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

Author: Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson
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by keenmaster   2020-06-12
I recommend reading “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu. At a very high level, nations often fail because of elite-driven rent extraction. Sometimes they don’t just fail for a few decades, they continue to spectacularly fail for centuries.

When people are forced out of their social and economic agency by a narrow elite, they will continue to be deprived of their agency long after that elite is replaced by another elite and another elite until people forget that they ever had culture and wealth. Now, I don’t think we’re seeing the worst manifestation of that in the U.S. Far from it. But it was striking to see not only how consistently problematic elite stratification is, but how good it can be to give power to the people.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307719227/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_pp...

by neom   2019-07-12
Absolutely fantastic book:- Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty


by weirds3xstuff   2019-01-13

There are two books that I have read that have done a great deal to help me understand the dynamics that allowed Europe to rise to dominance starting in the 17th century: Guns, Germs, and Steel , and Why Nations Fail . The former talks about the geographical and ecological considerations that stifled development outside of Europe. The latter talks about the role if extractive institutions, set up by colonial powers, that remained after decolonization and prevented previously-colonized nations from developing. I can't do their arguments justice here, but if you are sincerely interested in changing your view I strongly recommend reading those books. I'll try to address your specific points:

> it seems to me that those of European heritage have made the most long-lasting and significant contributions to mankind. To name a few: space travel, internet, modern technology and medicine.

All of these marvels are founded in the scientific method, which developed during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment has been successfully exported to multiple non-European countries, most notably Japan. So, it's not just Europeans who are able to appreciate Enlightenment values. But the Enlightenment did start in Europe. So, to believe that the Enlightenment proves that Europeans are superior you must prove that the cause of the enlightenment was the innate character of Europeans, and not any contingent factors. That is...very difficult to do. And, yes, the burden of proof is on you, here, since the null hypothesis is that the biological distinctiveness of Europeans is unrelated to the start of the Enlightenment.

> I realize Arabs of ancient times also contributed a lot in the realms of mathematics and medicine.

Yes. Different civilizations have become world leaders at different points in history, which makes the idea of some kind of innate superiority of one civilization really hard to believe. It just so happens that the Islamic Golden Age occurred at a time when it was impossible to communicate over large distances, while the European Golden Age (which we are now in) occurred at a time when communication is instantaneous and we can project military power across the entire world. In other words, the global dominance of Europeans is historically contingent, not an immutable fact of biology.

>One argument I frequently hear to counter this position is that other nations have failed to develop due to colonization and exploitation.

This is an excellent argument, and is, essentially, correct.

> if they were on the same level as Europeans intellectually and strength wise, why couldn't they have found the means to fight back and turn the tables?

Although they were at the same level as Europeans "intellectually and strength wise", they were not at the same level technologically. Europe was in a golden age, Africa, India, and China were not. Again, the key here is that the European Golden Age occurred at a time when it was possible to travel the oceans and project military power worldwide. That was not the case in the Islamic Golden Age or the Indian Golden Age, which explains why those civilizations didn't conquer the world in the way the Europeans of the 19th century did.

>Instead of Europeans doing what they've done to others, why couldn't it have been the other way around?

Guns, Germs, and Steel does the best job of explaining this. In short: Europeans were blessed with livestock that could be domesticated and a consistent climate that allowed them to produce lots of food more efficiently that other regions of the world could, which allowed them to spend more time on other things, like technology. Again, the full argument is the length of a (very good) book, so I suggest you pick it up to get more details.

by LoseMoneyAllWeek   2019-01-13

>make them SEZ

Zero federal taxes and zero federal regulations? Cause I’d be okay with this. Mmmhmmm that capital inflow would be so hot.

>redistribute those votes to new immigrants

Lol wow here you need this

>limit the civil rights

Like what exactly?

by fresheneesz   2017-12-06

China's authoritarian directives have absolutely pushed it far ahead of the squalor its previous authoritarian regimes had perpetuated. Its really flabbergasting to me how people point to this as a positive for china-style authoritarian regimes. Even more stupid is the people that try to say China has a new form of government. They don't. Its basically a dictatorship.

