Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paul Collier's "The Plundered Planet"

Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University and a former director of Development Research at the World Bank. In addition to the award-winning The Bottom Billion, he is the author of Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Plundered Planet: Why We Must--and How We Can--Manage Nature for Global Prosperity, and reported the following:
By good fortune, page 99 really matters.

The Plundered Planet is about the mismanagement of nature’s assets. The romantic environmentalists have seized the high ground, arguing that nature should be preserved. But often we can do better by using up natural assets and converting them into more productive assets such as schools, ports and factories. Our ethical responsibility to future generations is not to preserve, but to pass on at least the equivalent value of any natural assets we use. For the poorest societies – the bottom billion – this distinction is truly important because their natural assets are so valuable. If poor countries have to preserve nature rather than harness it they will lose their main opportunity for prosperity. We are the custodians of value, not the curators of artifacts. This is the key ethical proposition of the book and page 99 has a clear statement of it.

But more happens on page 99: are the governments of the bottom billion behaving ethically in their use of natural assets? Are they handing on to the future the equivalent value of the natural assets they deplete? If not they are living unsustainably. The punch line of the page is that most of them fall far short of this ethical standard. They save and invest very little of the revenues generated by natural resource extraction.

So much for page 99: what goes on it the rest of the book? A lot in a short space, I think. I try to show that the same ethical challenge arises across a range of superficially different issues concerning nature, such as climate change and fishing, as well as resource extraction. Yet nature has been moralized before it has been analyzed. It arouses deep passions, but the underlying economics is badly misunderstood. I wrote the book to help build a critical mass of informed opinion. I think it is my best book. Please read it.
Listen to The Plundered Planet podcasts, and learn more about the book and author at Paul Collier's website.

Read J. Tyler Dickovick's interview with Collier about his award-winning book, The Bottom Billion.

The Page 99 Test: The Bottom Billion.

--Marshal Zeringue