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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty Paperback – September 17, 2013
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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.
Frequently bought together
"...bracing, garrulous, wildly ambitious and ultimately hopeful. It may, in fact, be a bit of a masterpiece."—Washington Post
“For economics and political-science students, surely, but also for the general reader who will appreciate how gracefully the authors wear their erudition.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Provocative stuff; backed by lots of brain power.”—Library Journal
“This is an intellectually rich book that develops an important thesis with verve. It should be widely read.” —Financial Times
“A probing . . . look at the roots of political and economic success . . . large and ambitious new book.” —The Daily
“Why Nations Fail is a splendid piece of scholarship and a showcase of economic rigor.” —The Wall Street Journal
"Ranging from imperial Rome to modern Botswana, this book will change the way people think about the wealth and poverty of nations...as ambitious as Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel."
“The main strength of this book is beyond the power of summary: it is packed, from beginning to end, with historical vignettes that are both erudite and fascinating. As Jared Diamond says on the cover: 'It will make you a spellbinder at parties.' But it will also make you think.”—The Observer (UK)
"A brilliant book.” —Bloomberg (Jonathan Alter)
“Why Nations Fail is a wildly ambitious work that hopscotches through history and around the world to answer the very big question of why some countries get rich and others don’t.” —The New York Times (Chrystia Freeland)
"Why Nations Failis a truly awesome book. Acemoglu and Robinson tackle one of the most important problems in the social sciences—a question that has bedeviled leading thinkers for centuries—and offer an answer that is brilliant in its simplicity and power. A wonderfully readable mix of history, political science, and economics, this book will change the way we think about economic development. Why Nations Fail is a must-read book." —Steven Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics
"You will have three reasons to love this book. It’s about national income differences within the modern world, perhaps the biggest problem facing the world today. It’s peppered with fascinating stories that will make you a spellbinder at cocktail parties—such as why Botswana is prospering and Sierra Leone isn’t. And it’s a great read. Like me, you may succumb to reading it in one go, and then you may come back to it again and again." —Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the bestsellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse
"A compelling and highly readable book. And [the] conclusion is a cheering one: the authoritarian ‘extractive’ institutions like the ones that drive growth in China today are bound to run out of steam. Without the inclusive institutions that first evolved in the West, sustainable growth is impossible, because only a truly free society can foster genuine innovation and the creative destruction that is its corollary." —Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money
"Some time ago a little-known Scottish philosopher wrote a book on what makes nations succeed and what makes them fail. The Wealth of Nations is still being read today. With the same perspicacity and with the same broad historical perspective, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have retackled this same question for our own times. Two centuries from now our great-great- . . . -great grandchildren will be, similarly, reading Why Nations Fail." —George Akerlof, Nobel laureate in economics, 2001
"Why Nations Fail is so good in so many ways that I despair of listing them all. It explains huge swathes of human history. It is equally at home in Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is fair to left and right and every flavor in between. It doesn’t pull punches but doesn’t insult just to gain attention. It illuminates the past as it gives us a new way to think about the present. It is that rare book in economics that convinces the reader that the authors want the best for ordinary people. It will provide scholars with years of argument and ordinary readers with years of did-you-know-that dinner conversation. It has some jokes, which are always welcome. It is an excellent book and should be purchased forthwith, so to encourage the authors to keep working." —Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493
“Imagine sitting around a table listening to Jared Diamond, Joseph Schumpeter, and James Madison reflect on over two thousand years of political and economic history. Imagine that they weave their ideas into a coherent theoretical framework based on limiting extraction, promoting creative destruction, and creating strong political institutions that share power and you begin to see the contribution of this brilliant and engagingly written book.” —Scott E. Page, University of Michigan and Santa Fre Institute
“This fascinating and readable book centers on the complex joint evolution of political and economic institutions, in good directions and bad. It strikes a delicate balance between the logic of political and economic behavior and the shifts in direction created by contingent historical events, large and small at ‘critical junctures.' Acemoglu and Robinson provide an enormous range of historical examples to show how such shifts can tilt toward favorable institutions, progressive innovation and economic success or toward repressive institutions and eventual decay or stagnation. Somehow they can generate both excitement and reflection.” —Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1987
