Jason Hickel

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Jason Hickel
Hickel in 2021.
Born1982 (age 40–41)
NationalityEswati, British
Occupation(s)Academic, author

Jason Edward Hickel[1] (born 1982) is an eswati anthropologist, author, and professor at the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.[2] 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.[3][4]

Hickel is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Visiting Senior Fellow at the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics, and Chair Professor of Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo. He is Associate Editor of the journal World Development, and serves on the Climate and Macroeconomics Roundtable of the US National Academy of Sciences.[5]

He is known for his books The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions (2017) and Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (2020). A critic of capitalism, he argues that degrowth is the solution to human impact on the environment.


Hickel was born and raised in Swaziland (now Eswatini) where his parents were doctors at the height of the AIDS crisis.[6] He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Wheaton College, USA (2004).[7] He worked in the non-profit sector in Nagaland, India and in Swaziland,[8] and received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Virginia in August 2011.[9][10] His doctoral thesis was entitled Democracy and Sabotage: Moral Order and Political Conflict in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.[1] He taught at the London School of Economics from 2011 to 2017, where he held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, and at Goldsmiths, University of London, from 2017 to 2021.

He served on the U.K. Labour Party task force on international development in 2017–2019.[11][12] As of 2020 he serves on the Harvard-Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice,[13] on the Statistical Advisory Panel for the UN Human Development Report,[14] and on the advisory board for the Green New Deal for Europe.[15]


International development[edit]

Writing for a piece published in the journal World Development[16] and in an accompanying opinion piece for Al Jazeera,[17] Hickel, along with co-author Dylan Sullivan, dispute the view held by most economic historians,[18]: 1 that prior to the 19th century, the vast majority of humanity lived in extreme poverty which was eventually ameliorated by industrialization. On the contrary, they argue that it was the emergence of colonialism and the shoehorning of regions into the capitalist world system starting in the "long 16th century" that created "periods of severe social and economic dislocation" which resulted in wages crashing to subsistence levels and surging premature mortality. In India, for the years 1880 to 1920, Hickel and Sullivan estimate 50 million excess deaths when considering India's 1880s average death rate as normal mortality. When estimating excess mortality over England’s 16th and 17th-century average death rate, they calculate 165 million excess deaths in India between 1880 and 1920, which they state is "larger than the combined number of deaths that occurred during all famines in the Soviet Union, Maoist China, North Korea, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and Mengistu's Ethiopia". They conclude that human welfare only really began to increase in the 20th century, and note that this development coincided with "the rise of anti-colonial and socialist political movements."[16][17]

Hickel argues in The Divide that pre-colonial societies were not poor.[18]: 1 He argues that precolonial agricultural societies in Africa and India were "quite content" with a "subsistence lifestyle" and that it was colonialism that made them worse off.[18]. He argues that the dominant narrative of "progress" in international development is overstated, and that poverty remains a widespread and persistent feature of the global economy, reproduced by power imbalances between the Global North and Global South.[19][20][21] Hickel argues that the International poverty line used to underwrite the progress narrative, (US$1.90 per day in 2011 PPP, the World Bank's definition of extreme poverty), has no empirical grounding in actual human needs, and is inadequate to achieve basic nutrition and health. Hickel argues that US$7.40 per day is required for nutrition and health.[18] Many other economists agree with Hickel that it would be more useful to use a higher daily income to define the poverty threshold, with some recommending $15 per day.[18] As a consequence of population growth, the absolute number of people living under this threshold has increased from 3.2 billion in 1981 to 4.2 billion in 2015, according to World Bank data.[18][22][23][24] The vast majority of gains against poverty have been achieved by China and East Asian countries that were not subjected to structural adjustment schemes. Elsewhere, increases in income among the poor have been very small, and mostly inadequate to lift people out of his definition of poverty.[20][22] However, all scholars and intellectuals, including Hickel, agree that the incomes of the poorest people in the world have increased since 1981.[18] Nevertheless, Sullivan and Hickel argue that poverty persists under contemporary global capitalism (in spite of it being highly productive) because masses of working people are cut off from common land and resources, have no ownership or control over the means of production, and have their labor power "appropriated by a ruling class or an external imperial power," thereby maintaining extreme inequality.[16]

