64 Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson: For Showing It's Politics That Makes States Fail

Foreign Policy, December 2012 | Go to article overview

64 Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson: For Showing It's Politics That Makes States Fail


Economist, political scientist | Cambridge, Mass.

It's firing that in the year after the Arab Spring and the European debt crisis dethroned one head of state after another, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and Harvard University political scientist James Robinson put out an authoritative tome arguing, based on a sweeping historical survey stretching back to the Neolithic age, that state failure stems not from culture, geography, or insufficient technocratic expertise, but rather from what they call "extractive institutions"--those that concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few elites. "Poor countries are poor because those who have power make choices that create poverty," the two write in Why Nations Fail. "They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose."

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In tackling one of history's most vexing questions--why some countries flourish while others flounder--Acemoglu and Robinson argue that Mexico is poorer than the United States because of the institutions established by Spanish versus British colonialists, and that authoritarian China's current economic growth is simply not sustainable. The duo has also launched a blog to apply their thesis to everything from the eurozone crisis to sexual repression in North Korea.

Along the way, Acemoglu and Robinson are making people think again (and again) about geopolitics. …

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