Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson believe that a great deal about the economic, social, and political life of a country can be explained by the quality of political institutions, especially the degree of extractive exploitation they embody. Their book Why Nations Fail has been well-received in the popular press and Their blog posts supporting it seem, to a layman, compelling and persuasive.

How have their ideas been received by the historical profession? What have they published about extractive institutions in the specialist, peer-reviewed literature? How original are they and how much do they owe to prior thinkers? What about their reception by political scientists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and other possibly relevant professional disciplines?

Obviously this question is somewhat open-ended, so answer or ignore as much as you like.


Jared Diamond, a cross-discipline scholar who's work more or less accurately reflects modern thinking in History, Sociology and human evolution and biology, makes a detailed review of their work here. He's pretty enthusiastic about it overall, but he does note some problems. Here's the summary:

My overall assessment of the authors’ argument is that inclusive institutions, while not the overwhelming determinant of prosperity that they claim, are an important factor. Perhaps they provide 50 percent of the explanation for national differences in prosperity. That’s enough to establish such institutions as one of the major forces in the modern world. Why Nations Fail offers an excellent way for any interested reader to learn about them and their consequences. Whereas most writing by academic economists is incomprehensible to the lay public, Acemoglu and Robinson have written this book so that it can be understood and enjoyed by all of us who aren’t economists.

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