Noah Smith has criticized Hickel for using a single threshold of poverty ($7.40 per day) and ignoring increases in incomes below that threshold.[25] Smith notes that an increase in income from $1.90 per day to $7.39 per day would be life-changing, but would not count as poverty alleviation for Hickel.[25] Additionally, Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion's research shows that no matter where the poverty threshold is defined, the percentage of the world's residents who live below it declined from 1981 to 2008.[18]: 1

Marian L. Tupy, a senior fellow of the Cato Institute, a right-libertarian think tank, has criticized Hickel's claim that people before industrialization lived well without a lot of monetary income, stating that "The evidence from contemporary accounts and academic research" shows that "Compared to today, Western European living standards prior to industrialization were miserably low." and that "poverty was widespread and it was precisely the onset of industrialization and global trade … which led to poverty alleviation first in the West and then in the Rest."[26][unreliable source?]

In a 2022 article published in Global Environmental Change, Hickel and a team of scholars state that in the globalized neoliberal capitalist economy, the Global North still relies on "imperialist appropriation" of resources and labor from the Global South, which annually amounts to "12 billion tons of embodied raw material equivalents, 822 million hectares of embodied land, 21 exajoules of embodied energy, and 188 million person-years of embodied labour, worth $10.8 trillion in Northern prices – enough to end extreme poverty 70 times over." From 1990 to 2015, this net appropriation amounted to $242 trillion. Hickel et al. write that this unequal exchange is a leading driver of uneven development, increasing global inequality and environmental degradation.[27]

On his blog, Hickel has criticised claims by Hans Rosling and others that global inequality has been decreasing and the gap between poor countries and rich countries has disappeared. This narrative relies on relative metrics (such as the "elephant graph"), which Hickel says obscure the fact that absolute inequality has worsened considerably over the past decades: the real per capita income gap between the Global North and Global South has quadrupled since 1960,[28] and the incomes of the richest one percent have increased by one hundred times more than the incomes of the poorest 60% of humanity over the period 1980 to 2016.[29] Hickel has argued that absolute metrics are the appropriate measure for assessing inequality trends in the world economy.[30][31]

According to Hickel, the focus on aid as a tool for international development depoliticises poverty and misleads people into believing that rich countries are benevolent toward poorer countries. In reality, he says, financial flows from rich countries to poor countries are outstripped by flows that go in the opposite direction, including external debt service, tax evasion by multinational companies, patent licensing fees and other outflows resulting from structural features of neoliberal globalisation.[32] Moreover, Hickel argues that poor countries suffer significant losses due to international trade and finance rules (such as under structural adjustment programmes, free trade agreements, and the WTO framework) which depress their potential export revenues and prevent them from using protective tariffs, subsidies, and capital controls as tools for national economic development. According to Hickel, global poverty is ultimately an artefact of these structural imbalances. Focusing on aid distracts from the substantive reforms that would be necessary to address these problems.[33]

Hickel argues that trade between developed countries and developing countries is not mutually beneficial.[34]

Critics of Hickel argue that there is a strong correlation between economic growth and improvements in welfare (as measured by factors such as leisure time, health care, life expectancy).[34]

Climate change and ecological economics[edit]

In 2020, Hickel published research in The Lancet Planetary Health based on 2015 data. It asserted that a small number of high-income countries are responsible for the overwhelming majority of historical CO2 emissions in excess of the planetary boundary (350 ppm). His analysis asserted that the US was responsible for 40%, the EU was responsible for 29%, the most industrialized countries were responsible for 90%, and the Global North as a group was responsible for 92%.[35] He has also argued that high-income nations are disproportionately responsible for other forms of global ecological breakdown, given their high levels of resource use.[36]

