Why Nations Fail (2012) by Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson is a substantive, serious and interesting look at one of the central problems of politics and economics, why a number of Western and now non-Western countries have become rich while much of the world has taken time, and may not, become as rich as they are.
The book puts forward the thesis that it is institutions, the rule of law and secure property rights, or inclusive institutions, that create the conditions that have seen wealth explode. Extractive institutions, either feudal or modern authoritarian are bundled together to describe how societies fail to get rich. The book offers a considerably better explanation than that contained by Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Indeed the book in general has a more solid thesis and far more interesting historical discussion than Diamond’s book.
The book’s rejection or discussion of why other factors matter less than institutions is reasoned but is perhaps a little too strong. Also discussion of whether ‘inclusive’ institutions fail to provide as good a defence as all extractive ones is not discussed. The glorious revolution of 1688 may have succeeded in the UK in considerable part because if such a period of instability had occurred in continental Europe the results would have been subjugation by a neighbouring state. Britain’s security moat is not a feature many countries have. There is also little discussion of why Europe managed, some 200 years prior to the Glorious Revolution, to cross the Atlantic and have firearms.
But, the book is definitely the best book around on the critical topic of why it was that Europe took off and why only a small proportion of the world has reached the level of affluence that it has. They also make some interesting and perceptive comments about the current state of the world.