Countries with authoritarian regimes can certainly have massive growth between huge valleys of economic stagnation or collapse. You should read Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson. They have a very clear and well supported theory on the effects of government institutions that explains china, russia, the US, and all the rest: https://toptalkedbooks.com/amzn/0307719227

And lastly, democracy vs non-democracy is not a binary thing. Russia, for example, has a "democracy" but very little real representation of its people. India has a similar problem to a far lesser degree. And so does the US for that matter. Democracy is new and something we still have to improve on. But the economic effects a democracy has, of causing sustained but slow growth, are far better than the massive economic swings and generally far lower economic prosperity of authoritarian countries.

by veringer   2017-12-06

I get where you're coming from, but there are fine examples of the best the West hast to offer too: Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, et al. There are multiple high points in the cultural landscape. Japan may lay claim to one peak, but there are other (perhaps taller) ones out there.

Within America too, there are regions and groups that stack up more favorably on a hypothetical "culture-index". For instance, Minnesota seems to be working better than Mississippi for reasons beyond location and history. If I were to speculate as to why, it'd rely heavily on the theses found within Why Nations Fail . Namely, how inclusive the local economic/political/social strucures are. That's heavily dependent on culture. Thus, my earlier comment was suggesting that the fraction of America that vehemently supports Trump is more than likely identifying with an entirely different culture than the other 60%. And (in my opinion) there's no contest as to which of the two cultures tends to produce better results. Alas, that is a bias as to what factors we value and include in our "culture-index". Those differing priorities are at the heart of our nation's lamentable cultural divide.

I don't think we need to adopt a Japanese culture to improve overall. We're a young and ignorant country... baby steps. Just a nudge toward Minnesota and away from Mississippi would yield significant long term results.

by stuffirianz   2017-12-06

> os EUA?

> Não tinham recursos nem nativos suficientes para explorar?

Não, não tinham. Não existiam grandes civilizações com governos centralizados facilmente reaproveitados no norte. Nao existem minas de ouro na virginia.

Enquanto no sul, os espanhois basicamente reaproveitaram os sistemas existentes para explorar os nativos, no norte, os ingleses tentaram explorar os nativos e nao conseguiran; depois tentaram explorar os colonos e tambem nao conseguiram. No norte, so conseguiram ter sucesso na colonizacao com programas de colonizacao baseados em incentivos que deram aos colonos um nível de autonomia completamente diferente do que os mesmos ingleses deram a toda e qualquer colonia que tenham conseguido explorar.


> E a Austrália e NZ foram colonizadas centenas de anos depois do Brasil e américa do norte, o que também influenciou muito.

200 anos. Assim como tantas outras colónias fundadas depois de 1800. Mas curiosamente, so a NZ e a Australia são países 100% ocidentalizados. Porque será?

by classicalecon   2017-08-19

If you want something different than recessions, you could look at growth theory and / or development economics. Acemoglu and Robinson have a good pop book on the institutional view.

by classicalecon   2017-08-19

Those types of changes-- psychological and sociological-- aren't something economists are necessarily interested in. And that's perfectly fine. The problem is when people that are interested in those types of changes make the illicit inference that it will change the economy in some drastic way (e.g. the neo-Luddite belief I see mentioned elsewhere in this topic that automation will replace labor, despite the fact this has been empirically falsified historically again and again, and that there are good theoretical reasons to think it's false).

On the other hand, asking about things "beyond capitalism" isn't something economists are really interested in either. The reason is most economists simply don't see a viable alternative. Marx might still have some truck in philosophical circles, but he's considered an intellectual dead end in academic economics for a variety of reasons.

