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Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521671422
ISBN-10: 0521671426
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Editorial Reviews


"This path-breaking book is among the most ambitious, innovative, sweeping, and rigorous scholarly efforts in comparative political economy and political development. It offers a broad, substantial new account of the creation and consolidation of democracy. Why is the franchise extended? How do elites make reform believable and avoid expropriation? Why do revolutions nevertheless occur? Why do new democracies sometimes collapse into coups and repression? When is repression abandoned? Backed by a unified analytic model, historical insight, and extensive statistical analysis, the authors' case is compelling." - James E. Alt, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University

"This tour de force combines brilliant theoretical imagination and historical breadth to shine new light on issues that have long been central in social science. The book cannot be ignored by anybody wanting to link political and economic development. Its range is truly impressive. The same logical framework offers plausible predictions about revolution, repression, democratization, and coups. The book refreshingly includes as much Latin American experience as European experience, and as much Asian as North American. The authors offer new intellectual life to economics, political science, sociology, and history. Game theory gains a wider audience by being repeatedly applied to major historical issues for which commitment is indeed a key mechanism. Economists and political scientists gain more common ground on their political economy frontier." - Peter Lindert, University of California, Davis

"Sociologists are given a new template about class interactions in the political sphere, one that suggests both new tests and new ideas. And comparative historians, while fleeing from active involvement in game theory, have a new set of conjectures to support or be provoked by."

"Acemoglu and Robinson have developed a coherent and flexible analytical framework that brings together many aspects of the comparative political economy of democratization and democratic consolidation. Beyond being an excellent work of synthesis, this framework also leads to insights that will pave the way for further theoretical and empirical investigation. The combination of theory and historical application make this a first-rate book for teaching, as well as a major research contribution." - Thomas Romer, Princeton University

"This book is an immense achievement. Acemoglu and Robinson at once extend the frontiers of both economics and political science; they provide a new way of understanding why some countries are rich and some are poor; and they reinterpret the last 500 years of history." - Barry Weingast, Stanford University

"A vast body of research in social science on the development of democracy offers detailed accounts of specific country events but few general lessons. Acemoglu and Robinson breathe new life into this field. Relying on a sequence of formal but parsimonious game-theoretic models and on penetrating historical analysis, they provide a common understanding of the diverse country histories observed during the last two centuries" - Torsten Persson, Director Institute for International Economics Studies, Stockholm University

"...brilliant in its parsimony of means and power of explanation. The thesis is compellingly inventive. In practice, this is a model that may prove helpful in explaining long-term patterns of emerging democracies. Students of economics will study this text as much for its methodical exposition as for its conclusions. They will find the effort well worthwhile." - Tim Harford, Financial Times

"Acemoglu and Robinson have dared to set themselves up as targets. It is unlikely that the naysayers and nitpickers will be able to desist. Nor should they. And if the authors' effort survives the pounding —as well it might —it will be a triumph not just for Acemoglu and Robinson but for economics and its methods." - Arvind Subramanian, International Monetary Fund Journal

"I would recommend this book to anyone with a serious interest in democratic transitions and economic development. Its historical scope, and the power of the models it develops, set a new standard in political economy." - Michael Munger, EH.NET

"In this superb volume, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson seek to answer age-old questions in political economy: What factors, particularly economic factors, explain why some countries pass from dictatorship to democracy? What determines whether such transitions will be consolidated or whether a country will revert to rule by a small elite? Their answers, and the manner in which these were obtained, are refreshingly new." - Romain Warciarg, Science

"...there is much [here] to admire. True to their title, Messrs Acemoglu and Robinson offer a unified theory of both democracy and its opposite. According to two scholars cited in this book, even to look for a general theory of democratic reform requires great temerity. Happily, Messrs Acemoglu and Robinson have temerity in spades." - The Economist

"The book will be widely used in undergraduate and graduate courses in political economy. [It] will be appreciated by economists who are not satisfied with an argument until it reaches its apotheosis as a set of mathematical equations. But the less quantitative have much to glean from this rich book as well, for it clarifies what assumptions are required for its arguments to hold, and shows in high relief the contrasts with other standard works on democratization." - Frances Rosenbluth, Japanese Journal of Political Science

