THE BOTTOM BILLION: WHY THE POOREST COUNTRIES ARE FAILING AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT
By Paul Collier
Oxford University Press, 224 pp., $15, August 2008, 9780195373387
Ask any ‘third worlder’—including me—and chances are, he/she will tell you how dirty and poor his/her country is, and how it is likely to remain that way in the foreseeable future. Why are some nations poor? Why these nations stay dirty and undeveloped despite our globalized reality? And why are they likely to stay poor, unless something is done? And, if we want to do something, what should we do about it? This post is about all of these questions—a summary and a review written while reading Paul Collier’s Book: The Bottom Billion.
Paul Collier developed a notion he named the “conflict trap”. His aim is to show how some economic conditions prompt civil war, and how the resulting conflict often becomes a trap—one that is hard to escape.
Four different traps are behind the horrible situation people are living within the bottom billion:
- The Conflict Trap
- The Natural Resources Trap
- The Trap of Being Landlocked
- The Trap of Bad Governance in a Small Country
Globalization to the Rescue?
Even during the golden decade—between the end of the cold war and 9/11—these countries still suffered, and captured nothing of what the rest of the world has been going through. In fact, income during this same decade fell by 5%.
That’s why the later countries escape the traps, and begin to take the right track, the harder it is for them to catch up, because the global market is now much more tough for new participants than it was in the 1980s.
The Struggle for the Bottom Billion
The author isn’t trying to offer a one and only explanation for the failures of certain nations to catch up with the Global development train—of beginning to reduce poverty for the first time in history since the 1980s. He acknowledges the diversity of the situation within the bottom billion.
The left could learn that maybe some instruments they’d been avoiding to use—like military interventions—are sometimes effective, or even the only viable option to improve or change the situation.
And, the right can learn that “global growth” doesn’t always bring relief to the Bottom Billion.
The problem matters. And it matters even more to voters and decision makers in the developed world. Because, if they keep ignoring what’s happening within the Bottom Billion, soon enough, the ramifications will land themselves clear in the west—think mass immigration, terrorism, etc..
Paul Collier intended this book to be an enjoyable read through keeping “clear of footnotes and the rest of the usual grim apparatus of professional scholarship,” as he declared from the start.
Nor that this book is a chewing gum for the mind—if you have an attention for details, then all you have to do is to take a look at the book’s ending section and you will find what amuses your tastes and your erudite cravings.
Paul Collier is a professor at Oxford. He had directed the World Bank’s research department. He’d also taught at Harvard.
Paul Collier’s previous books include Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, and Greed is Dead: Politics after Individualism.
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