The Bottom Billion

The Bottom Billion (2007) is Paul Collier’s look at the poorest parts of the developing world. Collier is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Oxford and director of Centre for the Study of African Economics.

Collier thinks that the world can be divided into the developed world, the developing world and the Bottom Billion, which is 58 countries that have grown very slowly over the years since 1970. He identifies 4 traps that stop these countries developing. They are Conflict, natural resources, landlocked with bad neighbours and bad governance in a small country.

It would be interesting to see if you had written the book in 1980 or 1990 how a grouping of the bottom countries would have looked and to ponder if there had been a bottom 1, 2 or 3 billion if the recent rapid growth of India and China would show that the grouping didn’t really hold.

The traps identified are also interesting. In particular the alleged resource curse is curious. Few people would describe countries with lots of oil that are developing or developed such as the Gulf States as stuck in a resource trap.

The book describes numerous statistical relationships that have been found by Collier and his students. These are not a strong point. They have been described by William Easterly as shaky arguments based on using correlation to show causation.

The book has a great deal of interesting information in it however and some good quotes. It’s remarkable to see how those interested in developing countries are suspicious of growth and trade. Collier writes “And when I give the message to an NGO audience they get uneasy for a different reason. Many of them do not want to believe that for the majority of the developing world capitalism is working” and that “The constituency for aid is suspicious of growth, and the constituency for growth is suspicious of aid”. Remarkably Collier states that the most controversial paper he wrote at the World Bank was one called “Growth is Good.”

The Bottom Billion is very much worth reading for anyone interested in development economics. It’s a well written book by a world expert on development economics.

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