Book Description

This book is the first to use modern social science methodology systematically to explain why some countries are democracies while others are not. What forces leade democracy to be created? Why does democracy sometimes persist and conoslidate while other times it collapses? The treatment shows that whether or not a society becomes democratic depends on six factors. These are the strength of civil society, the nature of political and economic crises, the level of inequality, the detailed structure of political institution, economic institutions, the structure of the economy and the form and extent of globalization.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (February 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521671426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521671422
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Arvind Subramanian on February 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Economists are turning their focus of inquiry to subjects that were once the exclusive preserve of their colleagues in other social sciences--history, sociology, and political science. The title of this book, "Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," appears to have been deliberately, even provocatively, chosen for contrast with its famous predecessor, "Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," by the sociologist Barrington Moore. It is as if the economists are saying, "You've had your go. It is now our turn."

One thing follows when economists have a go: Occam's razor is wielded ruthlessly. Occam's razor is the principle associated with a medieval Franciscan monk, William of Ockham, which extols simplicity over complexity: in his words, "plurality should not be posited without necessity." This has, over time, become an important principle in distinguishing good from less-good science, useful from less-useful descriptions of reality.

Acemoglu and Robinson take this cut-the-chaff exhortation to heart. A few simple and sharp answers are provided even for the complex and difficult questions that are at the heart of the book: why and how does democracy arise? Why and how does democracy take root in some places at some times, while making only cameo appearances in others?

Acemoglu and Robinson daringly reduce the determinants of democratization to three or perhaps four: the level of inequality in society; the structure of the economy (i.e. whether it is predominantly agrarian or otherwise); the kind of assets owned by the elites; and the extent of globalization.

It is remarkable how many historical experiences-in Latin America, Europe, and Africa-- can be explained by the simple theory put forward by the authors.
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Format: Hardcover
This substantial work provides a useful review of the relevant literature, and outlines the simple but powerful idea that the political impact of different types of assets [land, labor or capital] and the costs of repression rather than democratization are key influences on the process of democratization or political repression. This approach has however already been spelt out more succinctly by Carles Boix.

But unfortunately much of the book's approach is fundamentally flawed when the authors then proceed to put their ideas into models based on game theory. They rapidly lose sight of the old reality check - 'garbage in, garbage out'. No model however neatly laid out will tell us much if the initial premise is flawed, and many of the theories here are too simplified to be anything beyond a classroom exercise. The whole book is based on Median Voter Theory [MVT} - but even many distinguished scholars in this field like Alberto Alesina have been pointing out for years that MVT has never been shown to hold true in real life complexities.

Some other key ideas are simply not addressed - the importance of fiscal bargaining, usually to fund foreign wars, as the origins of democracy is dismissed in one sentence, and yet is the best documented source of democratization - see major works by Charles Tilly and Robert Bates.

Other more specific technical detail - such as the ratio of voters to taxpayers, or the ratio of public employees to taxpayers, are not outlined let alone explained and yet clearly have great impact on the topic.
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Acemoglu and Robinson present a clear, straightforward and compelling explanation of the conditions under which political democracy emerges from dictatorship. The strength of their analysis, as they repeated tell us, flows from their use of that key tool on the economist's workbench, the so-called rational actor model (p. 19). "We stress individual economic incentives as determining political attitudes, and we assume people behave strategically in the sense of game theory.'' (p. xii) Theirs is also a clear-cut class analysis, although by contrast with Karl Marx, the classes are defined mainly by their relationship to state power rather than the means of production (although that matters as well, as we shall see). "We emphasize the fundamental importance of conflict," they assert. "Different groups, sometimes social classes, have opposing interests over political outcomes and these translate into opposing interests over the form of political institutions which determine the political outcomes." (p. xii).

The main social groupings in the non-democratic society, according to Acemoglu and Robinson, are the elite that controls the state and the citizens, who are blocked from exercising political power. "Nondemocracy is rule by the elite; democracy is rule by the more numerous groups who constitute the majority... In nondemocracy, the elite get the policies it wants; in democracy, the citizens have more power to get what they want." (p. xii) The authors claim that there is a single dynamic leading from nondemocracy to democracy: "We argue that this only occurs because the disenfranchised citizens can threaten the elite and force it to make concessions.... In the limit, a revolution... repression is often sufficiently costly that it is not an attractive option for elites.'' (p.
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