Monday, July 02, 2007

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Falling

Featured Speakers: Paul Collier, Author

Paul Collier explained his new book, “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing,” which explores the plight of the approximately one billion people who are at the bottom of the “economic pyramid.” Collier explained that the popular view of global poverty dictates that we live in a world where there are 1 billion people that live in developed countries, while there are 5 billion people that live in under-developed countries. But according to Collier, along with the 1 billion in the developed world, there are four billion people who live in rapidly growing countries. This leaves a smaller group of 1 billion people at the bottom of the social pyramid, and for this group, there is little hope of their living standard improving.

The pressing issue facing aid organizations, according to Collier, is to figure out why globalization and development have not been able to work for these people. Collier’s answer is that there are a series of traps preventing these countries, mostly in Africa, from developing. Collier cited specific statistic evidence to support this hypothesis, showing how conflict, geography, governance, and mineral riches have stunted the growth of certain economies. Because of these problems, the countries inhabited by these one billion are actually regressing, and Collier argued that while this is obviously bad for the people of these countries—it is also a problem for people of every country.

The problem arises because helping the poorest groups of people takes lots of time and resources. Therefore, one often sees faster results when working with groups of poor people that are already better off. In many African nations, civil conflict, endemic corruption, and incompetent governments erase the benefits of any aid. To combat these challenges, Collier advocates a series of measures that encourage aid that focuses on the poorest of the poor. These measures include: international support for any reformist who gains political office in these countries; favorable trade agreements to jump-start failing economies; universally accepted international standards for aid; and international support for military intervention.

Sponsor: The Center for Strategic and International Studies
Location: 1800 K St. NW, Washington DC
Date: June 26, 2007
Time: 4:30 pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 30
Intern Attending: Peter Laidlaw

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