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

Daron Acemoglu
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Sep 2013
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.

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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty + The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It + Poor Economics: Barefoot Hedge-fund Managers, DIY Doctors and the Surprising Truth about Life on less than $1 a Day
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Product details

  • Paperback: 529 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; Reprint edition (17 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307719227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307719225
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 291,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"'A must-read. Acemoglu and Robinson are intellectual heavyweights of the first rank' (Guardian) 'An important book' (New York Times) 'An intellectually rich book that develops an important thesis with verve' (FT) '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)" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A provocative bestseller that explains why the world is divided into nations with wildly differing levels of prosperity. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Landmark 14 Dec 2012
By Athan
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The success of this book mirrors the progress of the "inclusive institutions" idea it talks about.

The author wrote about this stuff six years ago but did not capture the imagination of the general public. What Acemoglu does not know about growth is not worth knowing, he's the author of an excellent graduate textbook on the subject. But two transformational events have happened since 2006 that have made his ideas relevant and current: the financial crisis and, by dint of having survived it well, the emergence of China in the public's consciousness as a financial superpower.

My prejudice has always been that, warts and all, our pluralistic, capitalist, free-market system works very well. With an eye on the recent performance of markets and the increasing and often justified perceptions of stagnation and inequality in our western society, however, many people these days argue that there's another way and that China holds many of the answers. This is the book that gives you all the ammunition to demolish that theory. I think that is the secret of its massive success.

But that's a mere bonus, and the theory itself is quite beautiful. Here it is, in ten quick bullet points.

1. You can totally forget about growth if nobody holds the "monopoly on violence." You get places like Somalia, Afghanistan etc.

2. There are two types of politics: inclusive and extractive

3. There are two types of economic institutions: inclusive and extractive

4. Extractive political institutions often don't care at all for growth or innovation, lest a new order arises and the new order challenges these extractive political institutions.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I approached this with hesitation, after reading other reviews. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it - but of course it is a long academic treatise, setting out bags of evidence and potential evidence and a simple central economic thesis for which it argues, at length.

The thesis is a thesis about growth, which the authors see as the test of the success of nations. (Others might think of course, that this isn't just about growth and GDP, but you can see what they have in mind.) Growth is only possible if there is a centralised state. No centralised state, as in Somalia, just means chaos and no prospect of growth. If there is a centralised state, there be what the authors call an 'absolutist' regime where all power is concentrated in the ruler and the ruling elite and there can be growth for a while and of a kind - centrally driven growth, as under Stalin in Russia between 1930 and 1970 as labour was moved from the fields to the cities, or under the Chinese regime today, which has done something to address the need for incentives economically. But such growth will come to an end (and often it doesn't happen at all, because it's against the personal interest of the ruler or ruling elite) - because the essence of ongoing growth is 'creative destruction' the invention of new technologies etc which will throw up a new class of rich people. That's only going to happen in a world in which property rights are secure and there are incentives to innovate and invest. Of course whether that will happen is a matter of history and history is 'contingent' - you can't tell what will happen. The Young Pretender reached Derby in 1745. If he had reached London and regained the throne for the Stuarts, history in England would have been different, and the Industrial Revolution might not have happened.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why do I feel so gloomy? 5 July 2013
Format:Paperback
How dare the authors propose to answer a question that has engaged the finest scholarly minds since the mid-eighteenth century? The title of the book betrays the chutzpah of two of the finest political economists alive - Professors Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and James Robinson (Harvard). Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Max Weber, David Landes, Paul Samuelson, Kenneth Arrow, Jared Diamond, Jeffrey Sachs, Douglas North, Steven Pinker--to name but a few social thinkers--have addressed this question in one form or another. What new insights do Acemoglu and Robinson proffer? These were the questions in my mind after reading a review of Why Nations Fail in The Economist. Despite my initial reservations, I read Why Nations Fail and listened to Robinson's lectures on Youtube. I am glad I did. However, after reading the book, I feel gloomy about the prospects of poor countries like mine (Nigeria).

THE BOOK IN BRIEF
The authors seek to explain two observations: the cross-country disparity of wealth we see today (say the United States compared to Zimbabwe); and the intra-country process of wealth/poverty creation. Acemoglu and Robinson's main argument is that these two phenomena are best explained by intra-country politics: the interplay of inclusive/extractive political and economic institutions. So what? This may seem banal. Of course, politics matters, one may argue. But do geography, climate, culture and ignorance (of the elite) not matter more? The book tackles these putative causes of poverty. Acemoglu and Robinson refute the geographic, climate, cultural and ignorance theses of poverty. Geography may explain inter-continental differences in natural endowments like as arable land and draught animal species, but it does not explain intra-continental disparities in wealth.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars I felt the book laboured too extensively with examples from ...
I felt the book laboured too extensively with examples from the past and repeatedly failed to get succinctly to whatever point was being made: as if the author was being paid by... Read more
Published 18 hours ago by S. Lowe
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
love the book
Published 1 month ago by joa
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant popular economics book
This book seems to have a simple thesis but there is actually a great amount to it. The authors massive effort in reseaching the book pays dividends and what is presented is a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. M. J. Cannon
5.0 out of 5 stars I've been looking at governments and even smaller scale situations in...
Fascinating book explaining why nations both succeed and fail, ive been looking at governments and even smaller scale situations in a new light thanks to this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by fluxrope
5.0 out of 5 stars I understand much better the evolution of society now
Most interesting book I have read since years. Eyeopener!! Brainopener!! Mindopener!! I understand much better the evolution of society now!!
Published 1 month ago by Rufin Van Vaerenbergh
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick Delivery
Book was in good condition, delivered quickly and pleased to own it. Bought as part of a course study program, it's the best way to buy books relating to subject matter.
Published 3 months ago by tuscanman
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing
This book cannot fail to help you understand better how the world works. Use is as a template for assessing other countries, and your own. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Edward M. Sedgwick
5.0 out of 5 stars highly recommend
Much of what i'd write has been said by other reviewers. Anyhow, a must read for anyone interested in politics and economy. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Katu
4.0 out of 5 stars Great discussion, good case studies
15 years academic work behind these results, which are compelling to read. Backed by case studies from all continents and most times. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Terje Nordahl
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read and Very Argumentative
I read this And Found It very persuasive on almost all fronts that it argues. As I Belong To Afghanistan, I found many of the reason provided very pertinent to my country. Read more
Published 5 months ago by EnAhmad
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