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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Summarizes Statistical Studies of Factors Affecting Incomes for People in the Poorest Countries, 27 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It (Grove Art) (Hardcover)
Are you troubled by the grinding poverty in the poorest countries? If so, this book will give you hope that something more can be done.

How can a global economy that routinely produces new billionaires leave a billion people behind in countries where the economic prospects are bleak despite enormous spending aimed at turning things around? Obviously, the remedy isn't working. You could have figured that out for yourself without reading this book.

Professor Paul Collier takes us beyond that disquieting simplification to measure what some of the reasons are that contribute to the stalled economies in those countries (which are mostly located in sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia) where a billion people live.

The primary factors that he can isolate include frequent armed conflicts (coups, civil wars, and wars with other countries), producing high value natural resources that can be easily exported, having no access to the oceans while being surrounded by neighboring countries having a lot of problems, and poorly performing government in a small country. Armed conflicts not only take a lot of lives and do a lot of damage; armed conflicts drive people into new areas creating enormous dislocations and increased disease. Armed conflicts interrupt the ability to run a farm, a business, or to have a normal life. High value exports encourage those in government to seek payoffs from the exports while the exports drive up the value of the currency making local businesses less competitive with imports. If you are surrounded by bad neighbors, you cannot do much exporting or importing so your economy is stuck where it is. A poorly performing government simply siphons off funds into corruption.

If a poor country overcomes these problems, it has new issue: There may not be a local size sufficient to compete with other low-cost labor markets in global exports.

Give a country too much aid of the wrong kind, and you make things worse. Excess infrastructure aid (a current favorite among developed countries) leads to corruption and more spending on the military (which increases the risk of armed conflicts). Military intervention is only cost effective if those who are the peace keepers are serious and the spending is low (unlike Iraq). Laws and charters can provide guidelines that can make the subsequent actions more appropriate. Appropriate trade policies can also help open markets for those from the poorest countries.

The book concludes with a call to action to shift development spending from the middle four billion to the bottom billion while increasing reliance on influences other than sending money for aid.

I appreciated having the chance to read this book and recommend it to those who want to know what can be done to help the poorest people. I would have learned more if Professor Collier had shared more details of his research, rather than just citations of his academic works. I was particularly interested in how strong these statistical patterns are. I was also curious about the multivariate effect of these factors in the past.

I have a lot of admiration for the hard work that goes into assembling data to do this kind of work and to then find ways to draw conclusions from the data that make sense. Bravo to Professor Collier and his colleagues!

At the same time, I would encourage serious readers to also look at the problem from the ground up . . . what educated people who live in these countries can do to make things better for the most impoverished. I am highly encouraged by the work that some of my students have done in identifying how small educational and capital inputs can generate enormous numbers of successful entrepreneurs who need employees. Many of these nations lack an educational infrastructure that can produce the skilled labor and business leadership needed for rapid economic growth. It looks to me like working on providing such advanced educational opportunities could be a great way to attack these persistent problems, as well.
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