Why Nations Fail
|Authors||Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson|
|Country||United States, Turkey|
|March 20, 2012|
|Media type||Hardcover, Audiobook, Amazon Kindle|
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, first published in 2012, is a non-fiction book by Turkish-American economist Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and British political scientist James A. Robinson from the University of Chicago.
The book applies insights from institutional economics, development economics and economic history to understand why nations develop differently, with some succeeding in the accumulation of power and prosperity and others failing, via a wide range of historical case studies.
The authors also maintain a website (with a blog inactive since 2014) about the ongoing discussion of the book.
- 1 Content
- 2 Theories
- 3 Critical reviews
- 4 Awards and honors
- 5 Related works
- 6 See also
- 7 References
In fifteen chapters, Acemoglu and Robinson try to examine which factors are responsible for the political and economical success or failure of states. They argue that the existing explanations about the emergence of prosperity and poverty, e.g. geography, climate, culture, religion, or the ignorance of political leaders are either insufficient or defective in explaining it.
Acemoglu and Robinson support their thesis by comparing country case studies. They identify countries that are similar in many of the above-mentioned factors, but because of different political and institutional choices become more or less prosperous. The most incisive example is Korea, which was divided into North Korea and South Korea in 1953. Both countries’ economies have diverged completely, with South Korea becoming one of the richest countries in Asia while North Korea remains among the poorest. Further examples include the border cities Nogales (Sonora, Mexico) and Nogales (Arizona, USA). By referencing border cities, the authors analyze the impact of the institutional environment on the prosperity of people from the same geographical area and same culture.
Acemoglu and Robinson's major thesis is that economic prosperity depends above all on the inclusiveness of economic and political institutions. Institutions are "inclusive" when many people have a say in political decision-making, as opposed to cases where a small group of people control political institutions and are unwilling to change. They argue that a functioning democratic and pluralistic state guarantees the rule of law. The authors also argue that inclusive institutions promote economic prosperity because they provide an incentive structure that allows talents and creative ideas to be rewarded.
In contrast, the authors describe "extractive" institutions as ones that permit the elite to rule over and exploit others. Nations with a history of extractive institutions have not prospered, they argue, because entrepreneurs and citizens have less incentive to invest and innovate. One reason is that ruling elites are afraid of creative destruction—a term coined by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter—the ongoing process of annihilating old and bad institutions while generating new and good ones. Creative destruction would fabricate new groups which competing for power against ruling elites, who would lose their exclusive access to a country's economic and financial resources.
The authors use the example of the emergence of democratic pluralism in Great Britain after the Glorious Revolution in 1688 as being critical for the Industrial Revolution. The book also tries to explain the recent economic bloom in China using its framework. China's recent past does not contradict the book's argument: despite China's authoritarian regime, the economic growth in China is due to the increasingly inclusive economic policy by Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's Opening up policy after the Cultural Revolution.
According to Acemoglu and Robinson's framework, economic growth will change the economic resource distribution and thus affect political institutions. Therefore, despite the current rapid growth, if China doesn't improve its political inclusiveness, China is expected to collapse like the Soviet Union did in the early 1990s.
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The book is based on two major theories: the first theory explains the drivers of democratic and dictatorial regimes, while the second one goes a step further and explains how democratic regimes promote economic growth while dictator regimes prevent it.
Drivers of democracy
Acemoglu and Robinson's theory on what drives democracy is rooted in their prior game theoretic work, including a paper in The American Economic Review, titled A Theory of Political Transition. This paper models mathematically the reasons for oscillations between non-democracy and democracy based on the history of democratization of Western Europe and Latin America. The paper emphasizes the roles of the threat of revolution and social unrest in leading to democratization and of the desires of the elites to limit economic redistribution in causing switches to nondemocratic regime.
A number of assumptions underlie their game theoretic model, and allow for the authors' simplified model of society. First, Acemoglu and Robinson assume that society is simply divided between a small rich class and a large poor class. Second, they assume that regimes must be either democratic or nondemocratic; there is nothing in between. Third, people's preferences in society are defined only by monetary redistribution from the rich ruling class. The more monetary benefits they get, the more they prefer the ruling class. Fourth, people care not only about redistribution today but also redistribution in the future. Therefore, people would not only want more redistribution today but also they want to see a guarantee for more or stable redistribution in the future. Fifth, the economic output of a country fluctuates year by year, which means revolution is less costly for the ruling class during economic downturn. Finally and most importantly, each individual in the society tries to maximize their own utility.
