This gargantuan work is the most comprehensive attempt ever to explain empirically the economic record of sub-Saharan Africa in the postcolonial era. Sponsored by the African Economic Research Consortium, it brings together several dozen economists and includes case studies of 18 different countries in a second volume (plus case studies of an additional eight on a CD-ROM). The first volume advances the group's ambitious theoretical approach. Refreshingly, it emphasizes the variation across African countries -- in terms of the resources available, the policies followed, the national politics, and the ethnic dynamics -- and, as a result of this variation, the overall economic growth outcome of each country. Inevitably, in a book with so many contributors, the central themes get diluted, but the key argument is that a large proportion of African countries followed suboptimal economic policies in four distinct ways, which the authors label "anti-growth syndromes" and which relate directly to the politics in each country at the time. The "regulatory syndrome" describes a policy regime in which economic efficiency is sacrificed for the sake of politically motivated rent seeking, and the "ethno-regional redistribution syndrome" describes one in which the government redistributes income to specific ethnic groups in ways that compromise economic efficiency. The total and unexamined confidence of the authors in what they believe constitutes "good policy" is troubling, and the causal mechanisms at work in their explanations are more ambiguous than they admit. But the book is chock-full of fascinating data, interesting hypotheses, and country details; it is a rich review of Africa's troubled postcolonial economic history that will be a reference and an inspiration for political economists for years to come.
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