“It’s the politics, stupid! That is Acemoglu and Robinson’s simple yet compelling explanation for why so many countries fail to develop. From the absolutism of the Stuarts to the antebellum South, from Sierra Leone to Colombia, this magisterial work shows how powerful elites rig the rules to benefit themselves at the expense of the many. Charting a careful course between the pessimists and optimists, the authors demonstrate history and geography need not be destiny. But they also document how sensible economic ideas and policies often achieve little in the absence of fundamental political change.”—Dani Rodrik, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
“Two of the world’s best and most erudite economists turn to the hardest issue of all: why are some nations poor and others rich? Written with a deep knowledge of economics and political history, this is perhaps the most powerful statement made to date that ‘institutions matter.’ A provocative, instructive, yet thoroughly enthralling book.” —Joel Mokyr, Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History, Northwestern University
“A brilliant and uplifting book—yet also a deeply disturbing wake-up call. Acemoglu and Robinson lay out a convincing theory of almost everything to do with economic development. Countries rise when they put in place the right pro-growth political institutions and they fail—often spectacularly—when those institutions ossify or fail to adapt. Powerful people always and everywhere seek to grab complete control over government, undermining broader social progress for their own greed. Keep those people in check with effective democracy or watch your nation fail.” —Simon Johnson, co-author of 13 Bankers and professor at MIT Sloan
“This important and insightful book, packed with historical examples, makes the case that inclusive political institutions in support of inclusive economic institutions is key to sustained prosperity. The book reviews how some good regimes got launched and then had a virtuous spiral, while bad regimes remain in a vicious spiral. This is important analysis not to be missed.” —Peter Diamond, Nobel Laureate in Economics
“Acemoglu and Robinson have made an important contribution to the debate as to why similar-looking nations differ so greatly in their economic and political development. Through a broad multiplicity of historical examples, they show how institutional developments, sometimes based on very accidental circumstances, have had enormous consequences. The openness of a society, its willingness to permit creative destruction, and the rule of appear to be decisive for economic development.” —Kenneth Arrow, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1972
“Acemoglu and Robinson—two of the world's leading experts on development—reveal why it is not geography, disease, or culture which explains why some nations are rich and some poor, but rather a matter of institutions and politics. This highly accessible book provides welcome insight to specialists and general readers alike.” —Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man and The Origins of Political Order
“Some time ago a little known Scottish philosopher wrote a book on what makes nations succeed and what makes them fail. The Wealth of Nations is still being read today. With the same perspicacity and with the same broad historical perspective, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have re-tackled this same question for our own times. Two centuries from now our great-great-…-great grandchildren will be, similarly, reading Why Nations Fail.”—George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 2001
“In this stunningly wide ranging book Acemoglu and Robinson ask a simple but vital question, why do some nations become rich and others remain poor? Their answer is also simple—because some polities develop more inclusive political institutions. What is remarkable about the book is the crispness and clarity of the writing, the elegance of the argument, and the remarkable richness of historical detail. This book is a must read at a moment where governments right across the western world must come up with the political will to deal with a debt crisis of unusual proportions.”—Steve Pincus, Bradford Durfee Professor of History and International and Area Studies, Yale University
“The authors convincingly show that countries escape poverty only when they have appropriate economic institutions, especially private property and competition. More originally, they argue countries are more likely to develop the right institutions when they have an open pluralistic political system with competition for political office, a widespread electorate, and openness to new political leaders. This intimate connection between political and economic institutions is the heart of their major contribution, and has resulted in a study of great vitality on one of the crucial questions in economics and political economy.”— Gary S. Becker, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1992
“This not only a fascinating and interesting book: it is a really important one. The highly original research that Professors Acemoglu and Robinson have done, and continue to do, on how economic forces, politics and policy choices evolve together and constrain each other, and how institutions affect that evolution, is essential to understanding the successes and failures of societies and nations. And here, in this book, these insights come in a highly accessible, indeed riveting form. Those who pick this book up and start reading will have trouble putting it down.” ¯Michael Spence, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 2001
"In this delightfully readable romp through 400 years of history, two of the giants of contemporary social science bring us an inspiring and important message: it is freedom that makes the world rich. Let tyrants everywhere tremble!" —Ian Morris, Stanford University, author of Why the West Rules – For Now
“Acemoglu and Robinson pose the fundamental question concerning the development of the bottom billion. Their answers are profound, lucid, and convincing.” ―Paul Collier, Professor of Economics, Oxford University, and author of The Bottom Billion
About the Author
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. He is also the co-author of The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty.