In a review paper written with the ecological economist Giorgos Kallis, Hickel argues that narratives about "green growth" have little empirical validity. They point to evidence showing that it is not feasible for high-income nations to achieve absolute reductions in resource use, or to reduce emissions to zero fast enough stay within the carbon budget for 2 °C if they continue to pursue GDP growth at historical rates.[37] Hickel and his colleagues argue that high-income nations need to scale down excess energy and resource use (i.e., "degrowth") in order to achieve a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy and to reverse ecological breakdown.[38] He has argued that high-income nations do not need economic growth in order to achieve social goals; they can reduce excess resource and energy use while at the same time improving human well-being, by distributing income more fairly, expanding universal public goods, shortening the working week, and introducing a public job guarantee.[39] Hickel has also suggested that modern monetary theory (MMT) could be applied to further these ends and to transition towards a "post-growth, post-capitalist economy".[40] In a 2022 comment published in Nature, Hickel, Kallis and others say that both the IPCC and the IPBES "suggest that degrowth policies should be considered in the fight against climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, respectively."[41]

Critics of Hickel argue that economic growth can occur while emissions decrease, pointing to data that shows that many countries have transitioned to green forms of energy while still experiencing economic growth.[34]

In 2020, Hickel proposed a Sustainable Development Index, which adjusts the Human Development Index by accounting for nations' ecological impact, in terms of per capita emissions and resource use.[42][43] Hickel has also criticized United Nations' most important environmental metric, the Sustainable Development Goals Index (SDG Index) [44]


Hickel writes on global development and political economy, and has contributed to The Guardian,[45] Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera,[46] Jacobin[47] and other media outlets.[48]




  1. ^ a b One Hundred and Eighty-Third Final Exercises (PDF). University of Virginia. 20 May 2012. p. 24. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Jason Hickel - Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology - UAB Barcelona". www.uab.cat. Retrieved 2023-09-11.
  3. ^ Hickel, Jason (2015-09-23). "Forget 'developing' poor countries, it's time to 'de-develop' rich countries". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-09-11.
  4. ^ "Five reasons to think twice about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals". South Asia@LSE. 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2023-09-11.
  5. ^ "About". Jason Hickel. Retrieved 2023-09-11.
  6. ^ "The Divide". Renegade Inc. 2017-09-29. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  7. ^ "UVA Graduate Student Receives Newcombe Fellowship". UVA Today. 2010-05-05. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  8. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: JASON HICKEL on NGOs and Bill Gates. YouTube.
  9. ^ Disk 1690-000, Diss.Anthrop 2011.H53, XX(5587297.3) University of Virginia Library
  10. ^ "New ACLS Faculty Fellow: Jason Hickel | Department of Anthropology". anthropology.virginia.edu. Archived from the original on 2020-10-08. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  11. ^ "Dr Jason Hickel". lse.ac.uk. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  12. ^ "Jason Hickel". unitedagents.co.uk. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  13. ^ "Biographies | Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice". projects.iq.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  14. ^ "Virtual Consultation on the 2020 Human Development Report" (PDF).
  15. ^ "About us". Green New Deal for Europe. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  16. ^ a b c Sullivan, Dylan; Hickel, Jason (2023). "Capitalism and extreme poverty: A global analysis of real wages, human height, and mortality since the long 16th century". World Development. 161: 106026. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2022.106026.
  17. ^ a b Sullivan, Dylan; Hickel, Jason (2022-12-02). "How British colonialism killed 100 million Indians in 40 years". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2022-12-13.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Matthews, Dylan (2019-02-12). "Bill Gates tweeted out a chart and sparked a huge debate about global poverty". Vox.
  19. ^ "Book Review: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions by Jason Hickel". LSE Review of Books. 2017-08-03. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  20. ^ a b "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn't be more wrong | Jason Hickel". the Guardian. 2019-01-29. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  21. ^ "A letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, for that matter) about global poverty". Jason Hickel. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  22. ^ a b "Progress and its discontents". New Internationalist. 2019-08-12. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  23. ^ Hickel, Jason (2016-05-03), "The true extent of global poverty and hunger: questioning the good news narrative of the Millennium Development Goals journal", Third World Quarterly, 37 (5): 749–767, doi:10.1080/01436597.2015.1109439, ISSN 0143-6597, S2CID 155669076
  24. ^ Hickel, Jason. The Divide. pp. Chapter 2.
  25. ^ a b "The World Really Is Getting Richer as Poor Countries Catch Up". Bloomberg.com. 2019-03-07. Retrieved 2023-05-26.
  26. ^ "The Romantic Idea of a Plentiful Past Is Pure Fantasy". HumanProgress. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
  27. ^ Hickel, Jason; Dorninger, Christian; Wieland, Hanspeter; Suwandi, Intan (2022). "Imperialist appropriation in the world economy: Drain from the global South through unequal exchange, 1990–2015". Global Environmental Change. 73 (102467): 102467. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2022.102467.
  28. ^ "Global inequality: Do we really live in a one-hump world?". Jason Hickel. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  29. ^ "How bad is global inequality, really?". Jason Hickel. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  30. ^ "How not to measure inequality". Jason Hickel. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  31. ^ "Inequality metrics and the question of power". Jason Hickel. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  32. ^ "Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries | Jason Hickel". the Guardian. 2017-01-14. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  33. ^ "The Development Delusion: Foreign Aid and Inequality". American Affairs Journal. 2017-08-16. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  34. ^ a b c Piper, Kelsey (2021-08-03). "Can we save the planet by shrinking the economy?". Vox.
  35. ^ Hickel, Jason (2020-09-01). "Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary". The Lancet Planetary Health. 4 (9): e399–e404. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30196-0. ISSN 2542-5196. PMID 32918885.
  36. ^ Hickel, Jason (2020). Less Is More. pp. 106 ff.
  37. ^ Hickel, Jason; Kallis, Giorgos (2020-06-06). "Is Green Growth Possible?". New Political Economy. 25 (4): 469–486. doi:10.1080/13563467.2019.1598964. ISSN 1356-3467. S2CID 159148524.
  38. ^ Mastini, Riccardo; Kallis, Giorgos; Hickel, Jason (2021-01-01). "A Green New Deal without growth?". Ecological Economics. 179: 106832. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2020.106832. ISSN 0921-8009. S2CID 225007846.
  39. ^ Hickel, Jason (2020). Less Is More. pp. Chapters 4 and 5.
  40. ^ Hickel, Jason (September 23, 2020). "Degrowth and MMT: a thought experiment". jasonhickel.org. Retrieved July 9, 2023. MMT proposals align elegantly with one of degrowth's key observations, namely, that if growthism depends on the perpetual creation of artificial scarcity, then by reversing artificial scarcity – by providing public abundance – we can dismantle the growth imperative. As Giorgos Kallis has put it, "capitalism cannot survive under conditions of abundance". MMT provides an opportunity for us to create a post-growth, post-capitalist economy.
  41. ^ Hickel, Jason; Kallis, Giorgos; Jackson, Tim; O’Neill, Daniel W.; Schor, Juliet B.; Steinberger, Julia K.; et al. (December 12, 2022). "Degrowth can work — here's how science can help". Nature. 612 (7940): 400–403. Bibcode:2022Natur.612..400H. doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04412-x. PMID 36510013. S2CID 254614532.
  42. ^ Hickel, Jason (2020-01-01). "The sustainable development index: Measuring the ecological efficiency of human development in the anthropocene". Ecological Economics. 167: 106331. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.05.011. ISSN 0921-8009.
  43. ^ "Home". sustainabledevelopmentindex.org.
  44. ^ The World's Sustainable Development Goals Aren't Sustainable. There are big problems with the United Nations' most important environmental metric.
  45. ^ "Jason Hickel". TheGuardian.com.
  46. ^ "Jason Hickel".
  47. ^ "Jason Hickel".
  48. ^ "Jason Hickel".
  49. ^ "About ASA - Teaching and Lecturing prize". www.theasa.org. Retrieved 2021-12-08.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

External video
video icon Doha Debates w/ Jason Hickel, Anand Giridharadas, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim on YouTube