Jason Hickel

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Jason Hickel in 2021

Jason Edward Hickel (born in 1982) is an eswati anthropologist, author, and professor at the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Hickel's research and writing focuses on economic anthropology and development, and is particularly critical of capitalism, neocolonialism, as well as economic growth as a model of human development.


  • Extreme poverty should not exist, period. The fact that up to 17 percent of the world population lives in extreme poverty today (according to Robert Allen’s data on cost-of-basic-needs poverty) should be understood as an indictment of our economic system.8 It is a sign that severe social dislocation remains institutionalized in the capitalist world economy. Yes, the prevalence of extreme poverty is lower today than it was at the height of the colonial period, but this is not sufficient reason for celebration. The colonial high-water mark was an effect of capitalist policy and should never have existed.
  • Capitalism relies on maintaining an artificial scarcity of essential goods and services (like housing, healthcare, transport, etc), through processes of enclosure and commodification. We know that enclosure enables monopolists to raise prices and maximize their profits (consider the rental market, the US healthcare system, or the British rail system). But it also has another effect. When essential goods are privatized and expensive, people need more income than they would otherwise require to access them. To get it they are compelled to increase their labour in capitalist markets, working to produce new things that may not be needed (with increased energy use, resource use, and ecological pressure) simply to access things that clearly are needed, and which are quite often already there.
  • The rise of capitalism, rather than delivering improvements in human welfare, was associated with plummeting wages, a reduction in human stature, and a marked upturn in the incidence of famine. Progress did not begin until the 1880s in the European core, and the 20th century in the European periphery, the latter roughly a century later than the standard narrative suggests.
  • Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks in large part to the excellent work of Stephanie Kelton and Nathan Tankus, two of the movement’s most effective communicators. Over the past few weeks a number of people inspired by their work have asked me whether there is scope for thinking about degrowth from a MMT perspective. My answer: definitely. In fact, the two belong together.
  • 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.

Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (2021)

Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World. Penguin Random House, 2021. ISBN 978-1786091215
  • We are sleepwalking into a mass extinction event – the sixth in our planet's history, and the first to be caused by human economic activity. The rate of extinction is now 1,000 times faster than before the Industrial Revolution.
    • Welcome to the Anthropocene, p. 8
  • A few years ago, virtually no one was talking about this . . . everyone just assumed that the web of life would always be intact. Now the situation is so severe that the United Nations has set up a special task force to monitor it: the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). In 2019, it published its first comprehensive report – a groundbreaking assessment of the planet's living species, drawing on 15,000 studies from around the world and representing the consensus of hundreds of scientists. It found an accelerating rate of global biodiversity decline, unprecedented in human history.
    • Welcome to the Anthropocene, pp. 8-9
  • It was only with the rise of capitalism over the past few hundred years, and the breathtaking acceleration of industrialization from the 1950s, that on a planetary scale things began to tip out of balance.
    • Capitalism: A Creation Story, p. 39
  • But the rise of capitalism also depended on something else. It needed labour. Lots of it, and cheap. Enclosure solved this problem too. With subsistence economies destroyed and commons fenced off, people had no choice but to sell their labour for wages – not to earn a bit of extra income, as under the previous regime, nor to satisfy the demands of a lord, as under serfdom, but simply in order to survive. They became, in a word, proletarians.
    • Capitalism: A Creation Story, p. 47
  • Capitalism rose on the back of organized violence, mass impoverishment, and the systematic destruction of self-sufficient subsistence economies. It did not put an end to serfdom; rather, it put an end to the progressive revolution that had ended serfdom. Indeed, by securing virtually total control over the means of production, and rendering peasants and workers dependent on them for survival, capitalists took the principles of serfdom to new extremes. People did not welcome this new system with open arms; on the contrary, they rebelled against it. The period 1500 to the 1800s, right into the Industrial Revolution, was among the bloodiest, most tumultuous times in world history.
    • Capitalism: A Creation Story, p. 48
  • The same process of enclosure and forced proletarianization played out over and over again during the period of European colonization – not just under the British but under the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch as well ... In all these cases scarcity was created, purposefully, for the sake of capitalist expansion.
    • Capitalism: A Creation Story, , p. 61
  • It's no wonder that we react so nonchalantly to the ever-mounting statistics about the crisis of mass extinction. We have a habit of taking this information with surprising calm. We don't weep. We don't get worked up. Why? Because we see humans as fundamentally separate from the rest of the living community. Those species are out there, in the environment. They aren't in here; they aren't part of us. It is not surprising that we behave this way. After all, this is the core principle of capitalism: that the world is not really alive, and it is certainly not our kin, but rather just stuff to be extracted and discarded – and that includes most of the human beings living here too. From its very first principles, capitalism has set itself at war against life itself.
    • Capitalism: A Creation Story, p. 80
  • Some people have the tendency to think of neoliberalism as a mistake – an overtly-extreme version of capitalism that we should reject in favor of returning to the somewhat more humane version that prevailed in prior decades. But the shift to neoliberalism was not a mistake; it was driven by the growth imperative. In order to restore the rate of profit and keep capitalism afloat, governments had to shift away from social objectives (use-values) to focus instead on improving the conditions for capital accumulation (exchange value). The interests of capital came to be internalized by the state, to the point where today the distinction between growth and capital accumulation has almost completely collapsed. Now the goal is to tear down barriers to profit – to make humans and nature cheaper – for the sake of growth.
    • Rise of the Juggernaut, p. 95
  • Of course, we also have to think about the role of population going forward. The more the global population grows, the more difficult this challenge will be. As we approach this question, it's crucial - as always - that we focus on underlying structural drivers. Many women around the world do not have control over their bodies and the number of children they have. Even in liberal nations women come under heavy social pressure to reproduce, often to the point where those who choose to have fewer or no children are interrogated and stigmatised. Poverty exacerbates these problems considerably. And of course capitalism itself creates pressures for population growth: more people means more labour, cheaper labour, and more consumers. These pressures filter into our culture, and even into national policy: countries like France and Japan are offering incentives to get women to have more children, to keep their economies growing.
    • Rise of the Juggernaut, pp. 110-111
  • In the absence of more consumers, capital finds ways to get existing consumers to consume more. Indeed, the dominant story for the past few hundred years: the growth rate of material use has always significantly outstripped the growth rate of the population.
    • Rise of the Juggernaut, pp. 111-112
  • Degrowth is not about reducing GDP. It is about reducing the material and energy consumption throughout the economy to bring it back into balance with the living world, while distributing income and resources more fairly, liberating people from needless work, and investing in the publics goods that people need to thrive. It is the first step toward a more ecological civilisation. Of course, doing this may mean that GDP grows more slowly, or stops growing, or even declines. And if so, that's okay, because GDP isn't what matters. Under normal circumstances, this might cause a recession. But a recession is what happens when a growth-dependent economy stops growing. It's a disaster.
    • Pathways to a Post-Capitalist World, pp. 206-207
  • Degrowth is completely different. It is about shifting to a different kind of economy altogether – an economy that doesn't need growth in the first place. An economy that's organised around human flourishing and ecological stability, rather than around the constant accumulation of capital.
    • Pathways to a Post-Capitalist World, p. 207

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

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)

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

Quotes about Jason Hickel

  • In their "wide portfolio" of potential actions, the various paths proposed by the IPCC all rely on unproven carbon capture technologies, to enable production and economic growth to continue. Ecological economists point out that the IPCC ignores a much simpler and more obvious alternative: that we find ways to slow or reverse economic growth in the overconsuming countries. "The principle of reducing energy and resource use represents a safer and more ecologically coherent approach to climate mitigation," conclude Jason Hickel and his coauthors. But, thus far, most policy proposals have studiously ignored this option.
    • Aviva Chomsky Is Science Enough?: Forty Critical Questions About Climate Justice (2022) p 73
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