More About the Billion People Trapped in Poverty
Vladimir Lenin called those who helped him expand his ideology throughout the Western world “useful idiots.” According to Paul Collier, those who say they are working to eradicate poverty, but at the same time come out against free trade among poor and rich countries and favor unconditional transfers [of resources] to poor governments, are simply idiots.
Paul Collier is an expert on development issues who, in the field of ideas, has fought different myths about poverty. Myths are very convenient for politicians and bureaucrats, but highly prejudicial for people. The Bottom Billion offers interesting perspectives that contradict the prevailing “wisdom” about poverty.
Some of Collier’s strongest arguments include: 1) incomplete democracy can be more economically harmful than a dictatorship, although at no time does he defend dictatorships; 2) transfers of resources from rich to poor countries can be counterproductive; 3) for similar reasons, a wealth of natural resources can become a curse for underdeveloped countries; 4) free trade between poor and rich countries is good for the former; in contrast, free trade among poor countries can be catastrophic; and 5) the most effective counterweight to abuses of power is freedom of the press.
Countries often get stuck in poverty because of one of the four traps of underdevelopment: 1) armed conflict; 2) abundance of natural resources; 3) being landlocked; and 4) bad governance. Only traps 2) and 4) affect most of Latin America —and how!
The book offers well-founded recommendations, four instruments for combating under-development effectively: 1) International standards; 2) Trade policies; 3) Financial transfers; and 4) Security and armed intervention (to prevent genocide). In our hemisphere, we have a great opportunity to use the first and the second kind of instruments. In my opinion, there is no place for armed intervention under any circumstances.
About the Checks and Balances of a Democracy
It is worthwhile delving deeper into this topic given that in Latin America we run the risk of ending up with less-than-perfect democracies: this system of government must go beyond just holding elections to guarantee general well-being.
Democracy must foster transparency. Otherwise, it will only engender a patronage system that condemns countries to underdevelopment (by a patronage system, the author is referring to buying votes in different ways).
Democracy must appropriately answer two questions: Who must accede to power? Whoever has the largest number of votes. And the other, equally important question, which is: How should power be wielded? With restrictions, through checks and balances.
Political scientists have identified 17 important checks, and among them, Collier underlines the freedom of press and of expression. Their importance explains the coercion of the media in certain countries that quickly tend toward authoritarianism. The first thing a dictator does is to silence the independent media. In Mexico, our freedom of expression has been impaired with impunity by the three large political parties, which have reserved for themselves the exclusive right to acquire broadcast airtime to deal with political issues that affect us all.