2018 in review: the best writing on inequalities

What were 2018’s most thought-provoking and valuable books, reports, articles and podcasts on inequalities? The Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity and the International Inequalities Institute’s scholars and staff share their finds of the year.

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Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, by Adam Tooze
Although it says little about inequality directly, Crashed reminds us that we are living in the shadow of the financial meltdown of 2008, and that the instability that it generated across the globe is fundamental to current inequality challenges.
Mike Savage

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas
On the surface, this book is about big philanthropy in the US, and how “doing good at scale” also serves the interests of elites. But Giridharadas’ book is about so much more; it is an eloquently delivered, scathing critique of the culture and ideas that have grown up around neoliberal politics, the application of business approaches to social issues, and the role of tech disruptors in driving this. It’s wittily written and based on a rich set of interviews with elite philanthropists and those who work in the sector. Beyond this, it has given me food for thought to question how the dominant modes of thinking in the NGO sector in which I work are created, and by whom.
Louise Russell-Prywata

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“The finance curse: how the outsized power of the City of London makes Britain poorer”, by Nicholas Shaxson (published in The Guardian)
This article opened my eyes to the world of tax havens and illicit capital flows, and how it ultimately affects both the middle class and poor people in the form of austerity, budget cuts and so on. It made me rethink the invisible causes behind poverty, lack of welfare and many other wicked problems from which development practitioners like us are trying so hard to protect the poor, without realising that all our development efforts are barely scratching the surface; that we are putting band-aids on deep injuries inflicted by the global financial system.
Anjali Sarker

Why Does Inequality Matter?, by T.M. Scanlon
An impressive book. Tim Scanlon is a very distinguished moral philosopher at Harvard University, and he also wrote the influential book What We Owe to Each Other (1998). In this volume, Scanlon presents a series of objections to inequality rather than arguments for equality. Each objection is distinct in the narrower or broader sense (the latter is also concerned with the consequences of inequality).
Unlike “luck egalitarians” (like G.A. Cohen and others) who view non-voluntary (“brute luck”) inequality to be bad wherever it occurs, Scanlon’s objections to inequality all presuppose some form of relationship or interaction between the unequal parties. He describes his position as “relational” (like that of Elizabeth Anderson) and “pluralistic”.  Each chapter of Scanlon’s book is concerned with the nature of, and reasons for, different objections to inequality: Equal Concern; Status Inequality; Procedural Fairness; Substantive Opportunity; Political Fairness; Equality, Liberty and Coercion; Desert; Unequal Income. The book is written in a simple jargon-free style, yet its arguments are subtle and original.
Sudhir Anand

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In The Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism, by Sara R. Farris
I loved my friend Sara Farris’ book: in it, she shows how the language of feminism has been used in a variety of ways – not for the good. As a review by Niki Seth-Smith notes, “She examines how right-wing nationalists, neoliberals, and some feminists and women’s equality agencies all invoke women’s rights to stigmatise Muslim men and advance their own political objectives. She argues that there is an important political-economic dimension to this seemingly paradoxical intersection”.
Beverley Skeggs

What role can privileged white people play in international development?”, by Mary Ann Clements (published in Bright magazine)
Fredrick Ouko Alucheli


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World Inequality Report 2018
Representing both a collaborative effort and a tireless focus on details, this report enables the rest of us to be informed about economic inequalities around the world. It is an essential foundation for thinking about inequalities in many different domains. Aaron Reeves
Put together by a team led by Thomas Piketty, the World Inequality Report updates data on income inequality, mixing tax data with household income surveys from Europe, the US and Canada, Brazil, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa, India, China and the Middle East. It shows that income inequality keeps raising and that when tax data is drawn on, levels are even higher. It also highlights how important national policies and institutions are in shaping inequalities. Patricio Espinoza Lucero

The UK Regional-National Economic Problem: Geography, Globalisation and Governance, by Philip McCann
Published a couple of years ago, but highly relevant to questions of the spatial divisions in Britain, this is my book of the year. It very powerfully describes spatial inequalities in the UK economy, showing how economic performance is masked by the dominance of London, and that in terms of income and economic output, much of the UK has more in common with Eastern Europe than its Western European neighbours.
Mark Fransham

Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt: Generosity, Discrimination and Diversity in Delhi Schools”, by Gautam Rao
Rao’s study, forthcoming in the American Economic Review, draws on the natural experiment presented by recent school reform in Delhi, India. It shows the powerful and positive effects of school integration: having poor classmates makes rich students more generous and egalitarian, less likely to discriminate, and more willing to socialise across socio-economic groups.
Jonathan Mijs


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Political Order and Inequality: Their Foundations and their Consequences for Human Welfare, by Carles Boix
The most intellectually powerful and engaging book I have read in a long time. It goes back to hunter-gatherer communities and how they are organised politically, and right up to the present. It is a tour de force in the extraordinary range of its scholarship, as well as compulsive reading for anyone interested in how societies distribute their wealth and output. Time and leisure are needed to absorb it and reflect on it.
David Soskice

