D-Econ’s 2021 Alternative Reading List, pt. 1

It’s time for D-Econ’s alternative reading list. We have picked 11 books that we believe are of particular importance to provide an alternative and richer understanding of the socioeconomic world we live in, that what the mainstream media provides. We include books that we hope not only present a wider selection of books in terms of who writes them, but also in terms of the topic and/or perspective. As you can see from the list, we consider economics to be about more than just money and finance, to also be about race, imperialism, and climate justice.  

Reflecting the ongoing conversation about structural racism, which became a global one after the murder of George Floyd last year, it is only fitting that we include reflections on how this time the resurgent Black Lives Matters movement is different. We situate this in a historical context by including an exploration of the histories of racial capitalism. Any discussion of structural racism is incomplete without a discussion of imperialism and colonialism, and therefore we cannot leave out new books that analyze how capitalism and imperialism have and continue to shape the world. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not only a public health crisis that has exposed fissures in the global health system but is also creating related crises of rising private and public debt and homelessness in many countries. Therefore, we include books that looks at these related crises from a decolonial and feminist lens, which we find quite refreshing and insightful. 

We wanted to supplement this diverse reading list with Isabella Weber’s new book How China Escaped Shock Therapy about structural reforms in China. However, we left it off since it has already featured on some other popular reading lists and we hope you have already read it and/or it is already on your reading list!

If you enjoy our reading lists, please let us know by emailing us at info@d-econ.org, and please feel free to send us suggestions of books we should read and include in our next reading list!

Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story

By Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla

This is an important historical and contemporary account of a largely forgotten colonial economy legacy. Pigeaud and Samba Sylla carefully explain how the monetary arrangements established under colonialism persist through the CFA franc currency that is still used in West and Central Africa. The CFA was historically pegged to the French franc, and is now pegged to the Euro. While France guarantees the unlimited convertibility of CFA Franc into Euros, the arrangement requires the African regional central banks to deposit a portion of their foreign exchange reserves in a French Treasury account. As social movements are increasingly protesting this colonial arrangement, this book is a much-needed rigorous account of its history and contemporary impact. Crucially, the book is a stark reminder that decolonisation is unfinished business. Read the authors’ summary of the main arguments of the book in their recent post for Jacobin

Histories of Racial Capitalism 

By Destin Jenkins and Justin Leroy

At a time when racial capitalism is becoming an increasingly popular term, this book provides a much-needed historical anchoring of the debates about how capitalism may be racial. It shows how racial capitalism is not simply a stage or phase in the long history of capitalism, but that capitalism has been racial in both ideological and material senses since the Atlantic slave trade and the colonizaiton of the Americas. This book is especially interesting because of the diversity of the contributors, which draw on a vast methodological and theoretical toolkit to study the racialisation of capitalism from different angles. In doing so, the book shows how the concept can be relevant for understanding many topics in economics, from labor in India, transpacific migration, and foreclosures, to fossil capital and Latinx Businesspeople in New York. It will thus be of interest to both scholars and activists interested in the many ways racial capitalism can be understood and resisted. Read the editors’ blog post on the book.

A People’s Green New Deal 

By Max Ajl

This is an important book for anyone interested in how to tackle the ecological and environmental crisis we find ourselves in. It explains the logics, ideological underpinnings and limitations of mainstream versions of the “Green New Deal” – which was thrown into popular consciousness by US Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Through diagnosing the roots of the contemporary crises as emerging from a world-system dominated by the logics of capitalism and imperialism, Ajl sketches out a radical approach to a People’s Green New Deal, which is committed to degrowth, anti-imperialism and agro-ecology. In doing so, he makes the case for putting agriculture and Third World struggles for self-determination at the center.  Read a recent interview with Ajl in ROAR.

Airbnb, Short-Term Rentals and the Future of Housing

By Lily M. Hoffman and Barbara Schmitter Heisler

Hoffman and Heisler explore the effects of Airbnb on housing and communities in this timely critique of platform capitalism. Drawing together case studies from around the world, the authors illustrate how Airbnb has “institutionalized short-term rentals,” especially in housing-stressed urban centers, leading to the displacement of long-term residents by visitors and tourists. As Airbnb transforms the short-term real estate sector, opportunities may increase for owners and investors, while renters could see a decrease in housing affordability and security. The authors also explore the regulatory implications of Airbnb, considering the externalities which arise when cities are ill-equipped to enforce regulations efficiently . Read more

The Revolutionary Meaning of the George Floyd Uprising

By Sherman Salam and Arturo Castillon 

In this vital work on the George Floyd rebellion, Salam and Castillon reflect on the summer of 2020 and explore what lies ahead for the movement. The authors emphasize the exceptionality of the movement in its fight to eradicate the status quo, celebrating the leadership of the Black proletariat in drawing a diverse alliance of actors–from Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and white communities–into that fight. This hopeful and engaging narrative captures the rebellion within its historical context, while considering how to prepare for the inevitable conflict ahead. This publication is part of the Thinking Freedom series from Daraja Press.  Read more

A Decolonial Feminism

By Françoise Vergès

A Decolonial Feminism argues that it is time for feminism to confront the oppressive forces with which it has long been complicit; namely, capitalism, racism, colonialism, and imperialism. Addressing today’s most pressing feminist debates, Vergès argues for the urgent and radical transformation of our society through a decolonized, justice-oriented feminist framework rooted in Marxist feminism. Reflecting on anti-racist and feminist history while exploring contemporary struggles for justice, this book is necessary reading for anyone wanting to confront inequality. Winner of a 2021 English PEN Award. Read more. 

Capital and Imperialism: Theory, History, and the Present

By Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik

This volume presents a unified articulation of decades of theoretical and empirical research on imperialism and capitalist development by Marxian economists Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik. Contesting the notion of capitalist development as a self-sustained/self-contained system, they argue that the stimulus for sustained growth under capitalism relies on what economic theory considers exogenous – innovation, state, or pre-capitalist markets. They argue that capitalism is not an isolated system but co-exists with a pre-capitalist setting and operates in relation to it. And thus, imperialism continues to be the essential mechanism of capitalist accumulation. This is what makes the notion of capitalism as a self-sustained system untenable.

This volume presents a critical engagement with economic theories of capitalism and economic history from the perspective of the Global South, albeit highly dependent on the Indian experience. Mediating between the more abstract theoretical propositions from classical and heterodox schools alongside historical and current day empirical insights, they present an alternative and a highly engaging account of capitalist development. This book is a rich contribution to the role of colonialism and colonial institutions like slavery in making of the current developed world. In doing so, it also rebuts the revisionist accounts that underplay the adverse impacts of colonialism on the Global South, emphasising instead its purported benefits. Read more

The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World

By Kehinde Andrews

Kehinde Andrews was inspired to write The New Age of Empires by the discussion generated by his short video on colonialism published by The Guardian. In this book Andrews presents a provocative indictment of the racial and colonial underpinnings of western civilization which, according to the author, continues to inform the current world order, its inequalities, and oppressive systems. The central argument is that the consistent thread uniting the different phases of the Western civilization – here, the Empire – is racial inequality both within the western societies and between the west and the rest. This logic of the empire not only operated historically by usurping the labour, property, and knowledge of non-white societies, but continues in the present age by incorporating within its fold the elite of the third world. Thus, while the form apparently diversifies, the essence remains unchanged. 

This book is expansive in the breadth of issues and topics it covers. It is necessarily so as the central tenet of the authors argument is that racial discrimination is in the very fabric of western civilization permeating its every framework and institution. At his most provocative, the author critiques the Enlightenment philosophy. According to him, it provided the intellectual basis of imperialism; essentially a form of white identity politics to establish their professed superiority over other races. The scientific, philosophical, social, and political achievements of enlightenment are nothing more than the usurpation of knowledge from non-white populations – the Muslim world, Asia, indigenous knowledge from Australia and America. Differentiating between what he considers tokenisms at inclusion, he argues instead in favour of a more thoroughgoing revolution rooted in radical black politics. A highly readable account, that provokes and excites in equal measure, and opens room for debates on the form that opposition to ruling powers may take. Read More

Democracy, Race and Justice: The Speeches and Writings of Sadie T.M. Alexander

By Nina Banks

This new book by Nina Banks expertly compiles the work of one of its pioneers, Sadie T.M. Alexander. Sadie Alexander was the first African American women to get a PhD in Economics, but has been forgotten by much of the profession due to discrimination and structural exclusion, phenomenon that are only now being recognized widely as a problem in Economics about a 100 years after Alexander received her doctorate. Banks documents how discrimination kept Sadie Alexander from being employed in the Economics academy, despite her many accomplishments, and how she also faced discrimination as a lawyer, which she trained as after the Economics profession failed to hire her. Nonetheless, Alexander continued to write about the economic and social conditions of African Americans and continued to, along with her husband, mount legal challenges to racial exclusion in Pennsylvania.  The relevance of Alexander’s works today is put quite poignantly by Banks herself, and definitely merits reading: 

Remarkably, and tragically, the themes that our nation’s first African American economist addressed a hundred years ago with the beginning of African American migration to northern cities remain urgent, unaddressed problems today: chronic unemployment, confinement in urban slums, police brutality, voter suppression, poverty, inferior schools, substandard housing, and unsafe neighborhoods. I hope that reading Sadie Alexander’s speeches will motivate readers to think about the limitations, costs, and tremendous toll that anti-Blackness imposes on the lives of Black people as well as our larger communities, and to take action to correct the deep injustices that flow from it.

A Feminist Reading of Debt  

By Lucí Cavallero and Verónica Gago

Originally written in Spanish in 2019 (Una lectura Feminista de la Deuda), this book presents a new perspective on the social burden of debt and the resistance to it and develops a feminist analysis of finance. They argue that the growth of the feminist movement in Latin America has politicized issues that were previously thought as affecting only a minority or were only something that experts could understand and comment upon, including private debt. Gago and Cavallero connect domestic violence to gender-based violence and labor violence, between racist violence and institutional violence, between the violence of the legal system and economic and financial violence. They argue that debt ties us to a future of violent relations from which we want to flee. They analyze how debt “extracts value from certain forms of life and how it intervenes in processes of production and reproduction of life.” They also identify the different ways in which debt can be exploitative for different groups of people, specifically, in terms of their gender and sexual orientation. Gago and Cavallero take “debt out of the closet” as a political move against the abstraction exercised by the domination of finance and the targeting of feminized bodies as good borrowers. It presents a new and compelling narrative about private household debt and an understanding of feminist challenges to finance.

Epidemic Illusions: On the Coloniality of Global Public Health 

By Eugene T. Richardson

At a time when the developed world is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic while much of the developing world is reeling under second- and third-waves of the pandemic, this book is a must-read for its incisive discussion of the global inequalities perpetuated by global health practices. Despite having dealt with many epidemics as a physician and a researcher, Richardson argues the biggest epidemic that we have yet to contend with is one of the illusion created by the coloniality of knowledge production through which we have been convinced that the disproportionate amount of suffering and death caused by infectious disease in the Global South is natural or inevitable. He argues that epidemiology—and its growing methodological hegemony in the form of Big Data and causal inference—functions as an ideological apparatus of protected affluence disguised as objective inquiry. He presents a redescription in addition to a critique of the practice of public health from a decolonial perspective. 

This list was compiled for D-Econ by Aditi Dixit, Devika Dutt, Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Lily Marra.

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