Yet, there are still economists that do comparative institutional analysis, i.e. study different institutions, how they structure human behavior, and so forth, and see what that implies vis-a-vis the information and incentives faced by people working within those institutions. That's probably the closest thing you'll find to mainstream economists looking at alternative arrangements and the like-- look up new institutional economics. Recently a lot of people have won Nobel prizes for looking at those questions, e.g. you might find Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom, and Ronald Coase interesting. Also Daron Acemoglu, who wrote a good popular-level book .

by DaninHadril   2017-08-19

Political Science is a pretty broad tent, so it would help to know what particularly interests you. I've taken the liberty of identifying the broad categories for you, and further breaking them down into a few useful sub-categories. Taking a moment or two to read through this list and decide what really speaks to you as a starting point.

Political Theory: Politics is the process by which we come together, make collective agreements and allocate finite resources within society. Political theory concerns itself with how we organize our society, what the implications of this are, and how we ought to allocate those resources.

Three major elements of contemporary political theory are:

  • Democratic theory: The impact of electoral systems, the role of civil society in a democracy, how we best serve the good of citizens.

  • Pure political theory: How societies are organized, how states are formed, how we ought to advance the good of individuals. Often intersects with philosophy.

  • Institutionalism: The relationship between the state and institutions, both within the state and external to it. Everything from the United Nations to the Civil Rights movement to the neighborhood watch.

Political theory often intersects with...

International Relations: Concerns itself with the interactions between states and other states, states and major institutions, states and the global economy, and states and ideas.

Major topics in International Relations are:

  • Political Economy: While this is often spoken of domestically (within the state), the fact is that the global economy interacts with individual states. Issues surrounding currency manipulation, commodity prices and immigration are related to Political Economy.

  • Security Studies: Concerned with the security of states, addressing international crime and terrorism, war as it pertains to the objectives of the state (either to avoid or pursue), state surveillance.

  • Power relations: The power dynamics that exist between states, formal diplomacy between states, soft and hard power

Political science also entails what is in most cases the most obvious answer: State Politics.

State Politics concerns itself with elections, voting, how laws get passed, individual constitutions, political climates within a country, and analysis of topical issues. Interestingly, state politics is also likely the most interdisciplinary topic, being addressed by philosophy and within communications literature quite regularly.

Finally, states and organizations pursue Policies.

Policy Studies concern themselves with who gets what and why. This is typically spoken of concerning what social and economic programs are allocated state funds and why, but can also apply to institutions, organizations and businesses.

  • Public Policy concerns itself with all public action problems (things that wouldn't get done (or done well) without a central state). This can mean things like public infrastructure, education, healthcare, etc

  • Institutional Policy (including businesses) concerns itself with how to allocate resources the most effectively given competing alternatives.

  • Development Policy addresses policies concerned with actively shaping a state or society. While this is most often spoken of in addressing 'developing' countries, such as how to address high poverty rates or prevent disease outbreaks, it can also be applied to 'developed' states as well.

There are a number of other smaller fields of study, but this covers the broad strokes. As to what you have to do on your own? Its simple, and I think you already know the answer. Read. Familiarize yourself with the fundamental literature. I'll give you a few to start with, though if you share what interests you most I can offer more specific suggestions.

First, read something you will enjoy. No sense getting scared off just because you decided to muscle your way through "The Leviathan" for your first book. If you are interested in international relations, theory and development policy I would recommend Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. It is well written and has something for most everyone.

While maybe not for your first book, I can not recommend John Rawls "A Theory of Justice" Revised Edition highly enough. This work has influenced a great deal of political (and philosophical) theory and, even though I have my concerns with it, will provide an excellent basis of understanding other works.

Finally, and though I disagree with him on almost every point he makes, Samuel Huntinton's "The Third Wave" is fairly canonical and would be a great place to start thinking about democratic theory. Also a little hard to get into though.

It really would be easier if you isolated what you find most interesting and I'd be able to offer more specific suggestions. Regardless I hope that this helped.

by lampenstuhl   2017-08-19

That's not true. Rural Bohemia was more advanced than rural France in the beginning of the 20th century. Read it in this book, I'll just suppose they got their sources straight.