The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

Published on the heels of Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty and William Easterly’s White Man’s Burden, Paul Collier presents another, more balanced, view of the causes of and solutions to poverty in his book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It. Integrating anecdotes from his professional life as former director of development research at the World Bank and as advisor to the British government’s Commission on Africa, with rigorous econometric analysis (conducted during his current academic life as Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University), Collier focuses on the plight of the poorest billion people on the planet, the vast majority of whom reside in Africa. Collier attributes the extreme poverty of the fifty-eight countries that harbor the poorest billion individuals to one, or a combination, of four “traps”: a conflict trap, a natural resources trap, the trap of being landlocked with bad neighbors, and a poor governance trap. Together these traps are causing the divergence of the poorest nations from the rest of the world, and left to their own devices, these countries will likely end in “a ghetto of misery and discontent” (p. xi). As a whole, these countries are poorer than they were in 1970, and their people live for an average of 50 years, seventeen years less than the rest of the developing world.

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