- Publisher : Currency; Reprint edition (September 17, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307719227
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307719225
- Lexile measure : 1300L
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 1.05 x 7.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #18,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reviewed in the United States on April 8, 2023
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To begin with, Acemoglu and Robinson shred three of the most commonly held theses on global economic inequality, while setting the stage to argue that politics and political institutions along with their associated incentives are what really matters for long term, sustainable economic growth. First, they dismiss the Geography theory, usually associated with Jared Diamond (but also Jeffrey Sachs), which suggests that north/south continents and tropical climates are poorly suited for economic growth. That’s simply not true, the authors say. North America was once far less economically desirable than South America; the Middle East was the cradle of civilization, yet non-oil Middle East countries today are as poor as Peru and Bolivia, which are far poorer than the UK or US. “History thus leaves little doubt that there is no simple connection between a tropical location and economic success.” Second, they reject Culture theory, which started with Max Weber and the Protestant work ethic, and is just as invalid as Geography according to the authors. How can one explain the differences between North and South Korea or the US versus Mexican sides of Nogales, Arizona? Or why is it that the US, Canada, Nigeria and Sierra Leone – all former English colonies and places that have shared cultures and/ or colonial heritage – have vastly different economies today? Finally, they critique Ignorance theory, which is favored by most modern development economists, especially Jeffrey Sachs, the doyen of the poverty-can-be-eradicated school, and essentially maintains that countries are poor because they make wrongheaded policy decisions. If only they had better advisors and made smarter choices to foster economic growth, Ignorance theory proponents argue, everything would work out just fine. Acemoglu and Robinson, on the other hand, claim that leaders rarely make stupid decisions. They make rational choices that may be economically disastrous for their country, but usually align well with economic incentives that are part of the institutions that they’ve created or, more often, inherited. There is no ignorance; it’s just that the system has been set up to encourage harmful policies. In other words, “They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose.”
So what then is required for sustainable economic growth? The authors claim that “…to understand world inequality we have to understand why some societies are organized in very inefficient and socially undesirable ways.” They argue that “the ability of economic institutions to harness the potential of inclusive markets, encourage technological innovation, invest in people, and mobilize the talents and skills of a large number of individuals is critical for economic growth…” and that “…explaining why so many economic institutions fail to meet these simple objectives is the central theme of this book.”
They lay out a simple and compelling hypothesis to support their position, although it does have some holes. The argument goes like this. First, a country needs to have a foundation of stable political centralization in order to provide basic law and order. This quickly excludes such international basket cases as Afghanistan and Somalia. Thus, from their perspective, without a firm political foundation there is no hope for meaningful growth. Next, the political institutions must be pluralistic, thereby ensuring that the required stability will come from the rule of law and the establishment of a level economic and political playing field for all, and not merely by the use of force flexed by some powerful entrenched elite. Nations that possess these political traits (centralized, pluralistic, rule of law) tend to have inclusive economic institutions, such as free labor markets, secure property rights and free market economies. The combination of these political and economic institutions fosters creative destructive, to use Joseph Schumpeter’s famous phrase, as long established elites cannot thwart the new technologies and processes that threaten the status quo and thus their privileged political and economic position. This focus on the centrality of creative destruction or what is now more commonly referred to as “disruption” from Clay Christensen’s seminal “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” is really the linchpin of the authors’ entire case. I found that it has special merit, although it is far from air tight.
The authors view the Korean Peninsula as a powerful example of their theory at work. The two halves of the peninsula share the same geography and culture, so clearly those two explanations do not apply. But what about Ignorance? Although the South was until recently authoritarian like the North, the regime in Seoul allowed for secure private property, unbiased rule of law, proper public services, and an open labor market. Authoritarian regimes of every political stripe tend to have extractive economic institutions, the authors say. The state – and thus the economy, as the two are fundamentally intertwined – is set up for the exclusive benefit of some small elite. More inclusive economic institutions, with the potential for more rapid and broader based economic growth, are often eschewed because such growth would almost certainly come at the expense of the elites.
That isn’t to say that extractive regimes cannot produce economic growth. They certainly can, so say the authors, but they are destined to sputter out and collapse eventually according to their theory. Acemoglu and Robinson muster a truly sweeping array of historical examples to make their case, from the Natufian society in the Levant around 9500 BC and the Mayan empire in Central America from 400-800 AD to the Bushong in the Congo in the 1600s and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century. They also boldly predict collapse for the current Communist China economic juggernaut in the years to come (“China…is likely to run out of steam”). Indeed, extractive institutions come in all different shapes and sizes today, according to the authors. Some are Communist, others Socialist, a few are ostensibly free market democracies. But the inevitable common denominator is that the wealth of the nation is expropriated by a narrow and closed elite, whether that be the anti-communist Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the anti-FARC paramilitary in Colombia, the traditional Spanish elite in Argentina, the Sung family in North Korea, crony capitalists in Egypt, or the cotton kings of Uzbekistan.