Libertarianism without Inequality, by Michael Otsuka
A slightly older volume – this was first published in 2003 – and quite theoretical, but I thought it was immensely thought-provoking.
Frieder Mitsch

New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World - and How to Make it Work for You, by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
Fascinating insights on how technology is radically altering the way people engage with politics, with social causes, with companies and with each other; with enormous implications for how ideas spread and how power is distributed and used.
Rana Zincir-Celal


Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, by Afua Hirsch
A fascinating, deeply personal story about what Britishness looks like to a mixed-race child of immigrants born in London, highlighting Britain’s history of colonialism, exploitation and the resulting inequality at “home” and abroad.
Susanne Wessendorf

Charlene Carruthers, community organiser and author

Charlene Carruthers, community organiser and author

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, by Charlene A. Carruthers
A raw, deeply personal and beautifully straightforward book about how to change the Black liberation movement in the US for the better.
Ebru Ilhan

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge 
Sofia Munoz-Gonzalez


Berta Cácares (1993-2016), environmental activist

Berta Cácares (1993-2016), environmental activist

Grassroots leaders provide the best hope to a troubled world”, by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (published in The Economist)
This article, written by the sixth United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (September 2014 - September 2018), looks at the importance of grassroots and community groups in the struggle for social justice, and, in particular, name-checks the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Dennis Mukwege and the Honduran environmental activist Berta Cácares, who was murdered in 2016. It is all the more valuable given that this was written by someone using his high-level position to shed light and validation on those working at a grassroots level who are so often overlooked as change-makers.
Nicola Jane Browne

The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions, by Jason Hickel
There are many fantastic books on inequality, but I have found very few that focus so closely on the global South. The angle that Hickel explores will resonate with anyone who is working on addressing inequalities in these parts of the world.
Craig Dube

Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, by Branko Milanovic
A lot of books were really intriguing to me during my AFSEE year, and, in particular, those I encountered during the MSc in Inequalities and Social Sciences. However, Milanovic’s work really stands out. His coverage of the topic, his bold ideas, and the relevance of this book in general is on point. After reading him, I went on to read other related works and really enjoyed their different takes and perspectives on how to tackle inequality. 
Louis Oyaro


Paulo Friere, philosopher of education

Paulo Friere, philosopher of education

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
First published in 1968, this book provides an invaluable framework for understanding the role of “Northern” allies (or former oppressors) to liberation struggles.
Taylor Downes

In a work that is more relevant than ever today, Freire discusses how structural change can only be achieved if we move away from the idea that those who teach are superior to those being taught, in any dimension of life. It holds very powerful lessons for activists and community organisers seeking to engage large groups of people in their causes.
Pedro Telles


Elisabeth Schimpfössl, sociologist

Elisabeth Schimpfössl, sociologist

Rich Russians: From Oligarchs to Bourgeoisie, by Elisabeth Schimpfössl
My favourite book of 2018. Elisabeth is an expert on Russian wealth elites and her book provides a unique insight into cultures of wealth, inequality and modern Russia. You can listen to her interview with Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thinking Aloud’.
Katharina Hecht

Seeing White and MEN
These two podcast series from Scene on Radio (Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University)tackle two of the biggest inequalities we face – racism and sexism/white supremacy and patriarchy – in an entertaining, informative and imaginative way. Offering both academic insights from historians, theorists and others and perspectives from people with lived experience, these audio documentaries are an engaging way to learn about some of the most entrenched inequalities we live with.
Rose Longhurst


Our AFSEE and III contributors to the Year in Review:

Professor Sudhir Anand, Centennial Professor, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy

Nicola Jane Browne, 2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @nicolajbrowne

Taylor Downs, 2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @taylordowns2000

Craig Dube, 2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @kwaDube365

Patricio Espinoza Lucero, 2017-18 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @changespatricio

Dr Mark Fransham, research officer, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @markfransham

Dr Katharina Hecht, research officer, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @katharina_hecht

Dr Ebru Ilhan, programme manager, Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity, London School of Economics and Social Policy @ebruilhn

Rose Longhurst, 2017-18 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity, @roselonghurst

Dr Jonathan Mijs, assistant professorial research fellow, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @JonathanMijs

Frieder Mitsch, research assistant and doctoral candidate, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy

Sofia Muñoz Gonzalez, graduate intern, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @SofiaMunozGon

Fredrick Ouko Alucheli, 2017-18 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @FredrickOuko1

Louis Oyaro, 2017-18 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @Yaro_Lo

Dr Aaron Reeves, associate professorial research fellow in poverty and inequalit, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy, and associate professor in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford @aaronsreeves

Louise Russell-Prywata, 2017-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @_LouiseRP

Anjali Sarker, 2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @anjalisarker

Professor Mike Savage, director of the International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @MikeSav47032563

Professor Beverley Skeggs, academic director of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @bevskeggs

Professor David Soskice, School professor of political science and economics, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy

Pedro Telles, 2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity @pedrotelles

Dr Susanne Wessendorf, assistant professorial research fellow, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy

Rana Zincir-Celal, deputy director, Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Social Policy @ranacelal