Reform to preserve?


Paul Collier, The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties

Allen Lane: London

The troubled aftermath of the great crisis has provoked a flood of books that aim to ‘fix’ the continuing malfunctions of Western capitalism. ‘The way our economic and political systems work must change, or they will perish’, the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times has proclaimed. Recommended reading for Martin Wolf’s reform agenda is Paul Collier’s The Future of Capitalism, a book that also featured on Bill Gates’s list (‘ambitious and thought-provoking’), while George Akerlof called it ‘the most revolutionary work of social science since Keynes’. Collier himself, who writes as a candid friend of capitalism, lamenting its deplorable fall from grace, sees his book as updating Anthony Crosland’s Future of Socialism—offering an ‘intellectual reset’ for a social democracy that may once again become the philosophy of the political centre. The Future of Capitalism claims to offer a new conceptual framework, as well as a range of practical proposals. Does it do so?

Collier is better known as a developmental economist than a saviour of the advanced-capitalist world. Born to a working-class family in Sheffield in 1949, in the book he describes his ascent to Oxford, Harvard and Sciences Po. His best-known work, The Bottom Billion (2007), praised the beneficial effects of globalization, which had set the vast majority of the world’s population—five billion, at least—on the road to mass prosperity. That book focused on the remaining billion, many of whom he detected in Africa, caught in the traps of civil war, bad government and resource dependence. Applying the binaries of individual rational-choice theory, driven by ‘greed’ or ‘grievance’—‘will I gain by rebelling against the government?’—Collier arrived at a set of brutally neo-imperialist solutions: globalization could work for Africa, but it would require long-term military occupations by the G8 governments to keep the peace and enforce the expansion of sezs to attract investment flows. The bottom billion was not ready for democracy, he explained in his next book, War, Guns and Votes (2008), as they were too likely to vote on ethnic lines. Collier duly acquired a cbe from Blair in 2008 and a knighthood for ‘services to policy change in Africa’ from Cameron.

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