These impressively diverse societies – as measured geographically, culturally, temporally – share many similar traits according to the authors: political centralization, often by force; forced re-allocation of productive resources and mainly for the enrichment of a narrow elite; general economic growth but technological and business process stagnation; and an inherently unstable political system as the incentives to displace the current elites and acquire the narrow stream of great wealth is overpowering. Thus, politically centralized (often absolutist) regimes with extractive economic institutions can deliver economic growth – often spectacular growth – but only for a limited period of time and almost never through technological innovation. The inherent conflicts in the system lead to a “vicious cycle” as “extractive political institutions [support] extractive economic institutions, which in turn [provide] the basis for extractive political institutions and the continuation of the power of the same elite.” The end result is always the same: economic and political collapse. However, the authors say nothing about how long such extractive regimes can continue to grow nor what sends them into collapse. In fact, many of the doomed extractive regimes survived and prospered for quite a long time: Rome (nearly a millennium), the Maya (half a millennium), and many European empires (centuries at least). Will China get its extractive institution comeuppance next year, next decade, next century or next millennium? The authors don’t hazard a guess.
A major theme of “Why Nations Fail” is the incredible long range importance of innovation: “The fear of creative destruction is the main reason why there was no sustained increase in living standards between the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions,” the authors boldly claim. They go on to note how William Lee developed a knitting machine for making stockings in England in the 1580s. Queen Elizabeth quickly squelched the idea, fearing the potential disruptions to employment as a threat to political stability. The authors write that this is precisely what all extractive political regimes with non-inclusive political institutions are wont to do: block disruptive technology. It would be the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – an event the authors claim was nothing less than “…the most important political revolution of the past two millennia” – that would change everything. Indeed, they write that “World inequality today exists because during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries some nations were able to take advantage of the Industrial Revolution and the technologies and the methods of organization that it brought while others were unable to do so.”
So what made the English Glorious Revolution so important? Well, to start, it promoted political centralization and pluralism, two key ingredients in their recipe for sustained economic growth. Indeed, politics is at the foundation of their case (“…while economics institutions are critical for determining whether a country is poor or prosperous, it is politics and political institutions that determine what economic institutions a country has”). As for the Glorious Revolution, it was a “…momentous event precisely because it was led by an emboldened broad coalition and further empowered this coalition, which managed to forge a constitutional regime with constraints on the power of both the executive and, equally crucially, any one of its members.” It gave England a Parliament that heard and responded to public petitions from a broad spectrum of society, which in turn laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution. From this radical new system many popular initiatives were developed. Their combination had a profound impact, according to thesis of “Why Nations Fail”: new and improved property rights (i.e. no longer would Englishmen fear arbitrary confiscation by the Crown); improved infrastructure in the form of canals, turnpikes, and later railroads (because investors felt more secure in their investments); a fiscal regime that taxed land rather than hearths, thus shifting the tax burden to land owners rather than manufacturers (which further increased industrial investment); greater access to capital in the form of the Bank of England (a direct outcome of the Glorious Revolution allowing for ready capital to anyone with proper collateral); and aggressive protection of trade and manufacturing from outside competition, but accompanied by the dissolution of internal monopolies. In short, the authors claim that “The Glorious Revolution…was about a fundamental reorganization of economics institutions in favor of innovators and entrepreneurs, based on the emergence of more secure and efficient property rights.” Acemoglu and Robinson note just how dramatic were the waves of innovations that propelled the Industrial Revolution (e.g. the time to produce 100 lbs. of cotton fell from 50,000 hours by hand to 300 hours with a waterframe to 135 hours with a Spinning Jenny) and that these cumulative innovations were almost all developed by new men from humble backgrounds, the antithesis of the traditional ossified, hereditary elite.
Moreover, inclusive institutions tend to promote a “virtuous cycle” of “… constraints against the exercise and usurpation of power…[and also] tend to create inclusive economic institutions, which in turn make the continuation of inclusive political institutions more likely.” The exact opposite of “…extractive economic institutions [that] create the platform for extractive political institutions to persist…” The authors use Australia, the French Revolution, and China versus Japan to further their core thesis that inclusive political institutions were fundamental for taking full advantage of the Industrial Revolution, which they claim explains the global economic inequality we have today. States with an entrenched, absolutist political system and extractive economic institutions (Eastern Europe, Ottoman Empire, Africa, China) were dominated by elites that were inherently opposed to change. “The aristocracies would be economic losers from industrialization. More important, they would also be political losers, as the process of industrialization would undoubtedly create instability and political challenges to their monopoly of political power.”
“Rich nations [US, UK, Canada, Australia] are rich largely because they managed to develop inclusive institutions at some point during the past three hundred years. These institutions have persisted through a process of virtuous circles. Even if inclusive only in a limited sense to begin with, and sometimes fragile, they generated dynamics that would create a process of positive feedback, gradually increasing their inclusiveness.”
Acemoglu and Robinson conclude “Why Nations Fail” with some promising words about an unlikely economic hero: Brazil. “The rise of Brazil since the 1970s was not engineered by economists of international institutions instructing Brazilian policymakers on how to design better policies or avoid market failures. It was not achieved with injections of foreign aid. It was not the natural outcome of modernization. Rather, it was the consequence of diverse groups of people courageously building inclusive institutions.”
