|Paul Collier (2008)
“The Bottom Billion”, Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.
Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Price: Rs. 745/- Pages: 224
The Third World has shrunk. For forty years, the development has been a rich world of one billion people facing a poor world of five billion people. The Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations, which are designed to track development progress through 2015, encapsulate this thinking. By 2015, however, it will be apparent that this way of conceptualizing development has become outdated. Out of the five billion, about 80 per cent live in countries that are indeed developing. The real challenge of development is that there is a group of countries at the bottom that are falling behind and often falling apart. The countries at the bottom coexist with the 21st century but their reality is the 14th century. Civil war, plague and ignorance are their identities. They are concentrated in Africa and Central Asia. This problem matters, and not just to the billion people who are living and dying in 14th century conditions. It matters to everyone. The 21st century world of material comforts, global travel and economic dependence will become vulnerable to large population of the world.
Collier has dedicated the last thirty years of his life to the study of African economics, as director of the development research group of the World Bank and now as Director of the Center for the Study of African Economics. “The Bottom Billion” is quick and enlightening to read, it addresses the basic problems of development economics. The problem is a set of nations that aren’t developing. Since the 1960s, when many of these countries threw off foreign rule through colonialism, these nations have progressed very slowly or, in some cases, regressed. Most of these nations are in sub-Saharan Africa, but countries like North Korea, Burma, Afghanistan and some other Central Asian nations also are home to members of the bottom billion. Collier refers to this set of nations as “Africa+”. Collier first addresses what he regards as the root causes of the continued failure of the states at the bottom - most but not all in Africa.
This book is divided into four parts. The first part introduces the basic problems of poverty in the African countries and some of the Asian countries. How did the factors of globalization remain ineffective in accelerating the growth of these falling countries? The second part of the book explains the traps of development. He describes a series of traps that ensure that escape from the bottom is extremely difficult. Collier lists each of these traps in turn: conflict, geography, governance, mineral riches. The existence of these traps means that many of these countries are going backwards rather than forwards, and, as he argues this is bad for their neighbours and the rest of the world. These traps are following:
Conflict: The single easiest way to destroy economic development in a nation is to fight a civil war. Civil wars last a long time - six years on average - and devastate the local economy. Growth is reduced 2.3% per year on average in the countries. Collier and friends have also demonstrated that poor nations are far more likely to fall into civil war than wealthy ones. He calculates that the average low-income nation has a 14% chance of falling into civil war in a five year period - this percentage goes up if the nation’s economy is stagnant or contracting.
Natural resources: Natural resources tempt would-be rebels, but that’s not the main problem. More troublesome is “Dutch Disease”. This is an economic term coined to explain the slowing of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands after the discovery of natural gas in the 1960s. In all economies, people want foreign currency so they can purchase imports.
Landlocked with bad neighbors: Landlocked nations have a problem exporting - they don’t have ports. Somehow, this isn’t a problem for Switzerland in the way it is for Uganda. But Switzerland has some very wealthy neighbors, and these neighbors can serve markets, as well as providing infrastructure to use their ports.
Badly governed: Collier is less worried about poor governance than many economists - he points out that Bangladesh was able to achieve economic growth despite being tied for the most-corrupt government in the world for many years. The author drafts a list of falling countries. Collier lists Angola, Central African Republic, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, the Solomon Islands, Somalia and Zimbabwe as states that he would classify as failed under political and economic critera. Of the bottom billion nations, 73% have experienced civil war, 29% have economies dominated by natural resources, 30% are in landlocked nations, and 76% have experienced a sustained period of bad governance some unlucky nations have three or more factors working against them.
The third part explains the factors of globalization and foreign aid syndrome. Freer trade could help the bottom billion, but it needs to be the right kind of trade. Collier sees a great interest - especially from China - in African natural resources, but predicts that economies that over focus on natural resources will become increasingly corrupt and increasingly uncompetitive in other industries. The last part of the book looks for the solutions of the problems. The author presents some ideas for getting aid to work.Make aid agencies individually accountable for individual, feasible areas that help poor people improve their lives. Give aid agencies the opportunity to experiment and search for what works. In this view of the world, globalisation and economic development have had little effect and outside of the West and Japan, people are poor, sick and their situation either shows no signs of improvement or is getting worse. Economic success in the tropics cannot be planned from an office in Washington DC. Instead, as has happened in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, China and India, it must be homegrown. Certainly Western aid still has a role to play but the Planners in the World Bank and IMF would do well to be more humble in their ambitions and seek to incrementally the improve lives of individuals in the poor countries.
Though the subject of the book is a serious one. There are many flaws in the book. The statistical analysis is not in order and it disappoints the readers. It uses the secondary sources. The solution which has been rendered by the author does not match with the prevalent views of the other leading economists of the world. Among the most controversial passages of Collier’s book is a plea for western military interventions in failing societies. This is very deadly suggestion. There are many examples of foreign interventions which have systematically destroyed the countries. Iraq and Afghanistan are glaring examples. This extraordinarily important book should be read by everyone who cares about Africa. His proposition is that one out of the world’s six billion people, almost all in Africa and central Asia, lives in abject poverty. Paul Collier's book is of great importance. He has shown clearly what is happening to the poorest billion in the world, why it is happening and what can be done to open up greater opportunities for them in a world of increasing wealth. His ideas should be at the centre of the policy debate.
MMH College, Model Town, Ghaziabad – 201001