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The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It Paperback – August 22, 2008
An Amazon Book with Buzz: "The Therapist" by B. A. Paris
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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
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; 1st edition (August 22, 2008)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0195373383
- ISBN-13 : 978-0195373387
- Item Weight : 9.1 ounces
- Dimensions : 8.1 x 0.6 x 5.4 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #95,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Collier sees a series of serious obstacles (or "traps") that the bottom billion face. First, there is conflict: most of these countries are threatened with violence either from without or within. War is obviously detrimental to economic development, in particular as the bottom billion tend to get caught in the negative feedback loop of funding the military only to become victims of coups. Second, the possession of raw materials - the "natural resource trap" - does not help: not only they can they divert attention from necessary reforms, but they raise the value of local currencies, thereby choking off diversification of nascent sectors in the economy, e.g. manufacturing. Third, the bottom billion tend to be landlocked and hence dependent on neighbors, with whom they must intimately cooperate and coordinate. Fourth, they tend to suffer from chronic bad governance and poor policy choices. While brave reformers may emerge, Collier notes, they need skilled administrators and time to implement policies, both of which are rare to come by or sustain; indeed they often end up in exile or prison.
Unfortunately, Collier observes, the tools for climbing out of this configuration of traps - many countries suffer from more than one, most of them in Africa - are difficult to apply. Aid can help to promote growth, but cannot suffice without private sector involvement; it is also subject to both diminishing returns and the habit of helping countries that are already doing pretty well. Furthermore, efforts to correct trade policies, in particular by tariff incentives against Asia that would nurture their manufacturing bases, are very difficult to implement, not to forget agree upon. This leaves military intervention for purposes of promoting stability and the formulation of "charters", new laws, and international regimes to promote development - also extremely problematic in any practical sense.
Collier comes up with a combination of these remedies that I find unrealistically hopeful: charters (e.g. investment protocols for private investors), selective foreign military interventions in the service of regional stability, trade protection from the Asian manufacturing juggernaut, and specific types of aid (helping the worst off, taking more risks for innovative policies, the provision of able administrators in the crucial first years, and the like). Moreover, Collier suggests that a coalition of NGOs, governments, businesses, and governments must act in concert, with common goals and methods.
It is very difficult for me to see how all of these forces could align in any sustained manner, particularly in the current political climate that seems to fall back on populist nationalism, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to try. A review this short cannot do justice to the breadth of Collier's vision, of course. Nonetheless, as he makes clear, many of these policies require massively complex coordination, not just globally but also regionally, according to which nation-states would agree on goals and pursue them, such as the development of logistical infrastructure in the furtherance of international trade. Would Nigeria by willing to invest in ports so that Niger could ferry its manufactured products to China?
Recommended with enthusiasm. This book is essential to understanding international economics that takes politics into consideration.
Top reviews from other countries
As the sub-title suggests the book effectively explains “Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it”.
The Bottom Billion presents a very clear framework for understanding and acting upon the problems facing the most severely poor countries. Prof. Collier describes four kinds of poverty trap: conflict, natural resources, landlocked and bad governance. He then discusses four tools which can be used for resolving these issues and importantly the limits of each: aid, military intervention, laws & charters and trade policy, before highlighting in combination the areas of most fruitful action. In particularly he makes a stand for the brave ‘heroes’ of economic development and reform in the developing world and how Western institutions and the electorate (that’s us) need to stand by and support them. I found his framework and arguments very convincing. This is in part due to the concise, lively and personal way he writes. The book is amazingly short for the breadth of material covered. However, it is clear that the book sits atop a tower of research, and thus is in no way lightweight in this respect. In this sense, Prof. Collier is very careful to highlight the sources of his information, and what has and has not been peer reviewed.
One of the things I particularly like about this book is its balanced nature. For example, there is careful, nuanced but persuasive discussion of why globalisation has worked for the developed West, and is working for Asia, and will work for most other developing countries, but that for a few countries (the ‘bottom billion’) it will not work. He tackles this issue and other politically charged issues, such as aid, military intervention and international trade, carefully, and in my opinion in a balanced manner, neither leaning too left, or too right; whilst trying to use data rather than ideology in his arguments. I previously held strong (and perhaps ill informed) views on some of these issues and have found that his arguments have at least begun to change my mind and thinking about them.
