Book Review: “The Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier


In my quest to learn more about how aid has influenced global development, I recently finished reading Paul Collier’s, The Bottom Billion. Collier first looks at the reasons why the world’s poorest, which he calls the bottom billion, have not succeeded in climbing out of extreme poverty: conflict, resources, bad governance, and landlocked with bad neighbors. Collier then looks at the different tools he believes can be leveraged to eradicate extreme poverty: aid; military intervention; laws, statutes, and charters; and trade. Finally, he outlines how these four tools can address the challenges of each poverty trap.

Some points that particularly stuck with me:

  • By design, the international development community has been organized to use aid as the primary tool to combat global poverty.

The power of international trade as a tool towards economic growth (and consequently, away from extreme poverty) has been demonstrated throughout the world. Of course, not all countries have benefited from globalization. The development community needs to change in order to complement and collaborate with the private sector. Structurally, how can this be done?

  • Until a large enough wage gap exists between Developing Asia, it’ll take decades before the poorest countries can begin to compete globally in international trade.

Even if large wage gaps existed in Developing Asia, other aspects such as a lack of economies of agglomeration and poor infrastructure will ensure that it’ll likely take even more years before countries in the bottom billion can be attractive alternatives for manufacturing, or for commerce and trade. Aside from policies and charters, which Collier prescribes, what else can be done NOW to better incorporate these countries into global trade?