Books I Recommend

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Here I will be listing books I have read that I have found useful. If you work or are interested in the fields of Politics, International relations, and Development Economics, then you may find some of the selection worthwhile to read. Note that this is my personal recommendation and thus I do expect everyone to agree with me on some of the choices. Over time more works will be added to the list.

 

Development as Freedom

By Amartya Sen

Written by the Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom is an essential read for a fuller understanding of what constitutes true development. Often economists and policymakers conflate development with sheer economic growth. Amartya argues that economic prosperity is just one among the many aspects that make up a human development. Development is defined as “Freedom”, that is the ability of an individual to realize his potential, and thus extends beyond the notion of pure economics, extending to welfare, political rights, and empowerment through education and real access to opportunities and social mobility. He argues that each aspect of freedom positively reinforces each other and concentrating on one aspect at the determinant of the others actually harms long term prosperity within a country. His work was instrumental in the development of the HDI (Human Development Index), which most researchers, economists, and policymakers now use instead of simply GDP per capita to determine a country’s developmental progress.

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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

By Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson 

Why did the West grow rich? Why is the global South still poor? What is hindering innovation in poor countries? Economist Daron Acemoglu and Political Scientist James A. Robinson answer these questions by highlighting the role institutions play in determining the political and economic success or failure among states. Their argument centers on the inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness of state institutions, countries where ordinary people have greater political and economic opportunities also experience greater innovation and hence greater long-term growth while countries where the majority politically and economically excluded lag behind and decline. However, it fails to give due weight to the role of human capital and geopolitics plays in creating and sustaining inclusive institutions. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it as a reading for those engaged in policy-making and development management.

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Capitalist Development and Democracy

By Dietrich Rueschemeyer

We take it for granted that democracy, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, is an established political system in majority of countries today, yet history dictates that it was a liberty fought for, not given, a long struggle of ordinary people for inclusion into the political system. Rueschemeyer work is a masterpiece of comparative historical sociology, dispelling the myth that economic development and democracy directly go hand to hand, instead highlighting the role of shifting class alliances and conflict in shaping the trajectory of a nation-state toward either democracy as happened in Britain and the U.S or authoritarianism as happened in Fascist Italy and Germany. Ruschmeyer’s work is relevant today in that it can help explain why democracies have failed to consolidate in most of the Middle-east and Africa and why for a liberal democracy to flourish, conflict of class interests must be kept minimal.

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End of History and the Last Man

By Francis Fukuyama

Critics claim that Fukuyama’s work is too optimistic and their criticism certainly is valid. The central premise of his work is that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, history has ‘ended’ in that there is no longer competing alternative to liberal democracy and that this system in the long term will become more and more prevalent. Of course, in hindsight, with the failure of the Arab spring, the rise of populism and increase in voter apathy as well as governments acting increasingly autonomous of the citizens that they claim to represent goes counter to the claims he made in the book. However, I would still recommend his work for the argument he used to support his otherwise flawed conclusion, drawing on the philosophy of Hegel and Nietzsche to expand on the nature of human beings, illustrating us to be as more than just beings of reason and want, highlighting the role of thymos (desire for recognition). He uses this argument to back his conclusion that liberal democracy may have universal appeal but this understanding can help us gain better insights into other social phenomena as well such as nationalism, authoritarianism, and aspects of social inclusion and exclusion that goes beyond rational economic interest.

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The Elusive Quest for Growth:  Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics

By William Easterly

Easterly’s work is a critically acclaimed and widely cited piece of economic literature that I highly would recommend to anyone in the field of development economics. In a subject as ideologically contentious as development, the book brings much needed common sense to the spotlight. The central premise of the book is those past initiatives aimed at combating poverty have failed because they neglected the role of local institutions and the type of incentives they generated. For development to happen, there must be an incentive on the part of the incumbent government to bring reforms. Often, given that the power of the economic and political elite relies on the underdevelopment and exclusion of the majority in the poorest countries, they have no incentives to improve upon the situation. Political and economic exclusion, in turn, reduces the incentives among the poor to seek education as they see little returns from investing it. However, being an economist and not a political scientist, Easterly fails to account for conflicts that can result from attempting to enact seemingly good rational reforms and his ideas should not be taken as gospel but as suggestions. The book is easy to read and at times, amusing but also provides much-needed insights on the role of institutions and incentives when it comes to economic development.

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International Relations in Political Thought: Texts from the Ancient Greeks to the First World War

By Chris Brown

In his book, Brown compiles excerpts from the works of fifty authors, from Ancient Greece all the way to the First World War, who helped shaped the Western discourse of International Political Thought. Brown’s book is recommended for anyone wishing to gain a better historical and philosophical context of the ideas and institutions that define International Relations today.

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The Culture of Contentment

By John Kenneth Galbraith

Celebrated Economist John K. Galbraith provides a powerful critique of the current discourse in Western society where a culture of immediate gratification among the fortunate and politically dominant community has given rise to complacency and hindered long-term progress by obstructing social mobility among the less privileged. Galbraith work is a short but important reading as it serves as much needed undercurrent to the dominant Neoliberal discourse and an important reminder that the current trend isn’t about equality of opportunity, facilitating market competition but of trying to maintain a status quo.

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The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism

By John Breuilly

Nationalism has been one of the most powerful political forces that have shaped the modern world. For many, it is hard to imagine a world without the nation-state and it is in the context of the nation-state that our global institutions, identity, and destinies have been shaped. Yet, until very recently in history, much of the world was in a state without the nation-state. The Oxford Handbook comprises thirty-six essays written by leading scholars of the subject with the aim of providing a deeper understanding of the reader on Nationalism, including its history, relation to other ideologies such as Liberalism, Fascism and Marxism and the context in which the movement played out before and after the emergence of the nation-state. Contemporary challenges to Nationalism are also looked into. Nationalism and nation are highly contentious terms, being more grounded in sentimental values rather than in any rational definition. Many of the biggest contemporary issues, ethnic conflict, immigration, trade war, North-South confrontation all have nationalistic undertones and students of IR will benefit immensely from reading this handbook.

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