A leading expert on the economics of developing nations spells out his prescriptions for solving problems that haven’t been fixed by democracy.
Collier (Economics/Oxford Univ.; The Bottom Billion, 2007, etc.) combines scholarly analysis with an engaging writing style to quantify why elections and other manifestations of free societies have been far from a panacea for much of the world. Developed, affluent countries can deal with the messiness and inefficiency that accompany a democratic system, but he shows that many poorer nations are too structurally dangerous to handle these things. After examining economic and voting data to find out why liberal democracy has fallen short, he concludes that the main culprits include tribal warfare, autocratic leaders’ tendency toward corruption and insufficient democratic tradition. He focuses on Africa, Asia and Latin America, using case studies from those regions and anecdotes gleaned from personal conversations with officials in several countries. He doesn’t discuss the Iraq War much but provides a withering critique of the mindset that led to it. Though sometimes lapsing into academic jargon, the author succeeds in making his material accessible to general readers. Those with knowledge of economics and international affairs, however, will be at an advantage. Collier’s goal is to make the case for additional involvement, preferably by the United Nations, to fill the gaps caused by democratic shortcomings. He realizes this is a hard sell: “The key idea is that a minimal international intervention could unleash the powerful force of the political violence internal to the bottom billion as a force for good instead of harm. As such it recognizes that the scope for robust international action is very, very limited.” His proposals include more international efforts to ensure fair elections and fiscal restraint and to discourage poor countries from spending too much on defense.
Rigorous analyses plus policy prescriptions make for a readable treatise.