Understanding Why Nations Fail
Accurately deconstructing modern societies, and explaining their strengths and weaknesses is an extremely difficult task. Daron Acemoglu, and James A. Robinson attempt to achieve this task in their book Why Nations Fail. Why Nations Fail uses the economy as a focal point in understanding societies throughout history. Acemoglu and Robinson cite a combination of human actions and institutions as the primary factors in shaping modern governments and economies. The most prominent concepts discussed in Why Nations Fail as molding society are property rights, social contract and the true nature of man. The contracts of the social contract and the true nature of man demonstrate the prosperity and possibly stability of societies. In contrast, propriety rights demonstrate how humanity is inherently self-interested. Acemoglu and Robinson focus on these concepts to support their argument that extractive economies are more beneficial to societies than inclusive economies.
Why Nations Fail depends upon various historical examples, and the concept of Natural Law in economics to frame their argument. Acemoglu and Robinson demonstrate the importance of property rights, social contract and the true nature of man in society through understanding the relationship between Natural Law and the economy. These concepts are represented in Why Nations Fail as coming to fruition during ‘critical junctures’. These junctures prompt carious changes in institutions. Acemoglu and Robinson use the example of the Black Death as a dominant example of a modern critical juncture. In reaction to the Plague both European and Asian societies were drastically altered. Western Europe ultimately benefited from the effects of the Black Death. The widespread sickness impacted the role of peasants in European society. After the Black Death peasants had more agency in their society. “The plague shook the foundations of the feudal order” (Acemoglu & Robinson, 98). This critical juncture allowed a peasant class to restructure society to benefit their needs. As the peasant class gained a larger voice in European society and in European culture, transitioning from a feudal and thus inclusive economic system into an extractive economy. However, the Black Death was not a “positive” critical juncture throughout Europe and Asia. Acemoglu and Robinson juxtapose this reaction with Eastern Europe’s reaction of creating harsher divides between the peasant and upper classes. Why Nations Fail uses these opposite reactions to the same critical juncture to show that while these junctures can greatly impact governments and societies; ultimately it is how people react, and the interplay of the three main themes that determine if nations are successful.
Acemoglu & Robinson then implicate the true nature of man in the success of nations. The true nature of man states that people are ultimately self-interested and not concerned with the success of a larger society. Despite t...