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Why Nations Fail By Daron Acemogly And James Robinson

2009 words - 8 pages

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemogly and James Robinson stipulates its own answers for questions asked by most who study or engage with development, war and poverty. The central question is – why are some nations strong and others weak? Why are some trapped in perpetual poverty and others thriving in excess? Why do some nations fail while others do not? The authors argue, very basically, that it is “institutions, more precisely the political institutions that determine economic institutions” (Boldrin, Levine and Modica) that determine whether a nation will succeed or fall apart. They present a variety of important examples and make statements meant to force their audience to really think about privilege, luck and what truly determines our fate. This essay will first present a summary of the book and its central ideas, and then it will discuss whether these are valid, important and how they fit into the broader debate.
The book opens with a chapter entitled “So Close and Yet So Different: the Economics of the Rio Grande”. This is an interesting choice in itself – people often discuss these questions relative to third world countries in Africa and the Middle East, but rarely do we consider the issue from the perspective of the US-Mexico border and the striking difference that exists between these two nations in towns and cities that exist only hours apart. The authors open with describing this striking contrast, between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, cities that share a name but not a flag. In the former, there is a relatively healthy population, with electricity, telephones and a sewage system, guaranteed education, and an average income of $30 thousand dollars a year. They are not the richest of American cities, by far, but they still exist to serve as a foil for the Sonoran Nogales, where the average income is about one-third of their American counterparts. Most adults have not finished high school, and many young people are not in school at all. There is a high rate of infant mortality, and crime is high and fear is higher. Unlike in the United States, democracy is new for Sonorans and for Mexico generally – before 2000, the country was under the control of the corrupt PRI. Arguably, they still are oppressed by corrupt institutions.
Here, they begin to highlight what will become their central point. They state “there is no difference in geography, climate, or types of diseases… the backgrounds of the people are quite similar and they are not essentially different” (Acemogly and Robinson, pp 19) and as such, these conditions cannot be used as an excuse or explanation for the difference between the two areas. Here, the authors present their central hypothesis: “Nogales, Arizona, is in the United States. Its inhabitants have access to the economic institutions of the United States… they also have access to political institutions that allow them to take part in the democratic process… they live in a world shaped by different...

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