In their model, a country starts as a nondemocratic society in which a small rich group controls most of the wealth and rules the poor majority. As the ruling class, the rich receive taxation from the economy's output and they decide on the taxation rate as the only means of extraction. The poor majority can either take what is offered to them by the rich after they tax the output (the economy's output after tax divided by the population size), or they can choose to revolutionize against the ruling class, which comes with a certain cost. In a revolution, the poor's ultimate payoff is the benefit of the revolution minus the cost of the revolution. Under that circumstance, the payoff of the rich ruling class is split between, when the poor revolutionizes, the punishment for the ruling class and when the poor acquiesces, the taxation income.
That is, the authors describe a two-stage sequential game (diagrammed below) in which the rich first decide on the taxation rate and the level of redistribution and then the poor decide whether revolution is the optimal choice. Because of the potential loss of economic benefits by revolution, knowing what the poor majority would prefer, the rich have an incentive to propose a taxation rate that doesn't provoke revolution, while at the same time not costing the rich too many benefits.
Thus, democratization refers to the situation where the rich willingly increase monetary redistribution and thus franchise to the poor in order to avoid revolution.
There are several variables that determine the decision-making of both sides:
E – Economy's output of a certain year
C – Cost of revolution
P – Punishment for the ruling class if revolutionaries take over
t – Tax rate imposed by the rich
B – Benefits of revolution
These variable affect the game as follows:
|More Likely to Democratize?||Why|
|E||Decrease||Lower||Unchanged||Lower||Unchanged||Yes||During economic downturn, economic output decreases and thus poor would want to resort more to revolution. To compensate for it, rich would increase redistribution and franchise to prevent the poor from revolutionizing.|
|C||Decrease||Unchanged||Higher||Unchanged||Unchanged||Yes||With lower cost of revolution (for example, if one is unemployed vs. employed, the cost is much lower when unemployed), the poor tends to resort more to revolution; the rich would thus give more benefits to the poor to prevent that from happening|
|P||Higher||Unchanged||Unchanged||Unchanged||Lower||Yes||With higher punishment, the rich would be more willing to increase redistribution to the poor to avoid more severe punishment|
|B||Increase||Unchanged||Higher||Unchanged||Unchanged||Yes||If the benefits for revolution are higher, revolution appeals more to the poor and thus the rich again have more incentive to redistribute to avoid revolution|
Based on the analysis above, it is not hard to conclude that the threat of revolution constantly incentivizes the rich to democratize. The theory also resonates with Clark, Golder and Golder's paper Power and Politics: Insights from an Exist, Voice and Loyalty Game, in which the government decides between predate and not to predate citizens based on the payoff while the citizen has the option to exit (migrate to other countries), remain loyal and voice their concerns at a cost (protest). Similarly, this game also provides insights into how variables like exit payoff, cost of voicing and value of loyalty change state's behavior as to whether or not to predate.
How democracy affects economic performance
Given that the factors leading to democratic vs. dictatorial regimes, the second part of the story in Why Nations Fail explains why inclusive political institutions give rise to economic growth. This argument was previously and more formally presented in another paper by Acemoglu and Robinson, Institutions as the Fundamental Cause for Long-Run Growth. With this theory, Acemoglu and Robinson try to explain the different level of economic development of all countries with one single framework.
Political institutions (such as a constitution) determine the de jure (or written) distribution of political power, while the distribution of economic resources determines the de facto (or actual) distribution of political power. Both de jure and de facto political power distribution affect the economic institutions in how production is carried out, as well as how the political institutions will be shaped in the next period. Economic institutions also determine the distribution of resources for the next period. This framework is thus time dependent—institutions today determine economic growth tomorrow and institutions tomorrow.
For example, in the case of democratization of Europe, especially in England before the Glorious Revolution, political institutions were dominated by the monarch. However, profits from increasing international trade extended de facto political power beyond the monarch to commercially-engaged nobles and a new rising merchant class. Because these nobles and the merchant class contributed to a significant portion of the economic output as well as the tax income for the monarch, the interaction of the two political powers gave rise to political institutions that increasingly favored the merchant class, plus economic institutions that protected the interests of the merchant class. This cycle gradually empowered the merchant class until it was powerful enough to take down the monarchy system in England and guarantee efficient economic institutions.
