Helping the Bottom Billion: Is There a Third Way in the Development Debate?

September 10, 2007

A review of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier

Poor countries showing signs of growth such as India and Brazil are well on their way to pulling themselves out of poverty, but there are a billion people living in impoverished countries showing no signs of economic growth. Paul Collier's new book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, argues that many developing countries are doing just fine and that the real development challenge is the 58 countries that are economically stagnant and caught in one or more "traps": armed conflict, natural resource dependence, poor governance, and geographic isolation. In a review of the book published in Foreign Affairs, CGD research fellow Michael Clemens explores whether or not Collier's proposed solutions constitute a practical middle path between William Easterly's development pessimism and Jeffrey Sach's development boosterism.

The centerpiece of Collier's argument is his plan for the G-8, comprised of four main elements: aid for post-conflict reconstruction and regional infrastructure development, five international charters (addressing natural resources, democracy, budget transparency, post-conflict politics, and international investment), a trade policy to help bottom-billion countries compete with Asia, and selective and very limited military interventions.

Clemens, an economic historian, ends his discussion of Collier's proposals with a cautionary note: "Helping the bottom billion will be a very slow job for generations, not the product of media- or summit-friendly plans to end poverty in ten or 20 years. It will require long-term, opportunistic, and humble engagement, much of it through public action—built on a willingness to let ineffective interventions die and on a sophisticated appreciation of the stupendous complexity of functioning economies. The grievous truth is that although a range of public actions can and should help many people, most of the bottom billion will not—and cannot—be freed from poverty in our lifetimes."

Read the original Foreign Affairs article

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