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

Customer Reviews:

finally, a compelling, nuanced, evidence-based treatise on how to help the very poorest

By David Evans - July 2, 2007

Collier has two recommendations for helping the poor: "narrow the target and broaden the instruments." Narrowing the target means focusing not on the five billion people in the "developing world," for four billion of those people live in countries that are already growing, many of them very quickly. One billion of the world's people (70% of whom are in Africa) are in countries that are going nowhere fast, except - in some cases - down. Broadening the instruments means shifting focus from aid to an array of policy instruments: better delivery of aid, occasional military intervention, international charters, and smarter trade policy.

The most frustrating element of recent books on economic development is that they wildly overstate. Jeffrey Sachs, in The End of Poverty, promises that we can eradicate poverty with a few simple (if not easy) steps; and William Easterly, in... read more

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - July 18, 2007

Developing countries are quite unlike Tolstoi's characterization of happy and unhappy families. Each happy country looks different from the other, and there are vast differences between China, India, Brazil, and other developing success stories, but there is a similarity between unhappy countries--countries that are not only failing to develop, but also going downward and falling apart. Together, these countries have a combined population of about one billion people, and what happen to this bottom billion has important consequences for the whole world.

Paul Collier pioneered the burgeoning research on the economic causes of conflicts, and his work on civil wars has proved quite controversial among political science experts. Those experts tend to interpret civil wars in terms of heroic struggles motivated by grievances or ethnic strifes reflecting deeply-rooted hatreds. The author's research shows that rebel groups are usually doing well out of war, and that greed often... read more

Plausible, but . . .

By Declan Trott - May 25, 2008

Economic growth is a complicated business. Too many people focus on single issues, as though you just have to flip a switch to create wealth. You won't find any single-factor-theories here! No sir, this is my new, improved, patented, unique, four-factor theory! Step right up folks, it won't last long!

Cheap sarcasm aside, four is better than one. The four factors Collier alludes to are conflict, resources, geography and governance. A fairly standard list, but he is more careful and nuanced than most in analysing what really matters in each case and the interactions between them. Briefly:

1. Conflict (both civil war and coups): while low income and growth and dependence on primary exports are good predictors, inequality and repression are not. Ethnic diversity can be a problem, but only in the particular case where there is a clear majority group but still significant minorities. Highly diverse countries are therefore as well off as homogenous ones. There... read more

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