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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Povertyby Daron Acemoglu
Synopses & Reviews
Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?
Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?
Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.
Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:
- China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?
- Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?
- What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More
philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?
Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.
Inequality is the defining issue of our time. But it is not just a problem of the rich world. Inequality between rich and poor countries, and rich and poor people the world over, is much greater than within countries like America and Britain. It is the global 1% that now owns fully half the worldandrsquo;s wealthandmdash;the true measure of our age of inequality. Addressing that demands that we look outside of economics and beyond our national borders.
In The Political Origins of Inequality, Simon Reid-Henry takes a global perspective to explain how the crisis of welfare state capitalism in the rich world is linked to the wider ongoing condition of global poverty. Rich and poor the world over, he argues, engage in a wider political economy that has been structured over time in such a way as to reproduce a range of institutionalized forms of unfairness that are progressively distorting economies and democratic politics in countries around the world. This limits the ability of the poor to do what they are always counseled to do, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But it also undermines the position of the rich among us, creating a world where we are told to value security over freedom and special treatment over universal opportunity.
Inequality, Reid-Henry argues, is a function of the political choices we make, not just the abstract rules of the market and, drawing on the historical experience of different countries, he shows how it is within our power to address it. so it is within our power to address it. At a moment when the future of international development agenda is being set, we need to understand more than ever both why tackling global inequality is necessary and why it is also the only way to meet a great many other challenges confronting humanity today, from climate change and food insecurity to economic instability and migration. The problem is not that the world is falling apart. To the contrary, worlds we once thought were separate are colliding. It is our capacity to act in concert that is falling apart. As Reid-Henry shows, it is this that needs restoring most of all.
Differences among religious communities have motivated—and continue to motivate—many of the deadliest conflicts in human history. But how did political power and organized religion become so thoroughly intertwined? And how have religion and religiously motivated conflicts affected the evolution of societies throughout history, from demographic and sociopolitical change to economic growth?
War, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God turns the focus on the big three monotheisms”—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—to consider these questions. Chronicling the relatively rapid spread of the Abrahamic religions among the Old World, Murat Iyigun shows that societies that adhered to a monotheistic belief in that era lasted longer, suggesting that monotheism brought some sociopolitical advantages. While the inherent belief in one true god meant that these religious communities had sooner or later to contend with one another, Iyigun shows that differences among them were typically strong enough to trump disagreements within. The book concludes by documenting the long-term repercussions of these dynamics for the organization of societies and their politics in Europe and the Middle East.
About the Author
DARON ACEMOGLU is the Killian Professor of Economics at MIT. In 2005 he received the John Bates Clark Medal awarded to economists under forty judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.
JAMES A. ROBINSON, a political scientist and an economist, is the David Florence Professor of Government at Harvard University. A world-renowned expert on Latin America and Africa, he has worked in Botswana, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.
Table of Contents
Why Egyptians filled Tahrir Square to bring down Hosni Mubarak
and what it means for our understanding of the causes of
prosperity and poverty
1. So Close and Yet So Different
Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, have the same people,
culture, and geography. Why is one rich and one poor?
2. Theories That Don’t Work
Poor countries are poor not because of their geographies or cultures,
or because their leaders do not know which policies will enrich
3. The Making of Prosperity and Poverty
How prosperity and poverty are determined by the incentives
created by institutions, and how politics determines what
institutions a nation has
4. Small Differences and Critical Junctures: The Weight of History
How institutions change through political conflict and how
the past shapes the present
5. “I’ve Seen the Future, and It Works”: Growth Under Extractive Institutions
What Stalin, King Shyaam, the Neolithic Revolution, and the
Maya city-states all had in common and how this explains why
China’s current economic growth cannot last
6. Drifting Apart
How institutions evolve over time, often slowly drifting apart
7. The Turning Point
How a political revolution in 1688 changed institutions in
England and led to the Industrial Revolution
8. Not on Our Turf: Barriers to Development
Why the politically powerful in many nations opposed the
9. Reversing Development
How European colonialism impoverished large parts of the world
10. The Diffusion of Prosperity
How some parts of the world took different paths to prosperity
from that of Britain
11. The Virtuous Circle
How institutions that encourage prosperity create positive feedback
12. The Vicious Circle
How institutions that create poverty generate negative
feedback loops and endure
13. Why Nations Fail Today
Institutions, institutions, institutions
14. Breaking the Mold
How a few countries changed their economic trajectory by
changing their institutions
15. Understanding Prosperity and Poverty
How the world could have been different and how understanding
this can explain why most attempts to combat poverty have failed
Bibliographical Essay and Sources
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