The Political Economy of Economic and Productivity Growth: An Interview with Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Authors of Why Nations Fail

By Ragan, Christopher | International Productivity Monitor, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

The Political Economy of Economic and Productivity Growth: An Interview with Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Authors of Why Nations Fail


Ragan, Christopher, International Productivity Monitor


IN FAST-GROWING DEVELOPING countries like India and China, rapid productivity growth is largely driven by economic growth, resulting in rapid increases in the average living standards of the population. Consequently, an understanding of the reasons for this strong productivity growth requires a broader perspective on the dynamics of the overall growth process. In March 2012 two academics, Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT and James A. Robinson, a political scientist and economist at Harvard University, published Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York: Crown Business). (2) With great historical detail, the book makes the case that it is man-made economic and political institutions that underlie economic success by creating incentives for wealth creation, rewarding innovation and allowing widespread participation in economic opportunities.

On June 29, 2012 in Montreal, Christopher Ragan from McGill University had the opportunity to meet with both Acemoglu and Robinson to discuss their thesis that it is institutions that largely determine economic growth. This article is an edited transcript of the interview.

Inspiration

Chris Ragan (CR): Your book Why Nations Fail is essentially attempting to answer Adam Smith's question regarding the wealth of nations. Why do some countries succeed and other countries fail? What inspired you intellectually to write this book?

Daron Acemoglu (DA): It's probably quite similar for both of us because we were both interested in economic development. We both came into economics trying to understand the wealth of nations. After thinking about this problem a little bit, working on it from different angles, we independently and then together came to the conclusion that institutions and the politics of institutions played a central role. We could not go very far without understanding why countries were adopting different policies and different institutions and that these institutions and policies were endogenous. They were not God-given things falling from heaven. Our interest in history came out of that whole perspective.

James A. Robinson (JR): Yes, I think we both had this idea that the discussion in economics was completely lacking this historical angle and that it was terribly unsatisfactory. I remember, earlier this year, we were both at a conference and somebody was going on about Haiti and wondering why it was such a mess. How could you possibly think about such a question without recognizing the history of the country? You can't look only at the last 20 years of data and talk about that problem.

CR: You have to swim pretty hard against the current in the economics profession to be so inspired by the historical and political connections--and by the political economy. We all have our primary intellectual influences. Who were yours?

DA: I think the work of Douglass North and Joel Mokyr have been the biggest influences.

JR: And also work by Robert Bates on comparative political economies in Africa, in particular his book (Markets and States in Tropical Africa). I read that book when I was a graduate student at Yale. It just brought all of these things together in a very articulate way.

The Big Picture

CR: Let me turn now to some definitions and the big picture. For those people who don't yet know anything about your book, how do you describe the central message?

DA: The central message is that institutions shape the incentives that ultimately determine prosperity. But more importantly those institutions have to be understood within the political context because they are shaped by who has political power and how political power is exercised in a nation. And that is essential for our understanding of institutions because they really determine the distribution of resources in a society as much as the growth potential.

CR: You make a key distinction between inclusive institutions and extractive ones.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Political Economy of Economic and Productivity Growth: An Interview with Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Authors of Why Nations Fail
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.