The Plundered Planet by Paul Collier: reviewed

This text makes for uncomfortable reading. It is an attempt by a prominent academic to reach out to a wide audience with a political agenda. The avowed aim is to help address poverty in an environmentally responsible fashion. However, the main target of the book is arguably the diverse environmental movement in the West.

Apart from Prince Charles, the author rarely names names when attacking other views. He is content to deplore the thinking of “romantics” and “Marxists”, while briefly defending a few mainstream economists. He seems at his happiest when slapping down the contentions of strawmen and defending genetically modified crops. The title of the book is arguably highly misleading because Professor Collier wants the plunder of the planet to continue, albeit in a way which he considers reasonable.

One minor problem is that Collier does not acknowledge sources properly so it is hard to see the specific arguments he is contradicting. A major problem is that he seems to have little appreciation of the true scale of the environmental damage which has been done. It is also worrying that somebody who is ostensibly committed to fighting poverty is so relaxed about the consequences of privatisation, for example. The complacency of the economist is illustrated by his fatalistic view:

“We simply have to accept the crooked timber of humanity for what it is.”

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