In closing, “Why Nations Fail” was much better and far more intellectually deep than I had anticipated. It has been one of the most thought-provoking reads I’ve had in a long time. It is an admirable blend of contemporary economic development theory to be read alongside Sachs, Easterly, Collier and Sen and an important contribution to strategic studies and cultural history, easily on par with Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and McNeil’s “Plagues and Peoples” or “The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000.” Overall, this is a book well worth reading.
The authors begin by comparing life in Nogales, Arizona with life in Nogales, Sonora, which is only a few feet away across the Mexican border. Residents north of the border are healthier, live longer, have three times more household income, and enjoy much better government services, including law and order, with much less corruption than residents south of the border. Due to the proximity and shared background of the two cities, these striking differences cannot be explained by the usual references to geography, culture, ignorance, or the protestant work ethic. Instead, the cause is major differences of political and economic institutions between the US and Mexico. These differences have evolved because of the way the societies were formed in the early colonial period.
Spain’s and Portugal’s conquests of Mexico, Central America, and South America were complete. Hence, they were able to replace the already exploitative institutions of the indigenous peoples with similar noninclusive, extractive institutions of their own. The new European aristocracy established a system of absolutist rule with forced labor to extract the wealth and resources of indigenous peoples for themselves, Spain, and Portugal. Once established, this system persisted for centuries, including within many new countries formed after independence from Spain and Portugal. Infighting of elites over the spoils led to political instability with an endless succession of coups and dysfunctional governments. Dispossession and political exclusion of the general population led to slow economic growth from lack of incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship and from inability to counter the excesses of elites.
English colonization of the New World did not begin until after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and hence was limited to the then less desirable portion that remained in North America. The English intended to establish exactly the same kind of noninclusive, extractive colonies as the Spanish and Portuguese. However, due to differing circumstances, their initial colony at Jamestown failed to subjugate the indigenous peoples, then failed to confiscate sufficient output from their own colonists. Consequently, the English were forced to introduce economic incentives and increased political participation to develop and retain more productive colonists. These changes persisted and evolved into the institutions of the US today that are much more inclusive and much less extractive than those of Latin America. It is the cumulative effects of these extractive institutions designed to take incomes and wealth from one subset of society to benefit a different subset that explain the differences in prosperity between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora. The authors then report that similar institutional factors in other countries and eras provide the best explanation for most differences in national prosperity for the rest of the world.
Alternative possible primary sources for differences in prosperity are discussed and dismissed. For geography and culture, this is done by comparing many adjacent regions with differing outcomes, such as Nogales, North and South Korea, West and East Germany, and adjacent sides of the Kasai River in the Congo. For religion, it is noted that recent Asian successes occurred without benefit of the Protestant work ethic and that Middle Eastern dysfunction is much more strongly related to successive extractive colonization by the Ottoman Empire and European powers than to the Islamic religion. For ignorance, it is noted that the leaders of underperforming countries are well aware of the problems of their extractive policies but choose them on purpose since they benefit at the expense of everyone else. Also, it is noted that many economists seem to favor the ignorance hypothesis because it implies more value for the advice they provide.
For much of world history, economic growth has been slow due to mostly noninclusive and extractive political and economic institutions, although with some variability. In ancient Rome, expansion and some economic growth occurred during the years of the Republic (510-28 B.C.) due to somewhat more inclusive (though still restrictive) political and economic institutions. Toward the end of the Republic and during the years of the Empire (28 B.C.-476 A.D), increasingly absolutist political rule, increased economic extraction by elites, markedly increased inequality, and eventually extreme political instability with endless civil wars resulted in complete collapse. In Medieval times, the Venetian Republic flourished from its onset in 810 A.D. due to relatively inclusive institutions and a favorable location for Mediterranean trade. However, the adoption of noninclusive institutions beginning in the 14th Century led to its decline to be the museum it is today. Many more historic examples are discussed.
Although noninclusive societies sometimes manage to achieve limited growth, it is usually unsustainable. The classic Maya civilization of 400-1200 A.D. (after the earlier 500 B.C.-100 A.D. cities) initially expanded due to centralized government and occupational specialization, but then declined due to political instability from elites fighting over the spoils of extraction. From 1928 to 1960, the Soviet Union achieved 6% annual growth of income by reallocating resources from agriculture to industry, but then declined and collapsed when this reallocation was complete. Thus, growth in extractive societies is unsustainable because technologic progress does not occur when most people in the economy lack the necessary incentives and security for innovation and the necessary political participation to limit extraction by elites. Indeed, political and economic elites who benefit
from the status quo often resist conditions that favor growth because they fear the creative destruction of a healthy economy.
