What is striking to me as an anthropologist, however, is that much of the fundamental intellectual work in Collier’s analyses is, in fact, ethnographic. Because it is not done very self-consciously and takes place within a larger econometric rhetoric in which such forms of knowledge are dismissed as “subjective” or worse still biased by the political (read “leftist”) agendas of the academics who create them, it is often ethnography of a low quality.
Collier brings his creativity and virtuosity to his selection of categories of analysis, eschewing the actors’ own categories and stated intentions, “tainted” as they may well be with ideology, self-deception, or the desire to portray oneself in a positive light. These are, however, human beings. There are no true control groups, least of all in the context of war or the daily scramble for survival that characterizes the lives of the very poor. In this context of myriad relevant variables, extreme ﬂuidity, and limited information, much of the intellectual heavy lifting in economic analyses of culturally different settings such as Africa is anecdotal, sometimes internally contradictory, and often highly questionable. It may reﬂect the author’s own imagination of poor people’s lives more than the realities of those lives. If these analyses are fundamentally ﬂawed in this way, what is their staying power? Development economics as a discipline has been systematically unsuccessful in producing desired policy results, at least in the countries where the bottom billion reside. Moreover, those countries such as China and India that Collier hails as truly and rapidly developing have been characterized to a large extent by their rejection of the ministrations of such institutions as the World Bank.