Review: Collier’s Bottom Billion

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
Paul Collier

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.

Recommended.

Review: Sach’s The End of Poverty

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Jeffery Sachs
You, being a smart person who is up on contemporary debates in economics and development and/or are a reader of Vanity Fair, probably already know all about Jeffrey Sachs.

Sachs made his name giving “shock therapy” to various third world economies. He recommended they jack up interest rates, and pushed them towards neo-liberal free market structures. His career hit a bit of a bad patch when he was associated with the economic meltdown of the former Soviet Socialist Republic. This book is his recommendations for development in Africa.

Sach’s ideas are, at base, pretty simple – Sub-Saharan Africa needs lots and lots more aid. This aid should be put to use curing easily defeatable diseases and establishing local agrarian and eventually manufacturing economies. Right wing types who say that more aid won’t fix the problem are wrong. That’s about it.

I think Sach’s has this all about half right. More aid is a good idea, but alone, and in the style he suggests, I doubt it will lead to an end to poverty. Paul Collier’s more nuanced book The Bottom Billion, gives a better battle plan for dealing with seriously fucked countries. Sach’s plan is a little too throw-money-at-the-problem for me.

Still, this book is worth a read. If you’re going to think about world poverty now a days, you’re going to have to know this book. He is by far the biggest name in the field. He may not always be right, but he’s a player that you need to know about.

Recommended for the enthusiast.