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[book] Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

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4 replies to this topic


  • 251 posts

No surprises here, but interesting nonetheless.


Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

March 23, 2012

Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson
Crown Business, 2012

[+]Posted Image

Amazon | Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Failanswers 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.




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Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure - Robert Lefevre.


  • 251 posts

In his long talk video above, Acemoglu gives an example that confirms what Stef says about how difficult it would be to take over a 'Free Society' as there is no tax structure.

Acemoglu makes the case that Paraguay was a lot easier for the Spanish (or Portuguese - can't recall) to take over because they had a highly hierarchical society with most likely a primitive tax system. The Spaniards just took over the top ranks of the primitive society without much effort and were then firmly in power.

This was not the case for other colonies in South America, where the population was dispersed/sparse and non-hierarchically organized. I can't recall the exact countries.

One example he cites is North America where the Indians were dispersed and unwilling to submit to a hierarchical system. The colonizers were unable to use them as slaves as it was too much effort to round them up, or/and they would rebel. This is why they brought in slaves from Africa.

The level of population density and statist hierarchy in societies determined how the colonizers organized the new ruling systems in these colonies.It determined whether the installed statist system was an extractive institution or an inclusive institution as Acemoglu euphemistically calls them.

This is why the US was much more liberal, since they couldn't be too hard on the locals otherwise they would just disperse.

Please view the video for more details.

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Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure - Robert Lefevre.

Think Free

Think Free
  • 140 posts

I'd like to recommend this book too. It does a very good job of showing many cases of how the government has and continues to destroy economies all over the world. It even includes examples of crony-capitalism. It does a good job of explaining the seeming success of China.

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The U.S. Constitution is nothing more than A Warning Label.
Heed the warning!

Existing Alternatives

Existing Alternatives
  • 278 posts

I could not agree with almost any conclusions that the author draws. Somehow he brought everything back to the “need for centralized government” and that any “highly centralized exclusionary government is doomed from the start.” So, which one is it?


On the plus side, the book’s main value is in the sheer number of mini-stories on individual countries. And just for that it is worth the read.


And, like @Ruppert9, I found the whole discussion of lack of hierarchy very interesting (although the author somehow manages to overlook that lack being an immense benefit). The book also encouraged me to set out into the research on the Igbo people of Nigeria, who did not have any hierarchy until the colonization (of course, British quickly set up a system of kings for them).

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  • 146 posts

A really informative guy. I felt there are a lot of crossover subjects to FDR. https://www.youtube....h?v=IRAkz13cpsk

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