This is an hour-long speech by Paul Collier discussing his latest book, The Plundered Planet: Why We Must—and How We Can—Manage Nature for Global Prosperity, hosted by The Carnegie Council. I have not listened to the whole lecture yet, but wanted to pass it along. There are some visuals in the lecture, so I recommend the video. - DG
The Plundered Planet: Why We Must—and How We Can—Manage Nature for Global Prosperity
PAUL COLLIER: Thank you very much for inviting me back. I remember the last occasion was really enjoyable.
These introductions always terrify me rigid. You missed the most inappropriate award I got in 2008, which was that the Queen made me a Commander of the British Empire. Anybody who has read anything about what I've written will know that's the last thing on earth I wanted to be.
Let me make a clear claim for The Plundered Planet. I think it's my most important book. At the moment, I actually think it's my best book, but that's for you to judge. But I'm sure it's my most important book, because it deals with something that is really important—nature, natural assets and their mismanagement—and it tries to build common ground between the disputed territory between environmentalists, on the one hand, and economists, on the other. For years they have been sort of cats and dogs, and whilst we've been arguing, we've both been losing the key battle. Natural assets, natural liabilities are being grossly mismanaged. And they are hugely important.
There are two big holes in governance. I should say that natural assets and natural liabilities really depend upon governance to avoid plunder. I'll come to what plunder is. But there are two big holes in governance.
One is in the countries of the "bottom billion," where governance is weak, and so even the natural assets and liabilities within their territories are being mismanaged. That's hugely important for them, because, as I'll show, they are the big assets, the big opportunities of these societies. They have the most potential to lift these societies out of poverty. So that's one big hole in governance.
The other big hole in governance is that an awful lot of natural assets and liabilities are not actually just within the national territory of any government. They straddle territories. They are the atmosphere—carbon, the natural liability, analytically just like natural assets. You just change the sign. They are the fish of the oceans. They are the natural resources that lie beneath the Arctic and the Antarctic and beneath the oceans. Don't forget, more than two-thirds of the earth's surface is outside the territory of any national government. Until recently, it hasn't mattered very much, because we haven't had technology to access the natural assets beneath the oceans or beneath the poles. Now we're getting that technology.
Who's going to own those natural assets? Who's going to control the emission of natural liabilities? We just saw yesterday an opening move in the Arctic, which is a nice little deal between Norway and Russia. They were both very happy to have grabbed territory that didn't belong to either of them. No wonder they were able to reach agreement.
Let me first confront that emotive word "plunder" that sits boldly in the title of the book, and which I started by saying that without governance we get plunder. I try and give a precise economic meaning to that highly emotive word. What does it mean to plunder natural assets and natural liabilities? It means two things.
■ One form of plunder, which is kind of obvious to everybody, is when the few expropriate natural assets that should belong to the many. Natural assets have no natural owners. Nobody made them. With manmade assets, the process of making them kind of defines the property rights. With natural assets, the ownership rights are up for grabs, especially in the low-income countries of the bottom billion. What we have seen repeatedly is that form of plunder—the few expropriating what should belong to the many.
■ The other form of plunder is a little bit more subtle. It's where the present expropriates what should belong equally to the future. After all, natural assets have come through to us because previous generations didn't burn them up. So the future has rights which we need to respect.