Over at WorldChanging is Ethan Zuckerman's review of Paul Collier's book The Bottom Billion. Collier points out that in much of the world poverty is decreasing. It's but a few states (maybe 50) which account for the poorest people in the world that are not seeing any improvement.
The problem is a set of nations that aren't developing. Since the 1960s, when many of these countries threw off foreign rule through colonialism, these nations have progressed very slowly or, in some cases, regressed. Most of these nations are in sub-Saharan Africa, but countries like North Korea, Burma, Afghanistan and some other Central Asian nations also are home to members of the bottom billion. Collier refers to this set of nations as "Africa+", but that's a bit deceptive - all his examples come from Africa, though some lessons may be applicable to countries like Tajikstan as well. (He never quite defines the set of nations - South Africa is explicitly exempted, and I assume nations like Botswana are as well - less clear if nations "on the bubble" like Senegal and Ghana are included.)Zuckerman's review summarizes the key points in Collier's book; you'll find the bullet point solutions Collier offers towards the last third of the review. The question of poverty has long been on the table. If you're looking for a book that presents a possible solution, The Bottom Billion is a good start. And while we're on the subject, Jeffrey Sachs' latest Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet landed on my desk today. More on that soon.