The Plundered Planet by Paul Collier

The Plundered Planet by Paul Collier, with the subtitle How to Reconcile Prosperity With Nature. This is the second book I read of Paul Collier’s, the first one being Exodus: immigration and multiculturalism in the 21st century.
I liked the book a lot, but I gave it only 4.5 stars because there were a couple of things I didn’t like in the book. There are a few things I don’t agree with too, but I would still recommend it though.

“If natural assets don’t have natural owners, our rights of possession over them are much weaker than our rights over man-made assets.” This is the basic of the book. Who gets to decide and, just as important, for whom? How much the future generations should be taken into account?
One examples is: Who should decide what happens to the Brazilian rain forest? Their decisions will affect all of us. That idea can lead to a very interesting debate.

The Plundered Planet by Paul Collier

While I was reading the idea of nationalizing the resource extraction, I immediately thought “Oh, no!”. This was mentioned as a response to the problem of extraction companies using bribes, not disclosing information to expertise-poor governments, and time-consistency issues (value of the resources varies hence the revenue from them varies, what taxes should a government ask). When I’ve read “why not nationalize resource extraction?” I was horrified. But Collier continues: “I can sense a frisson of horror running through my fellow economists: governments should not get directly involved in running economic activities.” I’m not an economist, but I felt that frisson of horror.
Only in two countries this worked, Norway and Malaysia. They had in government honest people with a high national purpose. Also, the relation with the neighboring countries wasn’t great. In most cases though, the result is, at best, poor. Collier gives the example of Pertamina, the national oil company of Indonesia, that went bankrupt during the oil boom. I imagine that was pretty hard to do under the circumstances.

Hotelling rule was interesting to learn about. I didn’t know about it before, it’s about non-renewable resource and when should they be extracted.

Obviously, the discussion is different for renewable resources. As Collier says: “We are able to enjoy the harvest from reproducible natural assets because previous generations refrained from such plunder. They did not exhaust the stock and so infringe the rights of future generations.”

“Natural assets are for us to use, but “us” includes the rights of future generations. As with other natural assets, the future has rights to them because these assets are not man-made and thus the present generation only has custodial rights of usage.” I think it would be great if more people would think like that. That trees and plants and animals are here for us and for our children. As a custodian we should cherish them too, not only use them.

The carbon tax sounds like a very good solution. I don’t think it would come into force, but it makes sense. There are solutions and I think the population would not grow as quickly if the developing countries would be better off. Education and a higher income would make the people that are now in the developing countries have less children, like in the rest of the world. This is not something mentioned in the book though.

The Plundered Planet by Paul Collier

Details about the picture: Cotton, sugar, coffee, cocoa, paper, and milk, all part of the plundering of our planet. Cotton is a crop that demands a higher use of pesticides. Sugar is a low nutritional value crop, sugar cane being grown in parts where people have a poor diet due to poverty only to be able to export sugar. Coffee and cocoa are, as we know, cause for deforestation and use of low paid labour. Paper plays a role too in deforestation. Milk, or better said, cows produce more pollution than cars.
(Although, talking specifically of the items I’ve photographed, the sugar is made in UK, the chocolate is organic and fairtrade, the book is printed on FSC certified paper).
My rating: 4.5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Penguin Books
Year it was published: 2010
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Non-fiction. Economy and Politics.
Pages: 272

About the author: Sir Paul Collier studied at Oxford University. From 1998 to 2003 he was the director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank. Collier is a specialist in the political, economic, and developmental problems faced by poor countries.
He is now a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. Also, he is a Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College. In 2014, he received a knighthood for services to promoting research and policy change in Africa.
He wrote many books, like the award winning The Bottom Billion (2007), Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (2009), and Exodus: immigration and multiculturalism in the 21st century.
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