In another paper with Simon Johnson at Massachusetts Institute of Technology called The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation, the authors use a natural experiment in history to show that different institutions result in different levels of economic growth. The paper examines institutional choices during the colonial period of several nations in relation to the same nations' economic development today. It found that in countries where the disease environment meant that it was hard for colonizers to survive (high mortality rate), they tended to set up extractive regimes, which resulted in poor economic growth today. In places where it was easier for colonizers to survive (low mortality rates), however, they tended to settle down and duplicate institutions from their country of origin—especially from Britain, as we have seen in the colonial success of Australia and United States. Thus, the mortality rate among colonial settlers several hundred years ago has determined the economic growth of today's post-colonial nations by setting institutions on very different paths.
The theory of interaction between political and economic institutions is further reinforced by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson in The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change, and Economic Growth, which covers the economic rise of Europe after 1500. The paper finds that the Atlantic Trade (slavery, commodities and so on) after the year 1500 increased profits from trade and thus created a merchant class that was in a position to challenge monarchical power. By conducting regression analysis on the interaction variable between institution type and the Atlantic trade, the paper also demonstrates a significant interaction between the Atlantic Trade and the political institution: the presence of an absolutist monarch power hampers the effect of the Atlantic Trade on economic rise. It explains why Spain, despite the same access to the Atlantic Trade fell behind England in economic development.
Acemoglu and Robinson have explained that their theory is largely inspired by the work of Douglass North, an American economist, and Barry R. Weingast, an American political scientist. In North and Weingast's paper in 1989, Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England, they conclude that historical winners shape institutions to protect their own interests. In the case of the Glorious Revolution, the winning merchant class established property rights laws and limited the power of the monarch, which essentially promoted economic growth. Later on, North, Wallis and Weingast call this law and order open access, in their 2009 paper Violence and the Rise of Open-Access Orders. With open access—inclusiveness, equality and diversity—societies are more able to flourish and prosper.
While Acemoglu and Robinson attribute economic growth to institutions, there are other possible explanations, including geography, culture, and the ignorance of leaders. The alternative theories below are alternatives for the general framework posed by the book, rather than for either of the two theories above. Though these theories all try to claim a major factor that drives economic development, they are not mutually exclusive. For example, geography does shape the natural resources available to a country. For example, a country given rich resources has the potential to become rich. On the other side, institutions determine how those resources are distributed and create incentives for different groups to be motivated to participate in economic development.
In Jared Diamond's groundbreaking Guns, Germs, and Steel, he lays out the basic arguments for Environmental determinism - that environments and geography determine the political institutions of a certain region. Starting from the same attempt to explain why Eurasian civilizations have outlived other civilizations that used to exist in the world, Diamond looks at the geographical differences among different civilizations and the agricultural practices that have arisen from those differences. For example, because of the latitudinal differences between the Eurasian continent and American/African continents—the Eurasian continent has a large longitudinal span while the American/African continents are longitudinally narrow—it is easier for inhabitants of the Eurasian continent to spread the same kind of agricultural products and domesticated animals like wheat, cows and horses. On the other hand, for African and American continents, because of the wide latitudinal differences of different regions, it is hard for the same kind of agricultural products and domesticated animals to spread. Because of this difference, people on Eurasian continent are more likely to develop stronger immune systems and thus their civilizations are more likely to survive. However, according to Acemoglu and Robinson, the theory is incapable of explaining the gap between rich and poor countries after 1500. It is also powerless in explaining the difference of economic growth between two places with similar or same geographic conditions, like Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, North Korea and South Korea and East Germany and West Germany. In comparison, according to the book, geographical factors do not have as strong an explanatory power as institutional factors. Especially in the modern age when advanced technology is widely available, the reason why Equatorial Guinea or Sierra Leone still suffer from diseases like Malaria is not because of the weather, but because of the poor institutions underlying those states.
