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The Plundered Planet: Why We Must–and How We Can–Manage Nature for Global Prosperity

The Plundered Planet: Why We Must–and How We Can–Manage Nature for Global Prosperity

Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion was greeted as groundbreaking when it appeared in 2007, winning the Estoril Distinguished Book Prize, the Arthur Ross Book Award, and the Lionel Gelber Prize. Now, in The Plundered Planet, Collier builds upon his renowned work on developing countries and the world’s poorest populations to confront the global mismanagement of natural resources.

Proper stewardship of natural assets and liabilities is a matter of planetary urgency: natural resources have the potential either to transform the poorest countries or to tear them apart, while the carbon emissions and agricultural follies of the developed world could further impoverish them. The Plundered Planet charts a course between unchecked profiteering on the one hand and environmental romanticism on the other to offer realistic and sustainable solutions to dauntingly complex issues.

Grounded in a belief in the power of informed citizens, Collier proposes a series of international standards that would help poor countries rich in natural assets better manage those resources, policy changes that would raise world food supply, and a clear-headed approach to climate change that acknowledges the benefits of industrialization while addressing the need for alternatives to carbon trading. Revealing how all of these forces interconnect, The Plundered Planet charts a way forward to avoid the mismanagement of the natural world that threatens our future.

List Price: $ 16.95

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Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful 4.0 out of 5 stars
A couple of major flaws here, September 3, 2010 By  E. N. Anderson (Riverside, CA USA) – See all my reviews
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On the whole, this is a good book. It reads well, does not try to cover too much, and uses common sense instead of economic doublespeak or theories pushed beyond their limit. Collier has a valuable mix of ethics and economics: he sees the need to help people, first of all, and, second, to be fair about it; and that means that we see ourselves as custodians of resources for the future.
He is especially good on macroeconomics and national policy, and on the problems of corruption–the “plunder” side of the equation. The middle part of the book, where he dissects this in detail, is by far the best.
He has many good things to say about one of my research areas, fisheries, where we are depleting a resource that should be sustainable, and therefore depriving future generations through sheer irresponsibility. Unfortunately, his cure is to leave fishery regulation to the United Nations and the individual nations that hold territorial waters. The United Nations does not even stop genocide; they saw fit to elect China and Sudan to the Human Rights Commission and then re-elect them. The chances that fish will get better care are somewhat remote.
Collier defends GM crops, nuclear energy generation, and some other things that will raise hackles; I agree with him and the facts are pretty much there, but one must worry about the future with the GM crops, since they are poorly regulated so far.
Collier leaves out two key points that he absolutely needs, to make his case. One is population growth. The delusion that population will naturally stop growing around 2050–a false claim–may have deluded him. In fact, world population is growing far too fast. This could be stopped without any draconian measures, simply by giving girls some education–every year in primary school reduces ultimate birth numbers–and by providing comprehensive health care including family planning options. That done, people are sensible enough to make the right decisions.
Next comes the worldwide decline in good farmland. Urbanization, including building of roads and airports, is a lot of the problem. Erosion and desertification is the rest of it. At current rates of urbanization, my home state of California will lose its last farm around 2050, and China will lose its last one within a century or so. China is moving its agriculture to Brazil, Sudan, and so on–what will the Brazilians and Sudanese eat in the end?
In one place, Collier is wrong, and is so wrong that I find it mystifying: he argues for large-scale agribusiness as opposed to small farms. He holds up the model of the impoverished, capital-less African smallholding or the “romantic” organic hobby farm as the only alternatives! What happened to normal small-to-medium-sized commercial agriculture? There are thousands of studies, over 300 years, using literally tens of millions of data points, that show these are better than large-scale absentee-landlord agribusiness of the Brazil/California style. One can go all the way back to Arthur Young in the 1770s, already proving it. Collier even talked to Hans Binswanger, whom he admits is “the leading international expert on African agriculture” (and, one may add, on some other ag issues), and Binswanger tried to set him straight; but Collier disagrees. One need only read Binswanger’s work–or Robert Netting’s, or any of a thousand other authors–to see that reasonably-capitalized, intensive, family farming or comparable middle-scale intensive farming is what works. Agribusiness ruins the land and has appalling social consequences; we see a lot of this in California, where, most recently, agribusiness ruined the vast and fertile Tulare Basin by allowing salinization, and now a family farmer is reclaiming a chunk of it through sheer hard work.
Or take my own Mexican research: Maya Indian farmers on tiny plots succeed where every agribusiness effort has failed, in the harsh habitat of the Yucatan peninsula. Hard work and skill will generally beat absentee landlordship and careless use of heavy-duty capital, especially in an environment really needed that skill.

