Here is the basic argument – while it sucks to be poor in countries like India, India is heading for relative prosperity, and therefore some hope for its poorest citizens. Where is really, really sucks to be poor is in a number of countries, concentrated in Africa, where there is little hope of breaking out of a cycle of severe poverty.
Collier pinpoints four ways in which these countries stay at the bottom – (1) they are racked by civil wars; (2) they’re rich in a specific natural resource which stifles economic group in other areas; (3) they are surrounded by awful neighbors; and/or (4) they are a small country which is consistently horrifically governed. Collier proposes a number of concrete steps to deal with some of these problems, steps which I find to be realistic if perhaps politically unlikely at times. For example, Collier is totally in support of military intervention, of course he thinks there is a right way and wrong way to do it, but still, you’re not hearing Jeff Sachs talk about sending in guns to cure poverty and with the disaster that has been the Iraq war, I think it will be a long time before the developed world is interested in dangerous humanitarian missions.
This is the book of a man who has spent a long time in world of bureaucracies whose mandate is to fight poverty, and some of Collier’s ideas are a bit gun-ho in reaction to what he rightly thinks is a lack of will power from the developed world. I don’t think all of his ideas are good ones, and many of them I think are unlikely given the developed world’s current lack of commitment to fighting poverty, but if you have any interest in development and poverty reduction you have to read this book.