I am glad my article on trade and protectionism generated debate among the readers of Prospect and others. In the article, as well as in my book Bad Samaritans: Rich Nations, Poor Policies and the Threat to the Developing World, I advance a totally unconventional view, so I do not expect to be accepted by all people. However, it is sad to see that some people refuse to see my argument for what it is.
One common reaction to my argument has been to argue that “Toyota [or South Korea, the USA, or whichever of my examples they find most difficult to dismiss] was an exception.” (See the review of my book in the Economist). But my argument does not rest on these few cases, however dramatic they may be. The weight of my argument lies in the demonstration that virtually all countries that have economically succeeded over the last two centuries (from 18th-century Britain, through to 19th century USA and Germany, down to late 20th-century east Asia and Europe) have done so by going against the free-market, free-trade orthodoxy (some in more ways than others). Most of them were protectionist. If they were not, they “deviated” in other ways. Switzerland and the Netherlands refused to grant patents until the early 20th century, while Singapore has had a huge state-owned enterprise sector (producing 30 per cent of GDP). My critics may dismiss one or two cases as exceptions that prove the rule, but if virtually all the relevant cases have to be dismissed as exceptions, then the rule that they are trying to defend is not meaningful any more.