A sharply argued analysis of the traditional explanations for wealth and poverty in the world, offering a program for easing misery while addressing structural inequalities.
Hickel (Anthropology/London School of Economics; Democracy as Death: The Moral Order of Anti-Liberal Politics in South Africa, 2015, etc.) examines the conventional wisdom that holds that the reasons parts of the world are rich and parts poor have to do with comparative advantage, supply and demand, distribution of labor and capital, and market conditions, with the rich ones having “the right institutions and the right economic policies” and the poor ones being alms-begging basket cases because of some supposed natural order of things. While global inequality mirrors the inequality of wealth within economies, the gap is widening ever more rapidly between rich and poor countries, such that the gulf between per capita incomes in the global North and the global South “has roughly tripled in size since 1960.” Even the beginning of that era wasn’t as bad as the 1980s, a period that the Millennium Development Goals program of the United Nations overlooks, training all development specialists “to forget everything that happened before 1990.” Hickel, though, isn’t inclined to forget, and one of the things to which he ascribes at least some measure of Western wealth is unpaid labor over hundreds of years in the form of slavery, which added nearly $100 trillion to the coffers of the United States alone. “Why do poor countries have an abundance of labor in the first place?” asks the author, answering himself with the observation that under colonial rule, indigenous economies were overturned in favor of dependent ones even as their resources were carted off to the capitals of Europe and North America. Hickel proposes several remedies, including debt relief, tax rationalization, and putting an end to land grabs, all meant to level the playing field.
Sure to distress the neoliberals in the audience but a powerful case for reform in the cause of economic justice.