Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recolonization vs. State Sovereignty ?

The Boston Review (July/August 2009 issue) includes a forum on global poverty and intervention: Development in dangerous places , centered on the Paul Collier’s thesis.

In The Bottom Billion and in his new book Wars, Guns, and Votes he claims that about a billion human beings, living in a group of about 60 small, impoverished, post-colonial countries that “came unnatural into the world” but were created artificially by colonial rulers – and mostly in Africa - have no chance of getting out of the poverty trap if internationally unaided.

“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. (…) unless the international community, at least for a time, supplies basic public goods that go beyond the typical aid agenda.”

“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”, he adds.

These countries are too large, and heterogeneous, to be nations and too small to be efficient states. Indeed these small “unnatural” states that were created by departing colonial powers fail to provide security and accountability. Where sub-national identities predominate, it is more difficult for people to cooperate in providing public goods.

In medieval Europe, local rulers who ran such tiny proto-states competed over time in a Darwinian struggle that led to the building of larger and more efficient states, but the process took several centuries of incessant external and civil wars.

These “bottom billion” countries are mostly too small to be viable states and are rife with civil wars, the costs of which are enormous. And given the reluctance of these countries to pool sovereignty within neighborhoods, the only alternative is a phase of international assistance in the provision of vital public goods, security and accountability.

Read the complete article here, and the criticisms of William Easterly Easterly here .

Interesting comments by Larry Diamond, Stephen D. Krasner and others are published in the same forum.

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