Max Stone's Reviews > The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier
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's review
Oct 28, 07

Read in December, 2007

Overall a good book serving a unfilled niche. Generally books on the topic of how various actions (in particular aid) affect developing nations are either screeds about how developed countries need to give 10 times as much aid (Jeff Sachs, e.g. in his book End of Poverty), or polemics about how most or all aid is useless or even destructive (Easterly). There has been a remarkable lack of books (at least that I have seen) taking a middle road on these topics, as this book attempts to do. As such it already has the instant at least semi-credibility of a non-polemic. (fwiw, I tend to be naturally more in Sachs camp, although not entirely, and have always struggled to know what to believe given that his writing is pretty much all to convince the reader of a particular point of view).

In addition, its arguments pro and con various things tend to seem reasonable and in many cases were things I hadn't considered before, e.g.
(a) how general budget aid is in many ways similar to natural resource wealth and hence has certain negatives (e.g. dutch disease), and
(b) how providing foreign expertise (whether medical, economic, or otherwise) might be a good form of aid (doesn't suffer from dutch disease; in certain circumstances is the most needed thing) even though it has horrible PR (e.g. Sachs might say it is not real aid since it is paying the relatively expensive salaries of foreign aid tearms).

One problem I had with the book is that he is constantly, and I really mean *constantly*, referencing his own research (including unpublished, i.e. not yet peer reviewed, stuff). In the end there is not a bibliography in the standard sense but rather a list of his own research pieces which are relevant (i.e. literally nothing that doesn't include him as an author). That would be ok (although still not great) in a book about his research on the topic, but if the purpose is to provide an objective view of what is known on the topic to the lay reader (and I think that is the purpose), it seems bad, in that it is impossible to believe that all good research on the topic was done by him.

But overall a good book. And not too long, which I think is important (at least I would much rather read 200-300 pages on the topic than 1000 pages, at least from a single author).


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