Cultural determinism believes culture is the driving force for different levels of economic growth. For example, Max Weber believes that Protestant ethic explains the industrial revolution and economic boom in Western Europe. Different from previous Christian beliefs, Protestantism attributes the "good life" to one's faith in God and God's reciprocal blessing. This belief motivates people to work hard and collectively contribute to economic growth. On the other side, some people claim that African, Asian and Native American cultures do not promote values that motivate people to innovate and work hard and thus those civilizations lagged behind. However, this theory is incapable of explaining the recent economic miracle in Asia. Although Confucianism is believed to create social hierarchy and nepotism, in reality it translated into high work ethics in countries and regions that now contribute to the economic boom in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, as well as the recent rapid economic growth in China. Moreover, it is unable to explain the differences in economic growth between two places that share similar or even the same culture, such as between North Korea and South Korea, where the culture was essentially homogeneous until the Korean War. Acemoglu and Robinson also believe that culture to some extent is shaped by the political institutions. For example, the hardworking culture in Confucian societies like South Korea and China is shaped by the incentive structure of the state. Therefore, culture is an effect, not a cause.
The theory of ignorance, by Lionel Robbins, focuses on the market failure as causes for lack of economic development. It describes the purpose of governments as the distribution of resources. As resources are scarce, the regime has to allocate those resources wisely to encourage economic growth. Therefore, lack of economic growth is caused by the inability to carry out correct decisions in allocating economic resources. For example, the previous president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, focused his policies only on developing the country's industries, which turned out to be disastrous to the economy. His successor, Kofi Abrefa Busia, knowing the mistakes of Nkrumah, still carried out the same expansionary economic policy, not because he did not know what policy was good or bad—because of ignorance—but because the institutional design in Ghana pushed him to do so. This example demonstrates that ignorance oversimplifies the situations and cannot offer a satisfactory explanation for why nations fail. First, this theory assumes that rules are benevolent, and ignore the possibility that rulers intentionally carry out bad economic decisions for personal interests. Second, if a leader's ignorance is the cause, then by having a better and less ignorant leader, the country will witness greater economic growth. Yet, this isn't always the case.
The critical reviews below are noticeable responses either directly or indirectly addressed towards the book, the authors, or the arguments made by the book. The section below is arranged in alphabetical order of the respondent's first name.
Indian economist Arvind Subramanian points out the potential problem of reverse causality in Acemoglu and Robinson's theory in his publication on The American Interest. Why Nations Fail takes political institutions as causes and economic performance as results for granted. However, according to Modernization theory, causation can also go the other way around—improvement of political institutions can also be a result of economic modernization. The book thus fails to explain why this alternative perspective doesn't work.
Subramanian also points out the limitation of book to explain the recent economic development in China and India. Under an authoritarian regime (theoretically extractive political institutions), China has achieved rapid economic development while democratic India (theoretically inclusive political institutions) has lagged much behind. According to Surbramanian, one can say that China and India are outliers or that it is still too early to decide (that is, China might collapse and India might catch up according to the book's prediction). However, it is still unsatisfying that the theory is unable to explain the situation of 1/3 of the world's population, and it is unlikely that China or India will change drastically in the near future, according to the prediction.
Acemoglu and Robinson counter that their theory distinguishes between political and economic institutions and that it is not political institutions that contribute to growth directly but economic institutions shaped by the political institutions. In the case of China, even though the political institutions on a higher level are far from inclusive, the incentive to reform Chinese economy does come from political institutions in 1978 from Deng Xiaoping's Opening up policy at the end of the internal political feud during Cultural Revolution. This exactly fits into the theory that the change in political institutions has shaped economic institutions and thus has influenced economic performance. This economic growth is further expected to shape the political institutions in China in the future. One can only say that China is an outlier to the theory when in the future China becomes as wealthy as U.S. or Germany but still remains an authoritarian regime.
Regarding the case of India, the authors deny an equivalence between inclusive political institutions and electoral democracy. Electoral democracy is the de jure system adopted by a country while political institutions refer to the de facto structure and quality of political system of a certain country. For example, India's political system has long been dominated by the Congress Party; the provision of public goods is preyed upon by political Patrimonialism; various members of Lok Sabha (the Indian legislature) face criminal charges; and caste-based inequality still exists. The quality of democracy is very poor and thus the political institutions are flawed in India, which explains why economic institutions are equally poor and economic growth is stymied.
