Wars, Guns, and Votes

The subtitle is Democracy in Dangerous Places and the author is Paul Collier.  Here are three bits:

Anke and I have estimated the proportion of Africa's private wealth that is held outside the region.  By 2004 it had reached the astounding figure of 36 percent: more than a third of Africa's own wealth is outside the region.


Collectively, the countries of the bottom billion are spending around $9 billion on the military, of which up to 40 percent is being financed by donors.


The history of Britain post-403 makes the post-colonial history of Africa look like a staggering success.

The key point of the book is how and why democracy doesn't work so well for the bottom billion.  The early discussion of the incentives facing quasi-democratic governments is dysfunctional societies is brilliant.  It's the best discussion I've seen of why "produce better government" is not the prevailing incentive in such societies.  You can learn why ethnic diversity lowers the value of public sector activity but raises private sector productivity, why skills for construction are often a binding constraint in very poor societies, why the social returns to peacekeeping are so high, why Kalashnikovs are cheaper in Africa, why there are fewer civil wars in larger countries, and how the Ivory Coast went from development model to disaster.

One main policy recommendation that the West should promise "coup-proof" defensive interventions to any African government which abides by real democratic elections.  Can this work?

The claimed takeaway is that African nations have too much sovereignty, not too little. 

It's not a perfect book.  Collier describes his work frequently, and fairly (he doesn't overclaim), but often I would have liked to hear more about the broader literature as well.

Paul Collier has done it again.  This will be one of the "must buy" books of this year.  Buy it here.


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