World inequality dramatically increased with the British Industrial Revolution because only some parts of the world had the necessary inclusive institutions to adopt the spectacular changes of its innovations and new technology. These changes started in Briton and soon spread to Europe, the British “Settler Colonies” (US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), and Japan, then to South Korea, Taiwan, and China after World War II. They failed to spread to Sub-Saharan Africa, much of Latin America, the Middle East, and much of Asia due to the absence of favorable institutions. This failure was the legacy of centuries of institutions with absolutist political repression and economic extraction (including the slave trade), mostly from colonization by European countries, then from new countries’ own elites after independence in the 20th Century.
Absolutist rulers who feared economic change leading to political change actually blocked or delayed spread of the Industrial Revolution in the Ottoman Empire, Spain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and China. Absolutism was not the only barrier to developing inclusive institutions. Some parts of the world, particularly in Africa, lacked a centralized state that could even provide the minimal law and order necessary for those institutions. European colonization even reversed some favorable institutional development, such as with the Portuguese and Dutch conquest of the Asian spice economy and with the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade for the sugar plantations and other colonies in the Americas.
The Industrial Revolution started and made its biggest strides in England because of her uniquely inclusive political and economic institutions. The emergence of constitutional rule and political pluralism made possible centralized government that could strengthen property rights, improve markets, undermine state-sanctioned monopolies, remove trade barriers, extend taxation to elites, and limit extraction by elites to increase incentives for innovators and entrepreneurs. Highlights in the evolution of this system included the Magna Carta of 1215, the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, political centralization beginning after 1485 by the Tudors and continuing with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the shift of authority from the monarch to Parliament after 1688, and subsequently numerous acts of Parliament that encouraged the countless innovations in textiles, other manufacturing, transportation, and trade occurring at the time.
Why did these inclusive changes vital to economic development occur first in England rather than somewhere else? According to the authors, the divergence of institutional characteristics between nations is largely the consequence of slow accumulation of small historical differences, the acts of individuals, or just random factors. This institutional drift is then amplified by critical junctures that lead to more rapid divergence, as in the following instances. The Black Death of 1346 led to labor shortages and land surpluses in Europe that ended feudalism in the West, where peasants had more bargaining power, but strengthened it in the East. The expansion of world trade after 1600 weakened the absolute rule of Elizabeth I of England who was unable to establish monopolies but strengthened it for the monarchs in France and Spain who were able to do so. The French Revolution led to inclusive institutions that converged with those of England in Western Europe but not in Eastern Europe.
Once established, these institutional differences are remarkably persistent due to virtuous and vicious cycles. They remain the core cause of inequality between and within nations today, although details vary from nation to nation. North Korea has one-party rule without elections, while Zimbabwe has one-party rule with the façade of elections. Argentina and Columbia have elections, but authority does not reach the periphery in Columbia. In Egypt and Uzbekistan elites took over extractive institutions of socialist governments and transformed them to crony capitalism. Centralized government is lacking in Somalia and Afghanistan because of failure to achieve it and in Haiti and Sierra Leone because of collapse of the state.
The solution to the economic and political failure of nations today is the difficult task of transforming extractive institutions toward inclusive ones. To do so, requires some degree of centralized order, some preexisting political inclusiveness, and transformative media, which are often attacked or captured by extractive regimes. Three examples of success are given. In Botswana, the chiefs seized the critical juncture of postcolonial independence to introduce inclusive institutions that achieved the highest per-capita income in sub-Saharan Africa at a level equal to that of Hungary. In the US South, replacement of the highly extractive institutions of slavery and Jim Crow in the 1960s contributed to the elimination of the 50% per-capita income gap between the South and the North. In China, the replacement by Deng Xiaoping of Mao’s extractive economic institutions in 1980 led to decades of rapid economic growth. However, questions remain about sustainability in China because this was said to be catch-up growth under noninclusive political institutions, rather than growth from innovation and creative destruction.
Multiple alternative solutions to reverse economic failures of nations are examined and rejected. The irresistible charm of authoritarian growth, such as in China, is rejected because China’s institutions are extractive, and its growth is said to be likely to end as soon as it reaches the level of a middle income country. The modernization theory that societies may pass through an authoritarian stage during rapid growth before becoming democratic as they mature is rejected because no authoritarian society has done so in the last one hundred years. The the prospect of engineering prosperity by providing the right advice is rejected because it fails to recognize the primary role of political institutions that undermine meaningful change. A primary role for foreign aid to extractive governments is rejected, since most of it is plundered and fails to reach its target.
