As the Summer draws to a close, we bring together our list of the best and most interesting books from the first half of this year. Most Economics reading lists that one typically sees from the usual sources are usually stocked with books written predominantly by white men, or those that focus on the US or Western Europe, or approach questions from a mainstream perspective. 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.
Typically we release our list in the Summer, but unfortunately this pandemic has delayed us on several fronts as well. Hopefully, our Pandemic Reading List kept you busy. And we hope that after six months of COVID-19 related lockdowns, your schedules have become more predictable so that you have some time to peruse some or all of these books. In this list we included books that re-examine digitalization of finance, mass consumption of chocolate, the role of corruption in development, the production of data, modern slavery, and neoliberalism. It reflects our belief that structural racism, sexism, and imperialism shape our lives, and any understanding of economic phenomenon is incomplete without an understanding of structural power.
The Exclusionary Politics of Digital Financial Inclusion – Mobile Money, Gendered Walls
By Serena Natile
This is important interdisciplinary book ties together the political economy of digital financial inclusion with socio-legal, feminist, financial and political analysis in a very fruitful manner. It critically interrogates how Kenya’s pathbreaking mobile money platform M-Pesa has been built on narratives and institutional arrangements that present M-Pesa as a success, while it is premised on a logic of opportunity rather than distribution. Bringing in a feminist lens to the study of financial inclusion is particularly important and timely as it is becoming increasingly clear that such efforts have gendered implications. Natile also connects the case of M-Pesa to broader development debates about social entrepreneurship and philanthrocapitalism, which makes the book relevant for anyone interested in understanding social policy in development today.
Planetary Mine – Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism
In this new book, Arboleda discusses several contemporary phenomenon like mechanization of mining, the emergence of Global Value Chains, especially in East Asia, and the use of state violence to weave an interesting and compelling story of extraction and exploitation of natural resources. However, this is not just a book about the political economy of research extraction in Chile in particular and Latin America, generally, but it uses resource extraction as an analytical entry point to theorize uneven geographical development. This is done in this book in the tradition of the World Systems approach, though it claims to break with the tradition of dependency theory and uneven exchange, especially insofar as Arboleda emphasizes that the processes outlined transcend national economies and are based on a global class antagonism. This book presents an understanding of imperialism as one of the forms in which global value relations assert themselves. Planetary Mines is a must-read for a fresh examination of the global inequality and the asymmetric relationships along the global production assembly line.
Empire, Political Economy, and the Diffusion of Chocolate in the Atlantic World
This new book tells the story of how chocolate came to be the product that so many of us love today, while centering its colonial origins and its current structures of production that are dominated by US and European multinational corporations. Fattacciu brings us the uncomfortable truth of how production of chocolate has long been tainted with coerced and unethically sourced labour, by taking us on a journey of how cocoa became the first seed to cross the Atlantic from ex-Spanish colonies to Africa in an attempt by the Spanish colonizers to regain control over colonial trade, and journeying further to Western European consumers. She investigates the key moments of intersection between the various actors involved in chocolate’s successful trajectory over the years to explain the subsequent boom in chocolate consumption at the end of the 18th century. It gives us a great insight into colonial extraction, monopoly capitalism, and the democratization of a formerly exotic and luxury product.
China’s Gilded Age – The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption
Yuen Yuen Ang
This book debunks one of the most popular and strong assumptions about economic development: that corruption hurts economic growth. Therefore, eradicating corruption in the government is generally thought of as a precondition of sustained economic development. However, the Chinese economy that has been one of the fastest growing economies in the past three decades is plagued with widespread corruption. Ang breaks down conventional wisdom about corruption and argues that not all corruption is the same, and that in all instances corruption does not hamper growth. Ang argues that corruption is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and some types of corruption that involves elite political actors and high monetary stakes and the allocation of valuable resources such as land and legislations can actually spur investment, and thereby economic development. However, corruption has other implications for resource allocation, systemic risks, and inequality.
Tea War – A History of Capitalism in China and India
Andrew B. Liu
A persistent feature of some contemporary economic history is the fragmented study of nation-states as atomistic entities and the ontological premise of inherent, traditional features of societies as teleological explanations for their relative historical success or failure in economic modernisation. Andrew B. Liu in Tea Wars offers an important remedy. He explores the case of the British-Indian and Chinese tea industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, focusing on competitive interdependent ties forged by trade and the historically contingent outcomes. The emergent production systems in India and China came to be based on intensive, unfree forms of çoolie and peasant labour that contributed to immense fortunes for the British and Chinese traders alike and were central to capitalist accumulation. This contrasts with the more euro-centric accounts that placed mechanised production and free labour within the West as the primary mode and site of capitalist accumulation; and the persistence of unfree labour in the South as a cause for its historical backwardness. Replete with interesting historical anecdotes, this book offers a lucid and original contribution to the debate on historical economic divergence and global history of capitalism.
