The Bottom Billion

The Bottom Billion

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It is a book by Professor Paul Collier exploring the reason why impoverished countries fail to progress despite international aid and support.


The book suggests that, whereas the majority of the 5-billion people in the "developing world" are getting richer at an unprecedented rate, a group of countries (mostly in Africa and Central Asia but with a smattering elsewhere) ["The Bottom Billion" p3] are stuck and that development assistance should be focused heavily on them. These countries typically suffer from one or more development traps:
* The Conflict Trap - civil wars (which cost c $100bn each) or coups ["ibid." Ch 2] .
* The Natural Resource Trap - excessive dependence on natural resources which can stifle other economic activity and lead to bad governance and coups/conflict ["ibid." Ch 3] .
* Landlocked with Bad Neighbours - poor landlocked countries with poor neighbours find it almost impossible to tap into world economic growth ["ibid." Ch 4] .
* Bad Governance in a Small Country - terrible governance and policies can destroy an economy with alarming speed ["ibid." p64] He suggests a number of relatively inexpensive but institutionally difficult changes:
# Aid agencies should increasingly be concentrated in the most difficult environments, accept more risk. Ordinary citizens should not support poorly informed vociferous lobbies whose efforts are counterproductive and severely constrain what the Aid agencies can do ["ibid."Ch 7 and p 184]
# Appropriate Military Interventions (such as the British in Sierra Leone) should be encouraged, especially to guarantee democratic governments against coups ["ibid." Ch 8 and p184-5]
# International Charters are needed to encourage good governance and provide prototypes ["ibid." Ch 9 and pp 185-6]
# Trade Policy needs to encourage free-trade and give preferential access to Bottom Billion exports. At present "Rich-country protectionism masquerades in alliance with antiglobalization romantics and third world crooks" ["ibid." Ch 10 and p 187-8]


* Martin Wolf in the Financial Times called it "a splendid book" and "particularly enjoyed the attack on the misguided economics of many non-governmental organisations." He says that Collier sheds much light on how the world should tackle its biggest moral challenge. It shows, too, how far western governments and other external actors are from currently giving the sort of help these countries desperately need. [Martin Wolf Financial Times [ How the bottom billion are trapped] ]
* The Guardian called it an important book and suggested that citizens of G8 countries should fight for change along the lines he suggests [The Guardian [,,2099345,00.html Action will speak louder than words] ]
* The Economist says it is "set to become a classic" and "should be compulsory reading for anyone embroiled in the hitherto thankless business of trying to pull people out of the pit of poverty where the “bottom billion” of the world's population of 6.6 billion seem irredeemably stuck" [The Economist [ Springing the traps] ]
* Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times described it as "'The best book on international affairs so far this year" [New York Times 14 June 2007]
* William Easterly, influential American economist specialising in economic growth and foreign aid, critically assessed The Bottom Billion in The Lancet. He lambasts it for being an 'ivory tower analysis of real world poverty. [William Easterly The Lancet [] ]

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