Friday, August 10, 2007

Small book confronts big problems

Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion has many attractive qualities. Start with the title. We live in times whan most of the world is advancing but many are still missing the boat and Collier has identified them. He refers to "Africa+", much of sub-Saharan Africa, plus various unfortunate places, including Haiti, Bolivia, the Central Asian countries, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Burma and North Korea.

Next he identifies his target audience, those who have anything to do with G-8 policy towards the developing countries -- and who share some of the blame for getting it wrong.

Then he brings to bear the best of social science, research equally grounded in academic rigor and on-site experience.

Finally, he distills it all (he finds four "traps" and suggests plausible antidotes) and writes about it with exceptional clarity. Collier identifies the Conflict Trap, the Natural Resources Trap, Landlocked with Bad Neighbors, and Bad Governance. His discussions of the antidotes are compelling.

This morning's WSJ includes "The Kids Are All Right. It turns out that 53% of high school seniors taking the NAEP's econ exam answered (b) to: "Which has been most important in reducing poverty over time: a) taxes, b) economic growth, c) international trade, d) government regulation?"

If they have made it that far, they should be able to grasp Collier's arguments. And then they may appreciate that there is more to be done about the problem of world poverty than attending rock concerts.