Capitalism at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur. (Prabhakar Sharma/HT Photo)

A surprise hit at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year, was Ha-Joon Chang’s session on the Secret History of Capitalism. It takes a special kind of talent to make something as dry as economics, free trade, protectionism, and tariff rates, fun, engaging and interesting. Chang turned out to be one of the best speakers at the JLF, so far.

Making a case for protectionism, where the state helps developing industries out, over pushing smaller vulnerable countries into the free market, he spoke of how his son was nothing more than “a parasite” when he was six years old and he had seriously considered putting him to work; after all some children in countries like India and Ecuador work at very young ages as child labour is rampant in these countries.

“No more wasting time in front of the TV, or playing Nintendo games. He would practice whatever his trade is; you know shoe shining or chewing gum selling... or whatever. He would grow up to be a very competitive person, because he is honing his skills from a very young age,” he said.

While explaining protectionism, Chang said he had seriously considered putting his six-year-old son to work. The only reason he did not do this, and chose to ‘protect’ his son and keep investing him, Chang said, was to ensure that he would have better opportunities in the future. (Prabhakar Sharma/HT Photo)

The only reason he did not do this, and chose to ‘protect’ his son and keep investing him was to ensure that he would have better opportunities in the future.

“He is quite a clever kid, if I invested in him for another 12-15 years, he could become loads of things. He could become a neurosurgeon, or nuclear physicist or an architect. But if I kick him into a labour market when he is five or six, if he works really hard, he will end up owning a small shop,” he explains.

This is why economists and parents choose to ‘protect’ rather than push countries or children into the ‘free market.’

“Of course there is a danger that this guy will remain dependent on me. Turn 32 and have no job and live with me, like... what is that guy’s name? Oh yeah! Jesus Christ,” he said.

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