by Sasha Alyson
On another page (here) I’ve written about books that look, in depth, at aid, neo-colonialism, and karma colonialism.
Many other books are highly relevant to any discussion of these issues, but don’t directly focus on them. Here are some I recommend.
Trade Is War: The West’s War Against the World, by Yash Tandon, 2015
Tandon has represented his own country, Uganda, as well as Kenya and Tanzania in meetings of the World Trade Organization. From his decades of experience, he argues that globalization, far from being the path to development for poorer countries, makes them poorer. “The West, despite the endless rhetoric about ‘development,’ has no interest in the development of the rest of the world and is in fact in a relentless ‘war’ against it.”
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa and Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, by Adam Hochschild, 1998 and 2005
Two gripping accounts of how, in the not-so-distant past, ordinary people confronted slavery and colonialism, with remarkable if not complete success. We can do it again; you’ll pick up inspiration here, and also see remarkable parallels between past and present. He writes, for example, of an officer in the colonial army in the Congo who decorated his yard with the heads of executed Africans, while also portraying himself back home as a swashbuckling hero: “One of the benefits of service as a Force Publique officer was that the nearest journalist was usually thousands of kilometers away, so you and a few friends could largely shape the record of your exploits.”
Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity, by Ha-Joon Chang, 2008
Europe and the United States had protectionist trade policies as their economies developed. Once they were dominant on the world stage, they tried to impose free trade policies on poorer countries. Ha-Joon Chang, an economics professor at Cambridge University, exposes the hypocrisy of this attitude. As he does so, he isn’t shy about taking some unexpected and controversial positions: Corruption, while not good, may not be as bad as generally assumed; and democracy may not be all that good. While you may not agree with much of what he says, his is a thoughtful and iconoclastic voice that is worth hearing. Some of this book is a more popularized version of the arguments he makes in his earlier work, Kicking Away the Ladder.
Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, by Ha-Joon Chang, 2002
In the nineteenth century, England was a world power, a position it had achieved by tightly controlling international trade as its home industries developed. Having reached the economic pinnacle, England tried to impose free trade policies on countries that threatened its advantage. The German economist Frederich List described this as “kicking away the ladder.” Ha-Joon Chang is a Korean-born economist at Cambridge, describes how the more powerful nations today are doing the same, using free trade policies to prevent poorer countries from developing.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, by Adam Alter, 2017
Cellphones bring benefits and harm, communication and addiction; and they are doing it rapidly in richer and poorer countries alike. The difference is that wealthier countries have an infrastructure which offers some protection. Parents, at some point, will hear that unlimited screen time isn’t a good thing for toddlers, pre-teens may have a parent, teacher, or mentor who helps them break or avoid an addictive habit. Typically these safeguards are weaker in developing countries, where growing numbers of young people center their lives around their cellphone, to the detriment of all else. “Foreign governments, businesses, and NGOs want to run my country? Hmm, they’re not going to take away my cellphone, are they?” Several recent books look at the addictive nature of new technology; Alter’s is among the best.
Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda and Winning, by Marion Nestle, 2015
Nestle, a long-time professor of health and nutrition, has worked for years to reveal how food conglomerates undermine public health as they clear obstacles to a highly profitable product: Soft drinks. Coke and Pepsi give research grants that whitewash their products; they indirectly channel money to the media to get better coverage; they donate to both legitimate organizations, and create phony front organizations, to build goodwill. As junk food sales flatten out in the West, these companies are turning the same techniques to poorer regions. But the West has some institutions that energetically fight back; poor countries often do not. In fact, the very forces that claim to be promoting health in these regions are failing them: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Coke to help it get a foothold in developing countries.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss, 2013
Sugar isn’t the only health hazard that’s showing up in more and more food. Salt and fat also go down easily, and cause their problems later. Moss is a talented writer and tireless researcher, who weaves stories of people on both sides of the nutrition wars, to show how the food corporations have expanded their marked in the West; now they’re using the same tactics throughout the world. Our story about the Coke executive who quit rather than help the company’s aggressive expansion into Brazil.