From Here to Equality Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century
William A. Darity Jr., A. Kirsten Mullen
The current juncture has exposed and magnified the several existing cracks in our social and economic system, particularly those along the lines of gender, race, caste, sexuality, religion. The Black Lives Movement that recently gained momentum is a representation of the discontent with the current unjust economic order. In this context, this book is a timely and powerful intervention that makes a case for economic reparations for the US descendants of slavery. The authors provide a detailed historical evaluation of inequality that is ‘born of slavery’, and examine the intergenerational impact of the racial hierarchy in the social and political sphere on the economic well-being of the black population in the US. They assign a monetary value to these historical injustices and make a compelling case for a reparation program for the US descendants of slavery.
Combating Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance is Failing and What we can do about it
This is an important book that explores the contradiction of multinational corporations, such as Coca Cola, Amazon, Apple and Unilever, positioning themselves as fighters of modern slavery. It goes beyond the study of exploitative labor relations on the ground to trace how they are legitimized through a complex governance network centered in the Global North, despite the involvement of anti-slavery networks and ethical certification schemes. Indeed, the book details how severe labor exploitation is legitimized precisely through futile attempts to implement ‘corporate social responsibility’. LeBaron also presents an alternative way of confronting modern slavery which addresses the prevalent business models head on to enforce the necessary labor standards.
Edited by Philip Mirowski, Dieter Plehwe, and Quinn Slobodian
Given the criticality of the current economic and political juncture, this collection of articles on neoliberalism provides a rather timely intervention. The collection explores the heterogeneities and the various aspects that encompass the ‘neoliberal thought style’. It examines how the project of neoliberalism goes beyond the commonly (mis)understood reasoning of market fundamentalism and homoeconomicus, and encompasses various political, ideological, and other ‘extra-economic’ processes that create and sustain the neoliberal order. The volume, through an evaluation of these different processes, explores the complexity of this project and how it has evolved historically.
Decolonizing the University, Knowledge Systems and Disciplines in Africa
Edited by by Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Siphamandla Zondi
This is an exciting book edited by two giants in the field of decolonial studies, Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Siphamandla Zondi. It is particularly timely as the questions of what it means to ‘decolonize’ science has started to emerge in mainstream debates. The editors provide an accessible introduction to what coloniality of knowledge means, how African universities have become Westernized, and ways in which it is possible for African universities to ‘de-link’ from Eurocentric knowledge systems. Through 13 diverse chapters, the book delves into the roles of power, epistemology, methodology and ideology in creating and reproducing these Westernized knowledge systems across disciplines. Crucially, as the book makes clear that coloniality of knowledge is in itself a technology for suppression of alternative discourses and new imagination, the editors argue for ‘epistemic disobedience’.
Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein
While there is much debate around the biases that underpin theories and tools that we employ in social sciences, this book extends this discussion to lay bare the biases that plague data as well. Using an intersectional feminist lens, the book explores how power shapes the way data is collected, classified, and interpreted. The book focuses on two specific aspects: how the standard practices in data science tend to exacerbate the existing inequalities and benefit the privileged social groups, and how data itself can be used to challenge these hierarchies and inequalities. Recognizing the importance of data in shaping policies, the book recommends concrete ways in which these biases can be challenged. A timely, important, and powerful intervention to expose and reform one of the several biases that plague the process of knowledge production.
Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay
This book presents a novel approach to histories of colonial urbanisation and to the study of the cities of the Global South by historically tracing the making of the Bombay slums. It delineates the official discourse on city development which emerged and ossified during times of intense crisis – the recurrent famines and later the bubonic plague – that gripped the surrounding hinterlands and the city and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Comprising seven chapters, the book sifts through detailed archival records to argue that these crises were the central moments around which the politics of inclusion and exclusion was shaped through a confluence of interests of the colonial administration and those of the local city elites. The project of city making in a colonial underdeveloped context thus became one of defining what the city was by defining what it wasn’t, thus placing the city itself above those who created it. These official classifications problematised and excluded not just a vast majority of the city’s working class but also categorised and excluded industrial, spatial, architectural features that were perceived as “not quite city like”. Through the process of official categorisations and classifications, inclusions and exclusions, the official project of city-making created its “internal other” – the Bombay slums. This, in turn, ensured a poorer working class and higher capital accumulation for the elites. This book is an interesting read for not just those interested specifically in the colonial history of Bombay, but even those who want to understand the “deviant” development of the cities of the Global South.
This list was compiled for D-Econ by Aditi Dixit, Devika Dutt, Surbhi Kesar, and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven