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The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It Paperback – August 22, 2008
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"An important book."--Fareed Zakaria
"Insightful and influential."--Newsweek
"An acclaimed bestseller in 2007, and already a set text in development courses worldwide, Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion has far from exhausted its potential to change the way we think about, teach about, and legislate about global poverty...Its policy recommendations, many of which focus on empowering domestic actors, including through voluntary international standards to serve as rallying cries for reform movements, are not only pragmatic but also addressed squarely to the audience that matters most: the G8. It does not hurt its crossover appeal that The Bottom Billon is a model of good writing for the public understanding of social science."--Ethics & International Affairs (publication of the Carnegie Council)
"Excellent...his key recommendations are right on the mark, and his message should resonate in the development discourse for years to come...Highly recommended."--CHOICE
"This is a path-breaking work providing penetrating insights into the largely unexplored borderland between economics and politics."--George Soros
"One of the most important books on world poverty in a very long time."--Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things Magazine
"Provides a penetrating reassessment of why vast populations remain trapped in poverty, despite endless debate over foreign aid policy among wealthy countries and institutions."--Barbara McDougall, Jury Chair, The Lionel Gelber Prize, and Canada's Former Secretary of State for External Affairs
"Workable development ideas are hard to find, but Professor Collier may have identified the next frontier for positive change."--Tyler Cowen, The New York Times
"This slip of a book is set to become a classic of the 'how to help the world's poorest' genre. Crammed with statistical nuggets and common sense, his book should be compulsory reading for anyone embroiled in the hitherto thankless business of trying to pull people out of the pit of poverty where the 'bottom billion' of the world's population of 6.6 billion seem irredeemably stuck."--The Economist
"If Sachs seems too saintly and Easterly too cynical, then Collier is the authentic old Africa hand: he knows the terrain and has a keen ear. As Collier rightly says, it is time to dispense with the false dichotomies that bedevil the current debate on Africa. If you've ever found yourself on one side or the other of those arguments - and who hasn't? - then you simply must read this book."--Niall Ferguson, The New York Times Book Review
"Rich in both analysis and recommendations...Read this book. You will learn much you do not know. It will also change the way you look at the tragedy of persistent poverty in a world of plenty."--Financial Times
About the Author
Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. Former director of Development Research at the World Bank, he is one of the world's leading experts on African economies, and is the author of Breaking the Conflict Trap, among other books.
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The first half of the book is dedicated to explaining the vicious cycles and patterns that keep the poorest countries in such bad circumstances. Collier outlines four major "traps" that tend to prohibit economic growth, including the Conflict Trap, the Natural Resources Trap, Being Landlocked, and Bad Government. The only one of these that at first seems counterintuitive is the Natural Resources Trap, but Collier explains that when protections are not in place, or irresponsible governments are in power, gluts of money from natural resources often lead to wasteful spending (or worse), and a boom and bust cycle dependent on commodities that generates instability. After becoming accustomed to large amounts of money and spending it on unnecessary projects that later become difficult to cut, the typical outcome is underinvestment in growth. The other traps are fairly straightforward and often inter-related.
While discussing the traps that keep the bottom billion down, a number of surprising conclusions were made. One involves the problem of too much aid without focus. Just giving poor countries money does not solve the problems that keep poor countries poor. At its worse, aid can become a sort of global welfare program that doesn't encourage productive, growth-oriented change. Also, democracies are not always effective at promoting positive change. Especially in countries with strong ethnic voting blocks, democracy often leads to suppression of one group as well as vote-buying by politicians. Without strong limitations on government and strong individual protections in place, democracies can actually be less effective at bringing the poorest countries out of stagnation than more authoritarian governments. Indeed, there are a myriad of factors that make it difficult to break out of the bottom billion, even with good policy. Some of these problems seem unavoidable. Investor opinion, capital flow out of poor countries, and the migration of educated workers all hamper the development of poor countries, and are all problems without easy (or maybe existing) solutions.
Collier also attempts to make a case for helping the bottom billion for our own sakes, and not just out of pity for the desperate. His intentions were to not only show the dangers of ignoring the problem (poor, desperate people may turn to violence and terrorism), but to show the benefits of incorporating more people into a common world economy. Actually putting an economic price tag on helping the bottom billion, and even stating that it may not be economically worthwhile in some cases, may seem callous at first, but it meshes with the overall tone of the book, taking an unemotional and logical look at the situation.
Besides highlighting and explaining the problems and why they are so stubborn, Collier outlines his recommendations for starting to help bring the bottom billion out of the darkness. His solutions are wide-ranging, and include increased, but targeted, aid, as well as possible military interventions to enforce security. Perhaps the biggest focus of the book revolves around creating and abiding by strong international charters. Setting guidelines for economic policy and trade practices would encourage poor countries to establish growth-oriented plans with the lure of increased partnerships with rich countries. Because real change for countries of the bottom billion must happen internally, providing incentives for good management may be our most powerful tool for helping to poorest in the world. If we can help the poorest countries focus on positive change, real long-term benefits will follow.
The biggest criticism I have for THE BOTTOM BILLION is the over-reliance on Collier's own research. Literally, he cites no studies that he or his collaborators did not conduct. At times, the book seems a bit self-aggrandizing, especially as Collier discusses his personal experiences rubbing shoulders with world leaders and reformers. While full of good and seemingly-accurate information, the book could have been improved by being more inclusive of other research and other opinions. Lastly, parts of the book read much like a scientific journal on economics, and can be a bit dry. Just be prepared for that, and I think you'll find the book meets or exceeds your expectations.
He gives a very concrete set of recommendations both for the G8 countries and for individual donors to consider. The only criticism I have is that he does not take into account the ways in which new technology (e.g., mobile phones) can bypass corrupt systems and allow development in countries such as Nigeria -- where they have contributed directly to a sizable fraction of the growth in the economy.