former head of development research at the World Bank
and current Professor of Economics at Oxford University,
sets out a broad agenda for the G8 to tackle the problems
of the (unidentified) countries at the bottom of the
Using statistics to cut through persisting preconceptions,
he analyses their problems as a series of "traps"-conflict,
natural resources, landlocked, and bad governance-before
setting out an agenda to solve them including aid,
military intervention, legal reforms and trade.
There is much to be commended in the book-especially
its accessible style and its quest to take a fresh
and facts-based approach to old controversies. Unfortunately
this does not always result in the unbiased analysis
and objective solutions that the author (and the readers)
are seeking. The importance of inequality, of geopolitics
and of history in determining both problems and solutions,
for example, is given little analytical space and
the resulting policy advice is therefore skewed.
This is most evident in the chapter on trade-one of
the most hotly contested topics in development circles.
During his time at the World Bank, the institution's
trade research was criticized as failing to take a
balanced view of the evidence, and favouring research
that suited its own policy agenda. In the Bottom Billion,
this selectivity and bias is evident.
The trade chapter opens with a three page attack on
Christian Aid and its campaign on trade justice as
part of the Make Poverty History coalition. Nowhere
is it acknowledged that many of the policies he prescribes
are similar if not identical to those of the charity-reforming
farm subsidies, ending mercantilist approaches to
trade negotiations with poor countries and better
market access for their exports.
Instead he criticizes Christian Aid, for being misled
by Marxist advisors, on the basis of advertising slogans
and an (inaccurate and) unflattering look at the credentials
of its researchers and advisors. He does not go into
the substance of the original debate that he and his
colleagues, had with Christian Aid and its advisors,
within the letters pages of the Financial Times.
In the research in question, Christian Aid estimated
GDP losses for Africa in the 1980s and 1990s due to
aggregate demand effects arising from trade deficits,
resulting from trade liberalization of that period.
The result that imports grew faster than exports,
with a reduction in net demand for domestically produced
goods and services, and national income is consistent
with historical observations and other studies carried
out by UNCTAD and the Carnegie Foundation, among others.
It is a result that is not palatable for those, like
Collier, who favour liberalization as the only trade
policy choice for developing countries, and who decry
the use of selective, outward looking protectionism.
In Collier's book, therefore, we find the usual warnings
against rent-seeking protectionists, but no examination
of its success stories, that range from the Japanese
car industry to the dairy sector in India.
The politics of trade policy is also ignored. He does
not explore the role of rich countries and his former
employer, the World Bank, in imposing economic reforms
on poor countries and in creating the problems they
now face, in harnessing trade for development. This
tradition of externally designed and driven solutions
is one of the key changes that needs to happen before
the prospects of the bottom billion can improve.