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Países com instituições extrativas são chamados assim porque têm instituições projetadas para extrair renda e riqueza de uma parte da população e tranferir para outra. Geralmente a maior parte da população é explorada para beneficiar uma minoria que domina o poder. Já instituições inclusivas têm o poder distribuído em grande parte da população, que garantem direitos mais igualitários a todos e uma participação mais ampla na economia e política. Instituições econômicas inclusivas incentivam a população a trabalhar e gerar riqueza, levando o país a prosperidade. A garantia da propriedade privada também tem um papel essencial essencial para incentivar o trabalho e ela é garantida por instituições políticas inclusivas. Os autores dão alguns exemplos para mostrar que fatores geográficos, climáticos e culturais não são tão relevantes quanto a característica das instituições dominantes no países. Entre os exemplos estão as duas Coreias e as cidades de Nogales, que dividem fronteira entre os EUA e o México.
Dentre as histórias contadas no livro, a história de Botswana me chamou bastante atenção. Eu não fazia ideia de que esse era um dos países mais desenvolvidos da África e que não foi colônia de nenhum país europeu. Botswana tem um histórico longo de governos democráticos e nunca teve uma ditadura militar. O país hoje tem o padrão de vida médio equivalente ao do México. Segundo o livro, o sucesso de Botswana se deve a raízes democráticas desde o seu sistema tribal, que permitia ao chefe da tribo ser eleito por méritos e não por hereditariedade. As decisões tomadas pelos chefes também envolviam reuniões em que todos tinham voz igual. Em tempos mais recentes, durante o século XX, uma peregrinação dos líderes tribais de Botswana pelo Reino Unido evitou que Cecil Rhodes, o "dono" da África do Sul colonial, invadisse o país e garantiu sua autonomia.
Como exemplos de nações onde as instituições eram extrativas e culminaram na falência do estado, o livro explora os casos de Serra Leoa e Zimbábue. Em tristes relatos, é explicado em detalhes como a colonização britânica criou as instituições extrativas que levaram a base para o caos atual nos países. Como na maior parte das colônias africanas após a independência, um governo tirano tomou o poder e conseguiu e se tornar mais duro ainda que os anteriores. Procure sobre a vida de Robert Mugabe e Siaka Stevens para saber um pouco mais do que esses ditadores são capazes. Para ser ter uma ideia, no Zimbábue quando o banco federal organizou um loteria para todos os clientes, o vencedor inusitadamente foi o próprio Mugabe. Aí dá pra ter uma ideia do grau de corrupção desses países.
Um mecanismo que age em países com instituições extrativas é o ciclo vicioso que mantém essas instituições funcionando. Em um regime totalitário os poderes do ditador são muito grandes em comparação com os poderes de um presidente de uma democracia inclusiva. A chegada ao poder também leva a um enriquecimento pessoal enorme. E caso esse ditador perca o poder para outro, ele provavelmente será perseguido e até morto pelo novo líder. Essas circunstâncias levam a um apego ao cargo maior em países mais extrativos, levando a perseguição da oposição, da imprensa livre e às liberdades da população. Esse ciclo vicioso torna mais difícil a mudança de instituições extrativas para instituições inclusivas. Há também o caso inverso que é chamado de ciclo virtuoso e ocorre em países inclusivos. Ele torna mais difícil o caminho para ditadores em potencial, uma vez que o poder está distribuído por diversas instituições com diferentes interesses e que acabam servindo de oposição entre si. No livro isso é explicado em bem mais detalhes e com exemplos reais.
A descrição da Revolução Gloriosa foi muito interessante. Não conheço muito sobre a história do Reino Unido e já me questionei sobre quando e como a Inglaterra deixou de ser uma monarquia absolutista e se criou a figura do parlamento, limitando o poder dos reis. Isso se deu início justamente na Revolução Gloriosa, a semente das instituições inclusivas no país que permitiram que a revolução industrial ocorresse lá e não em outro lugar. No resto da Europa ocidental o papel de Napoleão foi muito importante para o surgimento de instituições mais inclusivas. Nos vários países que Napoleão dominou, ele implantou um conjunto de leis baseadas no direito romano que buscava garantir a igualdade de todos perante a lei. Esse sistema legal ficou conhecido como código napoleônico e foi mantido mesmo após a queda e Napoleão. Esse foi um dos motivos porque os países que foram dominados por Napoleão adotaram rapidamente a revolução industrial. Outros países como o império russo, o Otomano e o Austro-húngaro permaneceram absolutistas até a primeira guerra mundial.
