This summer, we take stock of the most interesting economics-related books that have been released over the past year. Every year, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times makes a similar list. However, by his own admission, he only reads within the tradition of his own training in mainstream economics. While his 2019 summer list includes several excellent books, such as The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing by Frances Coppola and The Sex Factor by Victoria Bateman, we are still struck by the strong white-male-mainstream-Western bias in Wolf’s list, with the books almost all written by white (20/21) men (18/21) about topics mostly focused on the US and Europe.
To complement Wolf’s list, we have put together an Alternative Economics Summer Reading list with authors from across the world, with more varied backgrounds – and writing about more wide-ranging topics, and from a wider variety of critical perspectives. Our alternative list also reflects our belief that issues such as structural racism, imperialism, ideology and the philosophy of science are central to understanding economics.
It is not that we think that Martin Wolf is in particular responsible for the lack of diversity and monism in our reading decisions: other curators such as the Economist (for example, here) also perpetuate the myth that the books worth reading about economics are mostly those written about the US and Europe, by white men trained trained in mainstream economics.
Due to institutional and language barriers we were unable to include as many scholars based outside the West as we would have liked. For example, we would love to read the new book L’arme invisible de la Françafrique Une histoire du franc CFA by Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla, but we are still waiting for the English translation.
We hope you enjoy it and welcome more suggestions in the comments section. Here are our recommendations:
The Darkening Nation – Race, Neoliberalism, and Crisis in Argentina
Ignacio Aguiló | 2018, University of Wales Press
The Darkening Nation intervenes in the debates about the crisis in Argentina by shedding light on how ideas about race and nationhood were conveyed during the period of the financial meltdown and national emergency. It examines how the neoliberal crisis led to the critical self-questioning of the dominant imaginary of Argentina as homogeneously white, which is allegedly the result of European immigration and the extinction of most indigenous and black people in the nation-building age. This book focuses on how the self-examination of racial and national identity triggered by the crisis was expressed in culture, through the analysis of literary texts, films, artwork and music styles. At a time when, in Argentina and elsewhere, a racialised discourse of friend and enemy once again dominates the political sphere, this book provides an important point of critical reference.
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
By Akala | 2018, Hodder and Stoughton
This book by the British rapper Akala tells the story of structural racism in contemporary British society, and its roots in its colonial past. He examines race, class, and culture through his own life experience in a very relatable way. For instance, he describes the meeting of his parents as a result of social and economic forces of “imperial conquest, macroeconomic change, slave revolt, decolonisation, and workers’ struggle.” He places racism against some of England’s best football players while discussing the “historical origins of savage myths and literal human zoos” with great ease and poignance. Akala problematizes discussions of racism as an issue of interpersonal morality, as painting racism as the work of bad people side-steps any real discussion of racism. He discusses a wide range of issues such as education, criminal justice, and objectification that contribute to the creation and persistence of structural racism in British society, and the discomfort of British society in confronting racism.
A Quantum Leap in the Wrong Direction?
By Rohit Azad, Shouvik Chakraborty, Srinivasan Ramani and Dipa Sinha | 2019, Orient BlackSwan
The overlap between economic performance and political wins has been a widely discussed issue throughout various economies of the world. This book is an intervention in this respect in the specific context of the Indian economy. After a massive win for the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)-lead National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2014 General elections in India and being the ruling party for the last 5 years, this BJP-lead alliance again came to power in India in 2019 with an even more colossal win in the recent elections. This book provides a critical appraisal of the economic performance of the NDA government during its last five-year long term. In this context, the book analyses the impact of the economic and social policies undertaken by this government on various marginalised sections of the population during that period. It presents interesting insights on the resonance (or the lack of it) between political win and economic performance, and opens possibilities for rethinking and re-conceptualising what the process of democratic elections entails.
Poverty as Ideology – Rescuing Social Justice from Global Development Agendas
Andrew M. Fischer | 2019, Zed Books
This book makes it to this reading list because of the importance and nature of the issue that it engages with. Despite the shortcomings of mainstream approaches to global poverty, much of the policy-oriented and academic discourse on poverty does not go beyond it, and nuanced reconsiderations of the issue have been almost negligible. This book is a brilliant intervention in this context. The author, Andrew Fischer, unsettles the established notions of poverty and how it is measured, and offers a critical and a fresh perspective to analyse these concepts. He argues that much of the dominant discourse on poverty is driven by a neo-liberal ideology, which continues to reinforce the societal segregation rather than challenging it. He argues that solutions to poverty require a serious engagement with the issues of social justice and a redistribution of wealth that can create a more equitable society.
Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico
By Alyshia Galvez | 2019, University of California Press
At a time when trade agreements in general and NAFTA in general is once again part of our policy discussion, Galvez makes an important and timely contribution in her new book. She argues that the benefits of NAFTA that workers and consumers were supposed to experience in both the United States and Mexico not been witnessed as, for instance, 20 million more Mexicans were living under poverty in 2014, than in 1994. While large scale commercial agriculture has thrived, small farmers and industrial job seekers have not seen any prosperity. Instead, non-communicable chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease are thriving under NAFTA era policies. Interestingly, she argues that this is because of NAFTA that has led to an increase in diet-related illnesses, a loss of traditional foods, and a decline in the viability of rural life in Mexico. She shows that the food system in Mexico has rapidly transformed and traditional Mexican cuisine is increasingly becoming unattainable for average Mexicans and its connection with NAFTA, .
Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence
By Kristen R. Ghodsee | 2018, Hachette Book Group
Kristen Ghodsee’s book analyses the transition from socialism to capitalism in eastern Europe, specifically through the lens of gender. It argues that discrimination based on gender – and, consequently, gender penalty – has historically been relatively higher under unregulated capitalism. Ghodsee contends that financial independence of women under socialism, which was made possible through strong government interventions such as investment in women’s education, public provisioning of childcare, and access to work, among others, opened avenues for financial independence and liberation of women. This in turn, allowed for more sexual freedom for women as well, since “women did not have to marry for money”. While being skeptical of various aspects of the Socialist regime, she argues that if certain ideas of socialism were imported in the current system, it would result in an improvement in the lives of women. In this timely intervention, Ghodses engages with the issue of sexual freedom, which has continued to remain marginalised in the mainstream feminist discourse, and situates it brilliantly in a political-economic context through a historical analysis of the economic transitions.
The Routledge Handbook of the History of Women’s Economic Thought
By Kirsten Madden and Robert Dimand (eds) | 2019, Routledge
The marginalization of women in economics has a history as long as the discipline itself. However, women have throughout the history of Economics been contributing substantially to ideas, methods, and analytical insights, although their ideas were often discounted or ignored. This impressive handbook presents new and much-needed analytical research of women’s contributions in the history of economic thought. Chapters address the institutional, sociological and historical factors that have influenced women economists’ thinking, and explore women’s contributions to economic analysis, method, policies and debates. Coverage is international, moving beyond Europe and the US into the Arab world, China, India, Japan, Latin America, Russia and the Soviet Union, and sub-Saharan Africa. This global perspective adds depth as well as scope to our understanding of women’s contributions to economic thinking. This book is an important starting point to address the biases that most accounts of the history of economic thought that reproduce, as they tend to focus on the “great men”.
Should we Abolish Household Debts?
By Johnna Montgomerie, | 2019, Polity Books
This book discusses the high level of indebtedness in Anglo-American economies and how it serves as a drag on the economy. The author, Johnna Montgomerie, argues that the servicing of massive levels of debt that were built up before 2008 basically leads to moving an increasing portion of present-day income to pay debts that have fuelled past economic activity. She proposes a simple yet radical solution to revitalize the economy in a more egalitarian way: cancellation of household debts. Montgomerie argues that this proposal can serve to end the stagnation that followed the global financial crisis ten years ago.
Rethinking and Unthinking Development: Perspectives and Poverty in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
By Busani Mpofu and Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (eds)| 2019, Berghahn Books
This timely book brings together alternative perspectives on how the concept of ‘development’ needs to be broken down and reconsidered, based on both a variety of theoretical contributions and case studies from Southern Africa. Through eleven distinct chapters, scholars based in the region present alternative ways of assessing the legacies of colonialism and other pressing issues such as regional politics, corruption, land ownership, identity, and empowerment. While the authors come from different backgrounds, they all push for ways of reclaiming development, often through decolonial perspectives. In a time when the calls to ‘decolonize’ economics and development have become mainstream, this book offers an important theoretical and practical guide to how this can be done in the context of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
By Caroline Criado Perez | 2019, Penguin Books
Economists, and social scientists in general, rely heavily on data for analyzing all questions that are interesting and valuable for the production of knowledge. In fact, data is considered the ultimate arbiter of whether a theory has merit or not. But what if, there is bias baked into the data? Specifically, what if data systematically did not measure women? Caroline Criado Perez, a British journalist and feminist activist, shows a dangerous pattern in the data and its unintended consequences. She outlines the various ways in which women are systematically “missing” from the data, which results in men being the standard humans when firms design products and governments design policies. It forces us to also consider carefully the data that social scientists use does not guarantee the determination of truth without the consideration of why certain data is used in a certain study, market research, or policy design and how it is produced.
The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality
By Katharina Pistor | 2019, Princeton University Press
Liberal institutions and laws can often be thought of as a vanguard against worsening inequality. However, in this book, Katharina Pistor shows how legal institutions have served capital owners at the expense of everyone else. She tells a novel account of the problem of inequality and its evolution based on the creation and maintenance of capital and return to capital through law. The book places law at the center of what serves to create and preserve wealth inequality. For instance, law creates the claims over land, and subsequent “coding” of the laws ensure that the wealth is not short-lived. It tells the story of legal coding of assets on the basis of assets: land, business organization, debt, knowledge and even genetic knowledge.
The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise?
By Salimah Valiani (ed) | 2019, Mapungubwe Institute (MISTRA)
This book offers an impressive range of perspectives on mining in South Africa, which is a hotly contested issue. Questions that are addressed are the potential of platinum to spur industrialisation, land and dispossession on the platinum belt, the role of the state and capital in mineral development, mining in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the experiences of women in and affected by mining since the late 19th century, and mine worker organising. Salimah Valiani, the editor, skillfully brings fragmented views into a unifying conversation to highlight the importance of debating the future of mining in South Africa and for reaching consensus in other countries across the mineral-dependent globe.
This list was compiled by Devika Dutt, Danielle Guizzo, Richard Itaman, Surbhi Kesar and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven from Decolonising and Diversifying Economics (D-Econ). Recognizing the excellent scholarship that tends to be excluded and ignored based on racism, sexism, Eurocentrism and lack of pluralism in our field is closely in line with the mission of D-Econ.
5 thoughts on “An Alternative Economics Summer Reading List, 2019”
Great list, thank!
What a great list! It certainly expands the notions of how to see our economic problems and provides access to different ideas on how they can be addressed. Thanks.