One of the most important international affairs books of 2012, particularly for understanding what works in development is Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. We can relate to Jared Diamond’s observation in NYRB that personal wealth comes from a wide range of factors–and so societal prosperity is also complex, hence the debate on how to help impoverished or developing countries.
This book focuses on economic and political institutional factors, emphasizing the importance of politics. As another development expert and proponent of “third way approaches,” William Easterly notes in the WSJ, the authors “take on the big quesitons and in doing so present a substantial alternative to the dominant thinking about global poverty.” Thomas Friedman relates their insight that China’s growth isn’t sustainable and US income inequality is undermining our institutional inclusiveness. In short, this book gives us a lot to consider. A
A recent retort by the authors to the famed development specialist at Columbia’s Earth Institute was too good to not read. Here’s the intro, which leads into a fine example of intellectual disagreement–with a few sharply traded jabs and parries:
Several people asked us why we haven’t responded to Jeffrey Sachs’s review of Why Nations Fail in Foreign Affairs. Well the answer was sort of in-between the lines in our response to Arvind Subramanian review (the original review is here and our response is here): we said that thoughtful reviews deserve thoughtful answers. What about not-so-thoughtful ones?
Be that as it may. We cave in to pressure.
Sachs charges that we are “simplistic” and our argument “contains a number of conceptual shortcomings”. But in each case, these are either just stated (and are wrong) or he is criticizing something we haven’t said. The Sachs strategy seems to be to throw a lot of mud, hoping that some of it would stick — did we say that we didn’t think it was quite thoughtful?