David R. Henderson
David R. Henderson wrote a generally positive review in Regulation but criticized the authors for inconsistency when talking about a central government's role in promoting development. In some parts of the book, the authors attribute to the failure of the states like Afghanistan, Haiti and Nepal to the lack of a strong central government that imposes rule and order. However, in other parts of the book, the authors seem to embrace weak government for growth, as in the example of Somalia after losing its central government. In addition, Henderson asserts the authors have made two errors in the book about the United States. First, the authors falsely accuse "monopolists" like Rockefeller of being the extractive power. But in fact Rockefeller didn't raise the price of oil but lowered the price to gain market share rather than to extract from the economy. Second, he says the authors are oblivious of the mainstream scholarship on American economic history between the American Civil War and civil movements in America. Rather than diverging from the rich North, the South was actually converging.
In his article in The American Interest, Francis Fukuyama criticized Acemoglu and Robinson's approach and argument for being very similar to a book by North, Wallis and Weingast in 2009, Violence and Social Order. Fukuyama argued that the conception of states being inclusive or extractive oversimplifies the problem. He also pointed out that the approach is too conceptual and fails to unpack the practical meaning of different institutions. The historical approach to prove the argument was also subjected to interpretation. Finally, Fukuyama specifically pointed out that the argument by Acemoglu and Robinson does not apply to the case of modern China, as China has extractive institutions but still flourishes economically.
In response to Fukuyama's comments, Acemoglu and Robinson replied on their blog. First, they agreed that their work is largely inspired by North, Wallis and Weingast's work but explained that they build on and complement each other's work. Second, with reference to the criticism of oversimplification, they countered by describing the oversimplification as an approach to decompose complex political institutions; that it is necessary to conceptualize and to avoid focusing too narrowly on a single aspect of institutions. Last, on China, they attribute the rapid economic growth in China to the some (but yet limited) level of inclusiveness, as was also seen in the example of the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
In Jared Diamond's book review on The New York Review of Books, he points out the narrow focus of the book's theory only on institutions, ignoring other factors like geography. One major issue of the authors' argument is endogeneity: if good political institutions explain economic growth, then what explains good political institutions in the first place? That is why Diamond lands on his own theory of geographical causes for developmental differences. He looks at tropical (central Africa and America) vs. temperate areas (North and South Africa and America) and realizes that the differences of wealth of nations are caused by the weather conditions: for example, in tropical areas, diseases are more likely to develop and agricultural productivity is lower. Diamond's second criticism is that Acemoglu and Robinson seem to only focus on small events in history like the Glorious Revolution in Britain as the critical juncture for political inclusion, while ignoring the prosperity in Western Europe.
In response to Diamond's criticism, the authors reply that the arguments in the book do take geographical factors into account but that geography does not explain the different level of development. Acemoglu and Robinson simply take geography as an original factor a country is endowed with; how it affects a country's development still depends on institutions. They mention their theory of Reverse of Fortune: that once-poor countries (like the U.S., Australia, and Canada) have become rich despite poor natural endowments. They refute the theory of "resource curse"; what matters is the institutions that shape how a country uses its natural resources in historical processes.
Diamond rebutted Acemoglu and Robinson's response, reinforcing his claim of the book's errors. Diamond insists geographical factors dominate why countries are rich and poor today. For example, he mentions that the tropical diseases in Zambia keep male workers sick for a big portion of their lifetime, thus reducing their labor productivity significantly. He reinforces his point that geography determines local plantations and gave rise to ancient agrarian practices. Agricultural practice further shapes a sedentary lifestyle as well as social interaction, both of which shape social institutions that result in different economic performances across countries.
According to Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist, the major problem of Why Nations Fail is that it focuses too narrowly on domestic political institutions and ignores other factors, such as technological progress and geopolitics. For example, geography plays an important role in shaping institutions, and weak governments in West Africa may be seen as a consequence of the unnavigable rivers in the region. Sachs also questions Acemoglu and Robinson's assumption that authoritarian regimes cannot motivate economic growth. Several examples in Asia, including Singapore and South Korea, easily refute Acemoglu and Robinson's arguments that democratic political institutions are prerequisites for economic growth. Moreover, Acemoglu and Robinson overlook macroeconomic factors like technological progress (e.g. industrialization and information technology).
