Why Nations Fail

The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty

Acemoglu, Daron

Book - 2012
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Why Nations Fail
Random House, Inc.
Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:

- China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?
- Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?
- What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More
philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?

Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.

Baker & Taylor
An award-winning professor of economics at MIT and a Harvard University political scientist and economist evaluate the reasons that some nations are poor while others succeed, outlining provocative perspectives that support theories about the importance of institutions.

Book News
Why are rich nations rich and poor nations poor? Acemoglu (economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Robinson (government, Harvard U.) proffer a very simple answer: because poor nations are ruled by narrow elites uninterested in promoting the economic welfare of the country as a whole, while rich nations have experienced fundamental transformations in their political institutions (they offer England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 as exemplary) where the people have won more political rights and thereby were able to expand their economic opportunities. They provide a general account of the processes that underlie this phenomenon, drawing examples from world history as illustration of their points. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

& Taylor

Evaluates the reasons that some nations are poor while others succeed, outlining provocative perspectives that support theories about the importance of institutions.

Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307719218
Branch Call Number: 330 A
Characteristics: 529 p. : ill., map ; 25 cm.
Additional Contributors: Robinson, James A. 1960-


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May 14, 2013
  • delfon rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This is a fascinating read for a number of reasons: the use of historical evidence to prove the authors hypothesis; the drawing of inferences from a variety of countries, cultures, peoples and the clear way it seems to fall together. In the main though, this work can relate to modern times quite easily. Canada can be seen as an extractive economy, whether we change is still questionable. But stagnation and proverty abound, Why are there so few top people? Anecdotal examples:. Contracts not upheld, criminals not tried, opportunity denied, rights abrogated, select individuals chosen to act for the leadership (senators for the PM), candidates attempt bribes of voters with 'goodies" (see labrador election). Even though Canada is viewed as one of the inclusive ecoomies, there are enough real life anamolies to make one wonder. Canada is a failed nation by this books' assessment, even if not by its admission.

Jan 04, 2013
  • steverenko rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This book is magnificant in its approach to the real history, what really happened out there as compared to what I was taught in school. I have rewritten my opinions what history was then.

Aug 07, 2012
  • Rock_Shadow rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I am not an economist, so this book was fascinating to me. I agree with the fist reviewer that it got a little repetitive in the last part (I started skipping a little bit); but overall it was a enjoyable and informative book, successful in it's ambitious presentation.
The main topic is addressed right away, about how a country's future is determined by either extractive or inclusive systems of government. In the first one the rulers control people's lives and do not allow them to either contribute to the well-being of the society or innovate with their talents. They even punish people for their physical and intellectual properties. In the inclusive society people's property and intellectual rights are safe; people are valued for their talents and contribution to the society.
A big issue is innovation, also called creative destruction, that leads to progress and well-being of the whole nation.
I liked the way the authors developed the theme through historical examples from all continents, from ancient history to 2011. Also, very informative section went over why other theories haven't worked. At the end the authors provided some ideas how to help poor countries with extractive governments to start on more inclusive path.

Jun 22, 2012
  • rstolzster rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

The central idea of this book is built around the role of institutions (extractive or inclusive) and politics and their influence on how economies grow or fail.

The book is most compelling when it rips apart contemporary theories of development. It's failure is how it addresses the question: so what? It's a book filled with interesting historical insight, without much in the way of a 'therefore'. It feels incomplete.

I also found the book rather repetitive. 500 pages could have been condensed into a much more readable 200 pages.

Still, the sweeping analysis and sharp insights are worth a read. And after putting the book down, I do find myself thinking about the points raised in it.


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Acemoglu, Daron
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