I said I would read Paul Collier as a corrective to William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden” (and AidWatch), so I picked up “The Bottom Billion”. The contrast wasn’t actually as great as I anticipated, which just goes to show how my thinking is warped by dichotomies. I haven’t read enough to say much in detail, but there is a nice anecdote to share. He mentions near the beginning that the World Bank has large offices in every middle-income country but not a single person in the Central African Republic. He knows this from experience as there was a large crowd to meet him at the airport when he visited the country in 2002. Nobody visits the C.A.R (though they may get their officials from neighboring African countries). He asked the government what country they would like the C.A.R to be in 20 years and they decided on Burkina Faso.

There’s interesting bits from his research on things like what conditions make a country prone to violent conflict (not the usual “root causes”, as even sociologists have found). I didn’t notice anything to diminish Easterly’s critique of examining countries that failed to grow and wound up on the bottom and concluding they are “trapped”, unlike other countries which had been poor & low-growth but subsequently grew and became richer. I think that’s called sampling on the dependent variable. I also came away with the suspicion that he had a bad experience in the “Oxford Revolutionary Socialist Students” that led him to look down on other radicals & fellow-travelers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! It adds a bit of character when he says in a parenthetical of the tremendous turnaround in China after its feted Chairman, “Mao made his own invaluable contribution by dropping dead”. We can all do our part.