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The Bottom Billion

Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it

Approximately 1 billion people in the world are considered the poorest of the poor. Economist Paul Collier dubs them "The Bottom Billion." He offers systemic reforms that must occur if the poor are to be lifted out of their various traps. Read The Bottom Billion.

EXCERPT: Falling Behind and Falling Apart: The Bottom Billion

The countries at the bottom coexist with the twenty-first century, but their reality is the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance. They are concentrated in Africa and Central Asia, with a scattering elsewhere. Even during the 1990s, in retrospect the golden decade between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, incomes in this group declined by 5 percent. We must learn to turn the familiar numbers upside down: a total of five billion people who are already prosperous, or at least are on track to be so, and one billion who are stuck at the bottom.

This problem matters, and not just to the billion people who are living and dying in the fourteenth-century conditions. It matters to us. The twenty-first-century world of material comfort, global travel, and economic interdependence will become increasingly vulnerable to these large islands of chaos. And it matters now. As the bottom billion diverges from an increasingly sophisticated world economy, integration will become harder, not easier.