A forma de colonização dos EUA e da Austrália são descritas e comparadas com as formas colonização da América Latina. É triste relembrar mais uma vez como os colonizadores tiveram uma relevância enorme no sucesso dos países que foram colônias. Na América do Sul, os espanhóis e portugueses montaram uma indústria altamente extraída porque as condições eram favoráveis. Havia uma alta densidade de população local que podia ser escravizada, terras férteis para produção agrícola, muitas riqueza naturais como a prata e o ouro. As colônias nos EUA e Austrália foram diferentes, mas não porque as intenções dos colonizadores eram outras. Eles queriam extrair o máximo possível, porém as tentativas de usar nativos não vingou e a única colônia de sucesso foi feita por colonizadores que foram para trabalhar. Essa forma de colônia permitiu a distribuição do poder a um número maior de pessoas, que levou a instituições mais inclusivas e à prosperidade.
Os exemplos para comprovar a teses são vários e os autores relatam de forma bem detalhada. Um ponto que me pareceu pouco explorado foi a influência externa de impérios e potências no mundo atual, que pode dificultar o desenvolvimento de países mais atrasados. A questão geográfica também é descrita como irrelevante, porém o livro "Guns, Germs and Steel" do Jared Diamond me convenceu de que o início da agricultura e do desenvolvimento de civilizações teve um influencia bem grande de questões geográficas, como existência de espécies nativas cultiváveis, animais potencialmente domesticáveis e ausência de limites geográfico para expansão de aldeias, como montanhas e oceanos. Na minha opinião esses dois livros se completam e são imperdíveis.
Says geography, climate, etc are not to blame, but a country's institutions. Meaning basically countries fail because they can't sort themselves out? Unfair, too simple, too smug, and not properly explained. Tries to apply this one-size fits all theory to all world history that I disagree is 'useful and empirically well-grounded.' And too many quick wins. For a nation to succeed, it should NOT let one family run everything, DO invest in technology and infrastructure, and DON'T undermine democratic institutions... we need two professors and a 550 page book to tell us this?
Analysis is far too basic - states thrive because countries institutions are 'inclusive' (=good) and others are 'extractive' (=bad). That's it! A massive oversimplification, and seems to think a country's institutions are wholly one or the other - has he been to modern Britain? And saying some countries have good institutions or bad institutions is like saying some teams are better than others because they score more goals... OBVIOUSLY, but that's not an explanation or analysis, tell us more about WHY (apart from just 'contingency' meaning random chance!)
As a high school history teacher I would want deeper analysis from this from a student. Too long but also not enough. More analysis please and less padding!
You can do better than this.
The thesis of the book is that nations that fail have extractive economies and/or extractive politics - essentially these are institutions that exist to line their own pockets or those of their cronies. Using historical and recent examples it shows how countries and areas of countries that are extractive are poorer than those where the institutions are run for the good of the people. Extractivism destroys incentives as your success only results in more being stolen from you and blocks innovation in case it should take power away from those who are currently benefiting.
The idea of success being geographical is debunked using examples like Nogales (a city spanning the US/Mexican border), Botswana (successful whist the countries around it are not) and others. Attitude of the people ideas, for example that people from Southern Europe are inherently more lazy than those from the North are also refuted with example,s as are ideas that success is culturally based.
The reasons the industrial revolution started in Britain are traced back via the Glorious Revolution, Black Death and Magna Carta. The contribution made in Eurpoe by the French Revolution and particularly by Napoleon destroying the extractive system in the countries he invaded is also shown to contribute to the success of many current nations. The authors are very clear that very minor differences in situation can end up having massive consequences so that, for example, when the Spanish colonized South America the large indigenous population allowed them to develop a slave based extractive economy whereas the British planned the same but could not do it in what became the USA due to the very low indigenous population density and therefore had to give rights to the workers to give them incentives to produce. Today we can see the result of these approaches in the relative success of the nations.
Of the current failed nations many are shown to be long term effects of colonization by the Spanish (South America), British (Africa) and Dutch (Asia) who put in place extractive institutions which by the "Iron law of the oligarch" are almost impossible to remove and have simply been taken over by new generations of rulers so they remain extractive. Countries who are successful can fail if they revert to being extractive so, for example, the Mayans were a very rich people but South America is now generally poor.
The apparent success of some extractive states, for example Communist China and Communist Russia, is explained as simply the result of better deployment of labor from agriculture to low efficiency manufacturing and that in the long run it will run out of steam as it did in Russia causing it to collapse and as it is possibly starting to do in China. An example of the conversion from extractive to an inclusive state is given as Brazil due to Lula and his workers party but now we know that actually his party was taking money out of, for example, Petrobras so it remains to be seen if the country will fall back to being an extractive failure or will surge forward into being a successful inclusive state.
Finally, the authors suggest that aid is never going to do much for failed nations unless they can be made to reform from extractive to inclusive and if we really want to help the aid should be targeted on things that will help this.