In response to Sachs' critique, Acemoglu and Robinson replied on their book blog with twelve specific points. First, on the role of geography, Acemoglu and Robinson agree that geography is crucial in shaping institutions but do not recognize a deterministic role of geography in economic performance. Second, on the positive role authoritarian governments can play in economic growth, especially in the case of China, the fast economic growth could be part of the catch-up effect. However, it does not mean that authoritarian governments are better than democratic governments in promoting economic growth. It is still way too early, according to Acemoglu and Robinson, to draw a definite conclusion solely based on the example of China. Last, on industrialization, they argue that industrialization is contingent upon institutions.
Based on Acemoglu and Robinson's response, Sachs wrote a rebuttal on his personal website. Rather than replying to the specifics of their reply, Sachs proposes the structural differences between two groups of scholars and comments on them. Sachs disagrees with the historical determinism that Acemoglu and Robinson propose, as Sachs believes that the actions taken by colonists two hundred years ago had no power in explaining economic performance today. Sachs insists on retaining complexity (geography, technological progress, etc.) in explaining differences in economic performance, rather than just simplifying to one factor (institutions). As Sachs describes, the evidence suggests that economic development is a multidimensional dynamic process, in which political, institutional, technological, cultural, and geographic factors all play a role. Such a view of history might not be "powerful" in the sense that Acemoglu and Robinson would like, but it has the virtue of being accurate and useful.
Maximiliano E. Korstanje
A professional book review by Maximiliano Korstanje, an economist from Argentina, posits a more radical criticism on Why Nations Fail. Far from being objective, he claims, the argument of this book is based on Ethnocentrism, or Anglocentrism—that other non-Western civilizations will converge to the universal Western ideal of development, democracy and human rights. Acemoglu and Robinson, he argues, fail to recognize that there are many other nations that are free to choose to live in another way; there is no imperative stating that all nations should be democratic to enjoy the “benefits” of modern life and a capitalist economy. Indeed, paradoxically, envisaging democracy as a "universal value" is a betrayal to the self-determination of others, which Korstanje sees as the very cornerstone of democratic ideology. In his view, defining a nation's success as a function of its degree of wealth or per capita income corresponds directly to an "ethnocentric" mechanism within the discipline, aimed at creating a need in non-western societies, namely, the "need" to be "economically developed," "modern" and "democratic." There is no genuine attempt for a critical discussion of the role of international financial corporations like the World Bank in issuing an unlimited number of loans to the world. Lastly, Acemoglu and Robinson are not treating the problem of inequality with accuracy and detail. The Gini coefficient list shows how some Latin American countries as Uruguay are more egalitarian than United States. Moreover, inside United States, despite the high level of economic development and the democratic system, black people are often excluded from such benefits, reaffirming the ethnocentric nature of democracy and development.
Though Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney never explicitly mentioned the book during his campaign, his comment "culture makes all the difference" when commenting on what causes the different level of economic development between Israel and Palestine invoked a response from the two authors. In an article called "Uncultured" on Foreign Policy, the authors point out Romney's fallacy. First, Romney conflated culture and institution. What he called "good work ethic" could be seen as culture on the surface but is essentially shaped by institutions with incentive structures. Furthering the arguments in the book, Acemoglu and Robinson refer to the Jewish education system and historical contingencies, none of which is cultural. Why Palestine is less developed is simply because inclusive economic institutions were not able to develop there, due to the colonial occupation and regional political machination. Lastly, the authors mention South and North Korea as an example against "culture" as determinant for economic development, as South and North Korea both came from the same homogeneous culture before splitting up and adopting different institutions.
Development economist Paul Collier from the University of Oxford reviewed the book for The Guardian. Collier's review summarizes two essential elements for growth from the book: first, a centralized state and second, inclusive political and economic institutions. Based on the case of China, a centralized state can draw a country out from poverty but without inclusive institutions, such growth isn't sustainable, as argued by Acemoglu and Robinson. Such process is not natural, but only happens when the elites are willing to cede power to the majority under certain circumstances.
Peter Forbes reviewed the book for The Independent: "This book, by two U.S. economists, comes garlanded with praise by its obvious forebears – Jared Diamond, Ian Morris, Niall Ferguson, Charles C. Mann – and succeeds in making great sense of the history of the modern era, from the voyages of discovery to the present day." Besides singing high praises for the book, Forbes links the message of the book and contemporary politics in developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Though the two countries are by far some of the most inclusive economies in the world, various parts of them are, by nature, extractive—for instance, the existence of a shadow banking system, of conglomerate manufacturers, and so on. He warns against extractive practices under the guise of an inclusive economy.
