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The Bottom Billion

Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

By Paul Collier
15-minute read
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier

The Bottom Billion (2007) focuses on the specific problems of the 50 poorest states in the world and the traps that keep them impoverished. These states are drastically behind even developing nations and are in serious need of help from wealthier nations if they are to ever achieve economic self-determination. Drawing on his original research, Collier points out the pitfalls of the conventional methods for dealing with this extreme poverty and offers unique policy recommendations that cater to the unique struggles faced by the world’s poorest nations.

  • Anyone interested in economics
  • Anyone interested in history
  • Anyone interested in social justice

Paul Collier, formerly Director of Development Research at the World Bank, is Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford Universities and author of Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.

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The Bottom Billion

Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

By Paul Collier
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier
Synopsis

The Bottom Billion (2007) focuses on the specific problems of the 50 poorest states in the world and the traps that keep them impoverished. These states are drastically behind even developing nations and are in serious need of help from wealthier nations if they are to ever achieve economic self-determination. Drawing on his original research, Collier points out the pitfalls of the conventional methods for dealing with this extreme poverty and offers unique policy recommendations that cater to the unique struggles faced by the world’s poorest nations.

Key idea 1 of 10

For the world’s poorest countries, it is impossible to escape poverty without securing economic growth.

When watching the news, we are often met with shocking images of extreme desperation and poverty from the world’s poorest countries. We are also left wondering why they are so poor. Is it the result of conflict, corruption or lack of industry? 

While all these factors contribute to poverty, in reality the key ingredient to continual poverty is in fact poverty itself. The effects poverty has on a country, such as government corruption or poor infrastructure, make economic growth more difficult, and this lack of growth subsequently makes the country poorer. This vicious cycle is known as cyclical poverty, and economic stagnation is both its cause and effect.

War demonstrates this concept perfectly. Economic stagnation can imbue a population with desperation and hopelessness, both of which make it easier for the military or rebels to recruit, and thereby for megalomaniacs to wage war and squander resources. As an effect, war itself reduces economic growth by a factor of 2.3 percent per year, intensifying the economic stagnation that helped to fuel war in the first place.

So what measures can a country take to get itself out of cyclical poverty?

Essentially, it needs to find a way to achieve growth. Only through economic growth can the absolute poorest nations attack the roots of poverty itself: economic stagnation and the desperation that accompanies it.

But how can these nations spur economic growth? Firstly, they need to attract foreign money in the form of aid or imports. Secondly, this money needs to be directed not at the symptoms of poverty but at areas that accelerate economic growth, such as transportation infrastructure (roads and ports) or industrial development.

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