The Bottom Billion

Niall Ferguson favorably reviews Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (while taking swipes at Jeffrey Sachs in the process). In the NYT:

Now comes another white man, ready to shoulder the burden of saving Africa: Paul Collier, the director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. A former World Bank economist like Easterly, Collier shares his onetime colleague’s aversion to what he calls the “headless heart” syndrome — meaning the tendency of people in rich countries to approach Africa’s problems with more emotion than empirical evidence. It was Collier who pointed out that nearly two-fifths of Africa’s private wealth is held abroad, much of it in Swiss bank accounts. It was he who exposed the British charity Christian Aid for commissioning dubious Marxist research on free trade. And it was he who pioneered a new and unsentimental approach to the study of civil wars, demonstrating that most rebels in sub-Saharan Africa are not heroic freedom fighters but self-interested brigands.

Collier is certainly much closer to Easterly on the question of aid. (He cites a recent survey that tracked money released by the Chad Ministry of Finance to help rural health clinics. Less than 1 percent reached the clinics.) Yet “The Bottom Billion” proves to be a far more constructive work than “The White Man’s Burden.” Like Sachs, Collier believes rich countries really can do something for Africa. But it involves more — much more — than handouts.

Dani Rodrik notes, ‘Ferguson himself has long been a proponent of benign imperialism, so it is not difficult to see why he likes this particular prescription. [Rodrik cites Fergueson, “Reflecting on the tendency of postconflict countries to lapse back into civil war, he [Collier] argues trenchantly for occasional foreign interventions in failed states. “] But it is hard not to keep in mind “the ruins of Operation Iraqi Freedom” when thinking about the efficacy and desirability of this option.’