The "Bottom Billion" Economist Answers Your Questions
Last week, we solicited your questions for award-winning Oxford University economist Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and the just-published Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.
In his answers below, Collier talks about why the impact of colonialism on Africa is exaggerated, how African countries are “too big to be nations, yet too small to be states,” and his belief that the I.Q. of a country’s citizens is “not closely related to the performance of an economy.”
Readers came through with great questions, and there is much to learn and admire in Collier’s answers. Thanks to all involved. (Here, by the way, are our past Q&A’s; send suggestions for future Q&A’s here.)
To what extent can the root causes of the gap between Western and African economic output be traced to cultural differences such as the rule of law, individualism, capitalism, and representative democracy? To what extent is African poverty a result of European colonialism and to what extent was European colonialism possible because of African poverty? Chicken or egg? — Mark Tueting
I am doubtful of cultural explanations. In South Korea people used to shuffle along the sidewalks; now they rush. The value of time has increased. East Asia was diagnosed as being incapable of development because of Confucian ethics!
I think that the continuing impact of colonialism on Africa is exaggerated. Ethiopia virtually escaped it and hasn’t done much better than the others — same with Sierra Leone and Liberia. European colonialism was helped militarily by African poverty, but the poverty also kept Europeans away. Take the Italians for example: only 3,000 settlers in their colony of Eritrea, versus vastly more emigrants to America.
What activities/goods/services are cheap in the first world but expensive in Africa, and why? Please answer this question from both a consumer’s perspective and from a business owner’s perspective.
— William Cross
Anything that is imported because of tariffs and monopoly distribution channels. Many services are badly organized such as retail distribution. On the other hand, some e-services are very good value in Africa.
What impact will the current recession have on the poorest/bottom billion? What policy intervention by Western/poor-country governments would make a significant difference and is realistic to expect?
— Rachel Eden
Recession: very different transmission channels, remittances down hit ordinary households, and the drop in commodity prices hits government revenues. But it is not all doom and gloom; Africa will still grow, unlike the U.S. and the U.K.
Policy intervention: a really easy one would be to require our banks, plus the tax-haven banks, to be as transparent about corrupt money deposited in them as about money linked to terrorism.
What do you think of Dambisa Moyo‘s argument that foreign aid to Africa should be reduced because it engenders dependency and undermines entrepreneurship? — Frank
Dambisa was my student, and I am delighted that young Africans are no longer prepared to have their continent defined by victimhood. They recognize that Africans can shape their own future. However, I don’t agree with her that aid is useless. Especially with the drying up of private finance, now is the hour for public international money; it is needed. It is, however, often badly used.
As an American citizen, what actions can I take to improve conditions for the bottom billion? Is there federal legislation I can advocate for or a charity I can donate to? — Kathleen Lisson
Legislation: extend the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Charities: Kiva and lots of exciting social enterprise. WorldVision is pretty sensible in my experience.
Do you think a lot of the countries in Africa are too small or too big (too many different cultures, identities, and tribes) to ever be able to function properly? — Neil Mc
Neil, this is the punchline from my new book, Wars, Guns, and Votes: Too big to be nations, yet too small to be states. So sadly, yes, I agree.
What do you think of Richard Lynn‘s findings about race differences in intelligence and their relatedness to Africa’s continuing state of underdevelopment? In his work, Mr. Lynn compiled the results of numerous studies which appear to show fairly unambiguously that average I.Q.’s in sub-Saharan Africa are below 70. Studies furthermore show that this disadvantage is almost certainly inherited genetically. — Denis Bider
I don’t know this stuff and don’t want to. But I am just about prepared to believe that the average Chinese person is smarter than the average Englishman. Despite this, the average Englishman is more than 10 times richer than the average Chinese person — so intelligence is manifestly not closely related to the performance of an economy.
With the exception of some very mountainous countries (Switzerland, Bhutan, etc.), almost all successful countries have had some amount of coastal land. There are several land-locked African nations; do you think there is any hope that they can develop successfully without coastal access? If not, how could this problem be addressed? — Kevin MN
I think that this is a very severe problem. They should not have become countries, but they have, so we need something more helpful. E-services, plus much better transport links to the coast would help.