The mineral economist in me also found the sections on natural resources very interesting, and it is relieving to see economists moving beyond simple resource curse theory and onto more constructive arguments about how to develop countries with abundant natural resources. He expands on the subject greatly in The Plundered Planet, which would be a fine accompaniment to this book. For readers more generally interested in economic development, reading the Bottom Billion and then the Plundered Planet is probably the most fruitful order, starting broadly and then focusing on the particularly tricky issue of the resource curse. For those in the minerals or petroleum sectors, starting with the Plundered Planet covering these industries, and then taking a broader look at economic development in general via The Bottom Billion, as I have done, would be recommended.
In general, whilst I am still somewhat new to the field of development economics, and I’m sure Prof. Collier is not right on everything, I would be surprised if there were many better starting points for understanding economic development in the poorest countries than this book.
Collier's book is excellent read.
Just as Mr. Collier says at the end of his book, discussions on poverty and development have over the last few years been dominated by two extremes: On the one extreme Mr. Jeffrey Sachs call for more aid to "end poverty", and on the other side, William Easterly's negativity that nothing really works (in the books The End of Poverty and The White Man's Burden, respectively).
Mr. Collier strikes a marvelous and necessary balance between these two. On one side, he says about Mr. Sachs:
"At present the clarion call for the left is Jeffrey Sach's book the end of poverty. Much as I agree with Sachs' passionate call to action, I think that he has overplayed the importance of aid. Aid alone will not solve the problems of the bottom billion - we need to use a wider range of policies."
Mr. Sachs is an advocate of more money will solve the problems, but as Mr. Collier puts well in the book, many of the problems related to poverty are structural, from lack of investement, infrastructure, education, conflict, to being landlocked. Some of these problems are not solved just with more money. Unfortunately, this is a tendency in development aid nowadays, perhaps as aid agencies and staff need to justify their existence, even increase it: the need of more money, much of it in the form of budgetary support, which goes directly to a poor country's budget, in ever bigger amounts. But the link to poverty reduction is awkward to say the least: as pointed out in both Easterly's and Collier's book, higher dependence on foreign aid hardly leads to poverty reduction.
How much did I see this in Mozambique: had any of the subsistence farmers I worked with ever benefitted from the Agricultural SWAp...?
Nevertheless, while one cannot argue that aid will help everything, one can not jump into the other side of "Nothing helps" like the old disillusioned Mr. Easterly does (in my personal view Mr. Easterly is the kind of person who would have let slavery continue, not because he agreed with it, but because "we cannot do anything about it"):
"At present the clarion call for the right is economist William Easterly's book The White Man's Burden. Easterly is right to mock the delusions of the aid lobby. But just as Sachs exaggerates the payoff to aid, Easterly exaggerates the downside and again neglects the scope for other policies. We are not as impotent and ignorant as Easterly seems to think."
As Collier amply argues for, there are many situations and examples that aid has helped and alleviated poverty. But as Mr. Collier also amply discusses and argues for, the aid money needs to be allocated in a well-planned way, and not ignoring the context: aid alone is unlikely to help.
I must admit that at first I found the book to start really slowly: Mr. Collier took time to explain his framework for analysis, ennumerating four "traps" which developing countries, or rather, the "bottom billion", the poorest of the poorest caught in a vicious circle of misery of landlockedness, resource trap, conflict and bad governance. These four traps are inter-related and Mr. Collier carefully presents his huge array of statistics to present his argument.
This part was a somewhat tedious read, but after passing this part, the book moves into more interesting areas, namely what can be done about it, the huge dilemmas and difficulties surrounding these issues.
Nevertheless, on a more critical view, the book's argument is built too much on statistics. It makes it powerful, but at the same time one can feel that the argumentation, like with all statistics, is political and absolutist: in social sciences, there are exceptions to all statistics! At the same time, some of the correlations, like for instance between post-conflict situations and democracy, seem so vague that I would never look at a specific situation with that data, but only focus on the context.
Personally, I like that he says it can be done - too often in the world people say: "there have always been poor people, and there always will be". While I don't deny this is true, I find it appalling that this should be used as an excuse: we have always had murders, rape, wars, but nobody in their right mind would say we should do nothing about it!
I like the book, because we finally have a well-written balance abut development aid, something that has been missing for a while as the issue is discussed more and more.