- Conflict: usually recurring civil wars
- Natural resources: if a country has a single valuable resource like oil or diamonds it can work against prosperity
- Being landlocked with bad neighbors: with no ports, a country needs its neighbors to have good roads and good government in order to export products
- Bad governance in a small country: corruption!
He discusses current aid policy and examines what works, and what doesn't. It becomes clear that if we want to help these failing states, we need to stop emotional, aimless money-throwing and analyze what truly works. Many fairly simple strategies are overlooked, and often we are simply pursuing less-effective (or even counter-effective) measures that need some tweaking in order to work much better. A few specific issues he explores in-depth are international aid, military intervention, international laws and standards, and global trade policy. How these instruments work--and fail to work, and could work better--makes for some interesting (if slow) reading.