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Paperback | $15.95 Trade | £10.95 | ISBN: 9780262513159 | 208 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 9 illus.| September 2009

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Escape from Empire

The Developing World's Journey through Heaven and Hell


The American government has been both miracle worker and villain in the developing world. From the end of World War II until the 1980s poor countries, including many in Africa and the Middle East, enjoyed a modicum of economic growth. New industries mushroomed and skilled jobs multiplied, thanks in part to flexible American policies that showed an awareness of the diversity of Third World countries and an appreciation for their long-standing knowledge about how their own economies worked. Then during the Reagan era, American policy changed. The definition of laissez-faire shifted from "Do it your way" to an imperial "Do it our way." Growth in the developing world slowed, income inequalities skyrocketed, and financial crises raged. Only East Asian economies resisted the strict prescriptions of Washington and continued to boom. Why?

In Escape from Empire, Alice Amsden argues provocatively that the more freedom a developing country has to determine its own policies, the faster its economy will grow. America's recent inflexibility—as it has single-mindedly imposed the same rules, laws, and institutions on all developing economies under its influence—has been the backdrop to the rise of two new giants, China and India, who have built economic power in their own way.

Amsden describes the two eras in America's relationship with the developing world as "Heaven" and "Hell"—a beneficent and politically savvy empire followed by a dictatorial, ideology-driven one. What will the next American empire learn from the failure of the last? Amsden argues convincingly that the world—and the United States—will be far better off if new centers of power are met with sensible policies rather than hard-knuckled ideologies. But, she asks, can it be done?

About the Author

Alice H. Amsden was Barton T. Weller Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


"A valuable contribution to the appraisal of international development disappointments, not least because of the meticulous analysis of American economic foreign policy in the twentieth century.", Patrick Shea, Political Studies Review


"This distinguished book by an American economist shows how the U.S. changed from a benevolent to an aggressive empire, slashing growth and unleashing financial crises."
Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, former Finance Minister of Brazil and Emeritus Economics Professor at the Get

"One of the most enchanting books in generations to unravel how giants battle imperial know-it-alls and make their own way."
Yoon-Dae Euh, President, Korea University, and Vice Chair, National Economic Advisory Council of Korea

"A thrilling account of how daredevils of economic development soar to heaven and outwit hell. At last, a shrewd study of the two postwar American empires, one permissive and the other ideological. I salute Alice Amsden for this bold and scholarly attempt."
G.K. Chadha, Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council

"Amsden wittily demonstrates how countries that enrich themselves avoid experts' mistakes and succeed on their own responsibility. Listen hard, Russia!"
Sergey Glazyev, Member of Russian Parliament and Economist, Russian Academy of Science

"Amsden reveals with sparkle and insight how much developing countries can achieve when allowed to think for themselves."
Guo Shuqing, Chairman of the Board, China Construction Bank