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

The Bottom Billion

Book review by Crystal Andvik

In this widely acclaimed book, The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier, examines how and why impoverished countries are falling behind while developed countries continue to prosper. A professor of economics and director of the Centre for the Study of African Economics at Oxford University as well as the former director of Development Research at the World Bank, Collier has comprehensive knowledge, and much to say, about the progression of developing nations, or lack thereof.

Despite efforts of foreign aid, people in the ‘bottom billion’ countries are “living and dying in fourteenth century conditions of civil war, plague and ignorance.” Economic growth is little to none over the last few decades and they continue to “fall behind and often fall apart.” 

Until now we have grouped five of the six billion people in the world to living in the developing world and the rest coming from the most developed countries. However, if we take a closer look, not all these countries are the same. A few are rising out of poverty becoming big players in the global market, whereas others slip further into poverty with more people diseased and dying now than half a century ago. The bottom billion, referred to as Africa +, are not explicitly listed, although they do comprise of 58 nations mainly from Africa and some from Asia and Latin America. Collier suggests the bottom billion tend to suffer from four traps: the conflict trap, the natural resource trap, landlocked with bad neighbours and bad governance in a small country. Laced with evidence-based analysis, we begin to understand why Collier calls our attention to countries that are doing far worse than what we once thought of as the developing world. 

Collier goes on to offer thought provoking solutions that may be cost effective yet institutionally challenging. He makes a point that if organizations continue sending aid to these countries and hold global meetings with new reforms/charters, than we must refocus; to narrow in on the bottom billion and widen the use of instruments, such as, military interventions, international standard-setting and trade policy. These can only be achieved through collaboration of governments and agencies across borders as well as more risk taking by increased concentration in the harshest of places. 

With countless facts and proposals to draw conclusions, Collier reminds us that real change must come from within. Is it even possible?

Review Published: October 2009

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