Books about inequality and privilege
August 14, 2014 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently traveling in a developing country (Ghana) and got the very common feeling that "I'm so privileged/lucky" compared to some of the underprivileged people here. I'd like to continue this train of thought, and read more books about privilege, dealing with privilege (do we have a responsibility to give back since we have privilege?), and generally how inequality comes about. What do you recommend? Some books I've found on this topic are inside.

This is even more salient for me since I'm from China but by a mad stroke of luck was brought to the United States, which makes me doubly lucky (thanks dad). Yet when I go to developing countries, the upward momentum that is a cornerstone of how I think about myself and the world is astoundingly and frustratingly not present. This is all common thinking, but I'd like to read more about this if there's any good literature out there.

A few books I've seen that may attack this issue of social and economic inequality (haven't found anything on privilege yet):

The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality — global look on inequality written by a World Bank economist
The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future — a more US-centric account by an economist at Columbia
posted by markbao to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who's lived in developing countries (not Ghana, though I've stayed there for a few weeks in transit), I really think you should wrestle with these issues on your own, and in dialogue with others, rather than looking to an authority of some kind to tell you what the right thing to think or the right way to deal with it is.
posted by clockzero at 4:38 PM on August 14, 2014

What do you mean the upward momentum is not present? I've been travelling back and forth to Cambodia for over a decade now, and grew up in Singapore and Malaysia, and the change is astounding. When I was a little kid, there was a village with open sewage we used to play in near our house, and not everyone went to school. Singapore is completely modern and has amazing statistics (and a dark underbelly of inequality, but globally it's pretty amazing). The progress that Cambodia has made in democracy and human trafficking and economic development is enormous, given what had to be overcome.

You need to compare Ghana today to Ghana a decade ago, and also to look at where Ghana is coming from - significant wars, colonialism, civil unrest and other disasters.

Blood and Milk is my go-to recommendation for understanding international development. She has lots of great links, mostly from an NGO-aid perspective. Chris Blattman has good links and writing about developmental economics.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Honestly the best thing for you to do is talk to Ghanaians about this. You will find most educated (and uneducated) people have pretty sharp ideas about Western exploitation and are informed about global inequality. Since they live it. You say you are travelling rather than working and from the tone of your question I infer talking to Ghanaians isn't something you've done. People there will also be able to refer you to relevant texts that apply to your question.

Forward momentum, hmm? This was a historically ravaged - by the slave trade and colonialism - country of subsistence farmers. Now it's a modern nation currently trying not to be overwhelmed by the new discovery of oil - neighbouring Nigeria being an object lesson in how not to manage an oil boom.

Also the Guinea coast of West Africa is kind of notorious for the importance people place on education. You will be surprised - once you start talking to Ghanaians - to find out where people have come from versus where they are now. At least - extrapolating from Nigeria - I think so.

This is even more salient for me since I'm from China but by a mad stroke of luck was brought to the United States

I'm curious about whether you've visited any of the less developed parts of China? I'm not being snarky but I have seen the culture shock which happens when the children of immigrants visit the Homeland they've heard about growing up and then face the reality of it. It was my own children, and hell, I think they were awfully disillusioned. I guess my point is, coming from a developed country there's bound to be some culture shock, obscuring the significance of what you're seeing and disturbing some of your received opinions.

I wish you good luck in your travels.
posted by glasseyes at 6:21 AM on August 15, 2014

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