Omid Memarian

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Bottom Billion: A One Billion Ghetto
My notes on Paul Collier's latest Book...

There are not too many academic books these days that entice the reader from beginning to end --expect perhaps books by Chalmers Johnson. The Bottom Million is one of the books that also fit into this category, especially for activists, journalists and scholars who have followed development concepts in underdeveloped or developing countries. The book rings true for people who have experienced the failure of international agencies in eliminating poverty and bringing hope to communities. (Watch Fareed Zakaria's interview with the author here)

Paul Collier, the author, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, has pinpointed this very alarming issue: A one billion ghetto. He makes the distinction between the countries which are “falling behind” and countries which are “falling apart”. This is a key issue in studying the development models and solutions which are presented by international agencies such as World Bank, IMF, and or United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Also, it challenges some of the United Nations’ programs including Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and UNDP on Good Governance, which has been a focus of its action plan in the past few years. Mainly because most of these programs are based on the government’s collaborations and engagements’ of civil society; however, in many of the very poor countries, the society suffers from a weak state and an incompetent public sector.

Collier distinguishes countries which have been fallen apart from the development train and explains how there is no hope for their growth, at least anytime soon, and we see how there is a need to review many of these plans and prioritize the urgency of actions toward some countries which are fighting, which is producing horrendous side affects of underdevelopment such as poverty, increased ignorance, and civil war. It becomes clear that MDG’s deadline in 2115 will be an outdated method.

The book cleverly provides the big picture to the reader without interrupting the flow by giving figures and footnotes which do not help the reader in understanding the main message.
One criticism of the book is that although the author introduces new terms based on his research with and academic background in the World Bank and Oxford University, he doesn’t provide a basis of his categorizations or further direction.

The book insists that it is trying to raise questions, but not give solutions. However, Collier talks about some of the unsuccessful methods which have been used to help such countries like giving them money or military intervention and or trade.

A key concept he raises is why people in the industrialized countries should think about “the Billion Bottom”: He briefly mentions that such a falling apart will be a “security nightmare” for people’s children in the future and then asks for “building a unity of purpose” which tries to “change the thinking” toward development.

The book raises the awareness that there are more than 58 countries in Central Asia and Africa where people are living in 14th century conditions and suffer from four “traps”: Conflict, resources, being landlocked with bad neighbors, and bag governance. The Kabila example in Zaire is an example where a small army could be hired with 10,000 dollars or Malawi, the poorest country on the continent and or planet which without any civil war has been experiencing the lowest growth in the history of humankind.

In Chapter four, different aspects of the civil war are discussed and at the end the author argues that growth is a key element for the society to get rid of the “conflict trap”. He says that sometimes peace cannot be achieved domestically and, in my opinion, believes that sometimes intervention could be an option to avoid other conflicts: “That’s why it matters for the G8 policy.”
The relationship between immigration and the billion bottoms also describe the nature of such countries which will face deeper challenges by losing their “human capitals.”

Collier reviews the aid process, military interventions and other means that could be used for breaking the traps. Although the book does not focus deeply on the cause and effects of this phenomenon, it addresses a very important issue which seems to go unnoticed by development experts and agencies. Something which does not catch any attention, because of its ugly nature, but an issue that needed to be talked about more and more for the sake of human being that share a similar destiny.

To some extent, the book appears as a guidebook since it provides some solutions, and criticizes other methods used to eliminate poverty and help underdeveloped countries to go forward.

- Smart Samaritans Michael A. Clemens, From Foreign Affairs,
September/October 2007 (This is a very in depth review of the book.)

- The aid evasion: raising the “bottom billion- Paul Collier, Open Democracy

Aid made the G8 headlines, but it is a sideshow alongside the real-world anti-poverty measures of people in Africa..

- Action will speak louder than words-Guadian
Paul Collier's polemical The Bottom Billion gets past the wristbands and slogans to the harsh realities of world poverty, says Heather Stewart Sunday June 10, 2007The Observer

-The Least Among Us -New york Times
Collier’s title refers to the 980 million people living in what he calls “trapped countries,” those that are “clearly heading toward what might be described as a black hole.”

- How the Bottom Billion Live- Time
In the slums of the Third World, a daily battle against hunger, disease and the elements is waged, and it is much the same in Rio's favelas as in Calcutta's bustees.


-The Bottom Billion - London Book
- The Bottom Billion review Non-fiction book reviews - Times Online
- New Statesman - Escaping the poverty trap


At 12:28 PM , Blogger setareh Masoumbeiki said...

Although I agree with some of Collier’s ideas (which show itself especially in a comparison with Easterly) about the bottom billion, I just don’t understand how a “new way of looking” leads us to IMF and mostly to the trust we must have in the World Bank…

At 3:47 PM , Anonymous willmck said...

I am reading a book by a young American who traveled in Iran and repeatedly says how different the attitudes of younger people are from the regime and the mullahs. I do not wish to be disrespectful to anyone or anything. I just joined FRIENDSTER (Internet) today in hopes of cultivating dialogue with people in Iran and other countries, for I'm sure there are important differences with our respective governments and 'the people'. If you have the time, opportunity and interest, I would be most pleased to hear from you or anyone in Iran or in any country we Americans label as enemies. - Will


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