Monday, September 22, 2008

Collier calls for “Decade of the Bottom Billion”

Paul Collier calls for a vigorous pursuit of MDGs, increase in aid, and offering a sense of hope to help the bottom billion. In the wake of UN General Assembly starting today, he questions why the UN did not did not act to set international guidelines on taxation and investment in resource rich poor countries, why it did not intervene in Mauritania when a coup was staged recently, why it does not do anything on biofuel scam and the prospects of genetically modified seeds in Africa, etc. As always, Collier’s pieces are thought-provoking, lucid, and to the point.

…Hope makes a difference in people’s ability to tolerate poverty; parents are willing to sacrifice as long as their children have a future. Our top priority should be to provide credible hope where it has been lacking. The African countries in the bottom billion have missed out on the prolonged period of global growth that the rest of the world has experienced. The United Nations’ goal should not be to help the poor in fast-growing and middle-income countries; it should do its utmost to help the bottom billion to catch up. Anti-poverty efforts should be focused on the 60 or so countries — most of them in Africa — that are both poor and persistently slow-growing.

A further weakness with the Millennium Development Goals is that they are devoid of strategy; their only remedy is more aid. I am not hostile to aid. I think we should increase it, though given the looming recession in Europe and North America, I doubt we will. But other policies on governance, agriculture, security and trade could be used to potent effect.

…Why, also, did the United Nations not intervene militarily when the democratic government of Mauritania, another country in the bottom billion, was overthrown by a coup last month? Where is an alternative initiative to open international trade to poor countries now that the Doha round talks have collapsed? Above all, with a five-year-old commodities boom transferring wealth to some of the countries of the bottom billion, where are the international guidelines on taxation and investment that might help these countries convert earnings from exports of depleting minerals into productive assets like roads and schools?

…We need not just a “Year of the Bottom Billion,” but several decades. This session of the United Nations is an appropriate moment to get started.