Jason Hickel


Jason Hickel is an anthropologist, author, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.


  • Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.

The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets (2018)Edit

The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets. W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN 978-0393651362
  • Today, some 4.3 billion people - more than 60 per cent of the world's population - live in debilitating poverty, struggling to survive on less than the equivalent of $5 per day. Half do not have access to enough food. And these numbers have been growing steadily over the past few decades. Meanwhile, the wealth of the very richest is piling up to levels unprecedented in human history. As I write this, it has just been announced that the eight richest men in the world have as much wealth between them as the poorest half of the world's population combined.
  • From his base on Hispaniola, the island shared today by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he forced the local inhabitants - the Arawaks - to bring him a certain quantity of gold every three months. Those who failed to do so would have their hands chopped off or were hunted down and killed. Men were forced to spend their lives in mines, stripping the mountains in search of gold. Up to a third of workers died every six months. Within two years of the Spanish invasion, some 125,000 people had been killed - half the island's population. Most of the remaining inhabitants of Hispaniola were forced into slave labour on plantations. A few decades later, only a few hundred Arawaks remained alive.
    • Where Did Poverty Come From? A Creation Story, p. 70
  • Economists often speculate that the global South failed to develop because of a lack of capital. But there was no such lack. The wealth that might have provided the capital for development (precious metals in Latin America and surplus labour in Africa) was effectively stolen by Europe and harnessed to the service of Europe's own development. The global South could theoretically have developed as Europe did were it not for the plunder of its resources and labour, and were it not for the fact that it was forced by Europe to supply raw materials while importing manufactured goods. Whether or not they would or should have done so is another matter, of course - after all, much of European-style development required violence towards other lands and other peoples. But the point remains: it is impossible to examine the economic growth of the West without looking at the base on which it drew.
    • Where Did Poverty Come From? A Creation Story, p. 75
  • When the CIA made clear that they would back a coup, General Suharto - who was upset with President Sukarno for supporting policies that undermined the military's power - offered to lead it. In 1965, with the aid of weapons and intelligence from the United States, Suharto hunted down and killed between 500,000 and 1 million of Sukarno's supporters in one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century. By 1967, Sukarno's base had been either eliminated or intimidated into submission, and Suharto took control of the country. His military regime - which ruled until 1998 - was open to Western corporate interests.
    • From Colonialism to the Coup, p. 120
  • If we dig behind the rhetoric, it becomes clear that Western support for right-wing coups had little to do with Cold War ideology, and certainly nothing to do with promoting democracy (quite the opposite!); the goal, rather, was to defend Western economic interests. The veil of the Cold War has obscured this blunt fact from view.
    • From Colonialism to the Coup, p. 140
  • To get a sense of how extreme overconsumption is: if we all were to live like the average citizen of the average high-income country, we would require the ecological capacity equivalent of 3.4 earths.
    • The Necessary Madness of Imagination, p. 281
  • GDP was intended to be a war-time measure, which is why it is so single-minded - almost even violent. It tallies up all money-based activity, but it doesn't care whether that activity is useful or destructive.
    • The Necessary Madness of Imagination, p. 282
  • While global real GDP has nearly tripled since 1980, the number of people living in poverty, below $5 per day, has increased by more than 1.1 billion. Why is this? Because past a certain point, GDP growth begins to produce more negative outcomes than positive ones - more 'illth' than wealth.
    • The Necessary Madness of Imagination, p. 285
  • In light of this, perhaps we should regard countries like Costa Rica not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at low levels of income and consumption not as backwaters that need to be developed according to Western models, but as exemplars of efficient living - and begin to call on rich countries to cut their excess consumption.
    • p. 293
  • Rather than submitting to plans handed down by central governments in distant capitals, people are using direct democracy to make decisions about their resources and environments, seeking regeneration and harmony with their surrounding ecology. In the Middle East, communities in the mountains of northern Iraq and in Rojava in Syria are experimenting with similar ideas.
    • The Necessary Madness of Imagination, p. 305

The Handbook of Neoliberalism (2016)Edit

The Handbook of Neoliberalism. Routledge, 2016. ISBN 978-1138844001
  • A contradiction lies at the very centre of the neoliberal project. On a theoretical level, neoliberalism promises to bring about a purer form of democracy, unsullied by the tyranny of the state. Indeed, this claim serves as the model lodestar for neoliberal ideology - a banner under which it justifies radical market deregulation. But, in practice, it becomes clear that the opposite is true: that neoliberalism tends to undermine democracy and political freedom. More than 40 years of experimentation with neoliberalism shows that it erodes the power of voters to decide the rules that govern the economic systems they inhabit. It allows for the colonization of political forums by elite interests - a process known as political capture - and sets up new political forums, such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO, that preclude democratic representation from the outset. Neoliberalism also tends to undermine national sovereignty, to the point where parliaments of putatively independent nations no longer have power over their own policy decisions, but are governed instead by foreign banks, the US Treasury, trade agreements, and undemocratic international institutions, all of which exercise a kind of invisible, remote-control power.
    • "Neoliberalism and the End of Democracy", p. 142
  • The Reagan and Thatcher administrations eventually came to power on platforms that promised to enhance individual freedoms by liberating capitalism from the 'shackles' of the state - reducing taxes on the rich, cutting state spending, privatizing utilities, deregulating financial markets, and curbing the power of unions. After Reagan and Thatcher, these policies were carried forward by putatively progressive administrations such as Clinton's in the USA and Blair's in Britain, thus sealing the new economic consensus across party lines.
    • "Neoliberalism and the End of Democracy", p. 144
  • The growing economic power of the richest percentiles translated directly into increased political power, as they gained new influence over elections. In the USA, the collapse of unions as a result of neoliberal reforms has meant that corporations are able to outcompete labour in campaign financing. Their position was further strengthened in 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United vs FEC that corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising as an exercise of 'free speech'.
    • "Neoliberalism and the End of Democracy", p. 145

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