Why Nations Fail attempts to answer an important economic development question: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? The book stresses that development occurs when political constraints are removed. In an interview with The Region, Daron Acemoglu discusses his coming book and more specifically the Arab Spring:
The big question is: Is this going to be a political revolution like the Glorious Revolution in England, which unleashed a fundamental process of transformation in the political system with associated economic changes? Ultimately, such political revolutions are fundamental to the growth of nations. That’s one of the arguments we make.
Or is it going to be the sort of revolution like the Bolshevik Revolution or the independence movements in much of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s, where there was a change in political power, but it went from one group to another, which then re-created the same system and started the same sort of exploitative process as the previous one?
The Bolsheviks were obviously very different from the Romanovs, but they created an even more exploitative system than the Czarist regime in Russia. Many of the independence leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, from Nkrumah to Mugabe to Kenyatta, were obviously very committed to throwing out the whites. And they had very legitimate demands, just like the Egyptians do today, but the system that they created either degenerated into something as bad or they personally created something even worse, like Mugabe did when he destroyed Ian Smith’s terrible racist regime, and he created something as terrible.
Earlier, in the 1960s, Nkrumah came to power in Ghana, and in Sierra Leone, Margai came to power. Margai re-created a very exploitative system. It was perhaps marginally better than the British system, but then Margai was replaced by his half-brother and then by Siaka Stevens in 1967. Stevens made things so much worse, but all of its roots were in what Margai had done. [He had] just taken over the British system and used it for his own political and economic purposes. Under Stevens, the whole system sort of collapsed.
So, there is no guarantee that such movements will translate into a broad-based political revolution, as opposed to a palace coup where one group takes control for another. And again, part of the point of Why Nations Fail is trying to understand the conditions under which one takes place and interpret the long swath of history and the institutional variations that we see around us in light of this.
The book will be released on March 20, 2012.