In 2001 the United Nations announced the Millennium Development Goals, pledging to end global poverty by 2015. I argued then that it needed to focus its concern on a much smaller group of countries than it had identified. There is, as I argued in The Bottom Billion, an essential difference between a poor family in China and an equally poor family in Chad. Although both enter into the global headcount of families living in extreme poverty, the poor family in China has credible hope that its children will grow up in a society of transformed opportunities: China will be part of the future global economy. Credible hope for the future of one’s children makes poverty bearable; that was the condition accepted by millions of immigrants to America. In contrast, Chad has not offered its population a credible basis for hope.That's Paul Collier in the Boston Review. Link via Amitava Kumar. Update: William Easterly launches a scathing critique.
Chad is not alone. It is one of a group of about 60 small, impoverished, post-colonial countries that “came unnatural into the world.” With neither the social unity needed for cooperation, nor the size to reap the benefits of larger scale, they are structurally unable to provide the public goods—such as security—that are critical for decent quality of life and imperative for economic development. They have diverged from the rest of mankind. They will never tap their vast reservoir of frustrated human potential unless the international community, at least for a time, supplies basic public goods that go beyond the typical aid agenda. This, stated baldly, is the thesis of my new book, Wars, Guns, and Votes. It is a troubling thesis. I have come to it reluctantly, and the international community has shied away from it, as have the societies of the bottom billion themselves.
Why is outside intervention necessary? The countries of the bottom billion are, paradoxically, too large to be nations, yet too small to be states. They are too large to be nations because, with rare exceptions, too many different peoples, with too many distinct ethnic and religious identities, live in them. This is not because they have large populations: on the contrary, the typical bottom-billion country has only a few million people. But these populations have yet to forge a strong sense of national identity that overrides older sub-national ethnic and religious identities. Considerable research shows that where sub-national identities predominate, it is more difficult for people to cooperate in providing public goods.