 
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful 5.0 out of 5 stars
Prosperity or plunder – Treating natural assets: a thought provoking discussion, April 22, 2010 By  Jijnasu Forever (Lynnfield, MA) – See all my reviews
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Collier provides a engaging debate on “tension between prosperity and plunder”. In a sense, he picks up where he left off in The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Here, the focus is on how Nature can be “harnessed to transform” poor societies without overly burdening others. Whether this comes across as an excellent philosophical framing or an over-constrained optimization problem (sorry, geek speak) will determine how well you like this book.

In Part I, Collier uses cutesy but effective algebra employing nature, technology and regulation to show how unique combinations of these results in hunger, plunder or prosperity. The ensuing discussion on ownership v/s custody of natural assets and utilitarianism/propinquity provides a novel way to frame one’s ethical and economic responsibilities in the context of environmentalism. In Part II, Collier expands on some of his assertions from Bottom Billion and explains the “resource curse” notion focusing on issues around treating Nature as an asset. Part III discusses his views on what he terms as “plunder” of natural assets. Overall, these two parts form an interesting debate grounded in economic theories (without being overly dry) and serves as an assessment of the different stakeholders in “natural asset extraction”. Part IV is more of a cautionary advice to the general population. Collier admits that his thesis that Nature can be entrusted to “values of ordinary citizens” is conditional on their ability not to be misled into beliefs that may be ‘comforting, but ultimately destructive’. He then lists three “giants of romanticism” that need to be addressed (fascination with peasant agriculture, ban on genetically modified food, and food-for-fuel). Needless to say, Part IV is likely to face the brunt of criticisms (theoretical or rhetorical), given the amount of popular books on sustainable farming, and clean energy enthusiasts for ethanol, etc. When he discusses political viewpoints (mostly US-centric), a reader cannot deny the balanced approach.

It is challenging to pick a few chapters that are standouts – each one is very successful in articulating a well-focussed message. Be it the discussions around aid policies to mitigate ‘commodity shocks’, incentivizing investments in Africa, or conflicting constraints on asset exploration, Collier explains economic theories and observations in an accessible manner.

Students of the discipline may find plenty to debate, but that’s a good thing. Assumptions regarding taxation, inflation, etc pretty much never appears to have been factored in, for example. Whether or not one agrees with Collier’s assertions and hypotheses, one cannot disagree that Collier manages to provoke serious reflection and is more often than not successful in reframing the discussion. This book will provide a reader a logical/rational approach towards environmentalism – stripped from the extreme romanticism or reliance on moralism. I rate the book 5* mostly for this: framing the discussion in a thoughtful way (despite the reluctance in supporting his ‘solutions’ wholeheartedly).

It is disappointing to see that one of the leading voices in Economics writes a thought provoking book without any citations or very few additional resources for the more curious reader. Nevertheless, this is an engaging and informative read (..so much so that I took a day off to read the book the day I received it) that will cement Collier’s position as a thought leader. A must read.

 
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful 3.0 out of 5 stars
Good, but could use a different title and a professional writer, June 25, 2010 By  Amazon Customer (Anchorage, AK) – See all my reviews
This is an interesting book about the economics of resource development and who is most likely to benefit from it. It also has an informative discussion, at least from the viewpoint of an economist, on how best to manage natural resources. I had a few problems with the book though:

– The title is misleading. It should really be “How to Plunder the Planet while Paying Attention to the Fact that we Should Consider our Children’s Needs to Plunder the Planet” or something like that.

– The book is written from the viewpoint of an economist that believes that all of Nature is there for humans to use as they see fit. While I don’t entirely disagree with this concept, I think this author is disdainful of the importance of Nature as something we rely on for our psychological health, not just our monetary health.

– While the author does refer to a web page for his research sources, the only references he sites are his own writings and the writings of a few close colleagues from what I can tell. As a layperson trying to gather more information on this topic, I think he could have done better in the book itself.

– The author is a good writer but his writing is that of a researcher. While his text is readable, he repeats himself, writes confusing sentences, and generally could use the help of a professional writer to improve his effectiveness in communicating with people like me.

If you are interested in having a better understanding of the economic policies that drive resource development and how to improve things for the benefit of poor populations, this is a good book. If you are looking for information on how to create sustainable resource development, this author has some ideas, but there may be better sources of information for that topic.

Last modified on Thursday, 22 September 2016 11:59

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