Booklist | Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

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?

via Response to Jeffrey Sachs – Why Nations Fail – Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.


2 thoughts on “Booklist | Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson”

  1. Some countries fails in a total collapse in a matter of days. As in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal and the hanging of President Mohammad Najibullah from a lamppost, or during the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, where the government ceased to exist altogether. However, most places is not like that. Most of the fall of a government is a slow process. Such countries would be like the sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America with living standards far, far below those in the West. Most of this countries are built on exploitation with a corrupt system. In the Book it talks about such things and important role of the government in keeping peace in the regions. (
    In the Washington Post it gives a simple review of the book:
    “Why Nations Fail” is a sweeping attempt to explain the gut-wrenching poverty that leaves 1.29 billion people in the developing world struggling to live on less than $1.25 a day. You might expect it to be a bleak, numbing read. It’s not. It’s bracing, garrulous, wildly ambitious and ultimately hopeful. It may, in fact, be a bit of a masterpiece.
    Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, two energetic, widely respected development scholars, start with a bit of perspective: Even in today’s glum economic climate, the average American is seven times as prosperous as the average Mexican, 10 times as prosperous as the average Peruvian, about 20 times as prosperous as the average inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa and about 40 times as prosperous as the average citizen of such particularly desperate African countries as Mali, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. What explains such stupefying disparities?

  2. I’ve never read Why Nations Fail, but I think it is an interesting question to ask, “Why do nations fail?” From what I know about the book, the authors suggest that a failed nation lacks a credible judiciary system and have a relatively small ruling class. The success of America and other members or former members of the Commonwealth lays in the distributing the power, influence and ruling position to the people. Countries that fail, don’t allow the people to rule, but are generally ruled by one person – who generally doesn’t have the prosperity of the nation at the focus of his/her agenda. If we compare North and South Korea we can see the stark contrast of having the people rule (South) compared to a dictator ruling (North) – when Korea was split, it’s culture, people, language, etc. we’re all identical. Now the North is impoverished and the South has had such quick economic progress, economist are still scratching their heads, trying to figure out where the success originated.

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