Robert J. Barro
Although Robert Barro, an American economist from Harvard University, did not directly respond to the arguments posed by the book, his research on the relationship between democracy and growth disagrees with the argument that inclusive institutions give rise to economic growth. According to Barro's 1996 paper Democracy and Growth, the econometric analysis reveals a weak relationship between democracy and growth in a study of 100 countries from 1960 to 1990. After fixing factors like rule of law and free market, democracy has a statistically insignificant influence on economic growth. At the same time, raising the standard of living—including health service, education—will substantially raise the probability of political freedom. Barro is essentially arguing the reverse of Acemoglu and Robinson: that economic growth gives rise to better political institutions, especially when a country is poor.
Warren Bass reviewed the book for the Washington Post, writing: "It's bracing, garrulous, wildly ambitious and ultimately hopeful. It may, in fact, be a bit of a masterpiece." Despite his applause, Bass also points out several imperfections of the book. First of all, the definition of extractive and inclusive institution is vague in a way that cannot be utilized in policymaking. Second, though Acemoglu and Robinson are ambitious in covering cases of all nations across history, this attempt is subjected to scrutiny of regional experts and historians. For example, their accusation of Ottoman Empire as "highly absolutist" might not be correct, given the level of tolerance and diversity inside the Empire as compared to its European counterparts.
In a mixed review of the book in the Wall Street Journal, William Easterly was generally supportive of the plausibility of the book's thesis but critiqued the book's failure to cite extant statistics-based evidence to support the validity of the historical case studies. For example, in the book's example about Congo, the stated reason Congo is impoverished is that Congo is close to slave trade shipping points. The approach of this historical case study only offers one data point. Moreover, Easterly also points out the danger of ex-post rationalization that the book only attributes different levels of development to institutions in a way a bit too neat. For example, to explain the fall of Venice, it could be the extractive regime during the time or it could also be the shift from Mediterranean trade to Atlantic trade. The historical case studies approach might be biased.
Awards and honors
- 2012 Paddy Power And Total Politics Political Book Award (International Affairs)
- 2012 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, Shortlist
- 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize, Longlist
- 2013 Arthur Ross Book Award, Honorable Mention
- The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
- Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed also by Jared Diamond
- The Elusive Quest for Growth by William Easterly
- The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes
- IQ and the Wealth of Nations by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen
- Violence and Social Orders by Douglass North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast
- The Modern World-System, vols. 1-4 by Immanuel Wallerstein
- "Why Nations Fail". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
- Acemoglu, Daron. "A Theory of Political Transitions". The American Economic Review.
- William, Clark. "Power and Politics: Insights from an Exist, Voice and Loyalty Game".
- Acemoglu, Daron. "Institutions as the fundamental cause for long-run growth" (PDF). NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH.
- Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, Daron, Simon and James (December 2001). "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation". The American Economic Review. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
- Acemoglu and Robinson, Daron and James (June 2005). "The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change, and Economic Growth". The American Economic Review. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
- North and Weingast, Douglass and Barry (December 1989). "Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England". The Journal of Economic History. JSTOR 2122739.
- North, Wallis and Weingast, Douglass, John and Barry (January 2009). "Violence and the Rise of Open-Access Orders". Journal of Democracy. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
- Subramanian, Arvind (October 30, 2012). "Which Nations Failed". The American Interest. The American Interest. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
- "China, India and All That". November 2, 2012.
- Henderson, David (Spring 2013). "The Wealth -- and Poverty -- of Nations" (PDF). Regulation (a publication of the Cato Institute). Retrieved 2013-11-21.
- Douglass, North. Violence and Social Order. ISBN 0521761735.
- Acemoglu, Daron (April 30, 2012). "Response to Fukuyama's Review". Why Nations Fail. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
- Diamond, Jared (2012-06-07). "What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
- Acemoglu and Robinson, Daron and James (August 16, 2012). "Why Nations Fail". The New York Review of Books. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
- Cowen, Tyler (2012-03-18). "Jared Diamond reviews *Why Nations Fail*". Marginal Revolution. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
- Sachs, Jeffrey. "Government, Geography, and Growth".
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