The Political Economy of Fragile States and Implications for European Development Policy

Background paper to the ERD2009


Paul Collier – Centre for the Study of African Economies, Department of Economics, Oxford University


Paper prepared for the Conference on “The challenges of fragility to development policy”, organised by the European Report of Development in Barcelona, Spain, 7-8 May, 2009.


Rapid decolonisation created many arbitrary countries. In contrast to the states which had emerged through a quasi-Darwinian process of selection, some of these new countries had structural characteristics which gravely impeded the provision of public goods. Their lack of a unifying sense of shared identity made co-operation difficult, and their tiny economic size left them unable to reap scale economies. Two public goods, security and accountability, are particularly important for development, and so, where they could not be provided, states failed. The cause of a problem is not necessarily a guide to its solution: Darwinian struggle among failing states is not something to be encouraged. Solutions lie partly in a phase of international provision of the key public goods, partly in enhanced regional pooling of sovereignty, and partly in institutional innovation to make the domestic provision of public goods less demanding of the state.

Download the paper pdf

Back to Background Papers