Don Aitkin on why nations fail

His summary of Why Nations Fail: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by Acemoglu and Robinson. The sub-text of the story is the difference between Argentina and Australia although he did not explore that topic as he was urged to do when he was wondering what to do after his PhD.

So here is my summary. Some nations succeed, and for a long time. Then slowly, or quickly, something goes wrong. Why? The authors offer three candidate explanations which anyone who is interested in history will have come across. The most popular is the geographic explanation… The authors do a neat job of demolishing that one, though it has a lot going for it.

Culture is the second. Some ‘nations’ just don’t develop a culture that encourages agriculture. They never invent the wheel, for example; they don’t protect and domesticate animals; they get set in hunter-gatherer cultures that work for them… Pre-1788 Australia provides a good example. But other groups in similar situations did learn about domestication, food production and settlements. Why not the indigenous Australians?

Ignorance is the third. Some populations simply don’t ever get it, and continue not to get it. Here there is a mixture of culture and ignorance. The authors point out that similar groups in similar situations do in fact sort it out, and get past ignorance. In those cases what happens then is a growth in wealth for the community.

He pursued the idea of extractive and inclusive political systems. In extractive systems elites gain control and tax the others or enslave them. The inclusive system offers everyone the opportunity to do their own thing, and to prosper.

Most political systems are extractive, but the vibrant, prosperous ones are inclusive. Australia is one, the USA another. So are the ‘Western democracies’. But they were not always like this.

What prevents the return of the extractive elites? Democratic elections, a strong central government, the rule of law, and so on. These are more or less embedded in our system. They are not immovable, however, and they need protection.

We need to be careful what we mean by democracy and a strong central government. That does not mean unchecked majority rule and it does not mean big government. The government needs to be limited (minimal) and also strong enough to resist the incursion of extractive elites. A nice idea but we are a million miles away from that kind of government.

In case you are looking for the book.

This entry was posted in civil society, Cultural Issues, Oppressive government, Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Don Aitkin on why nations fail

  1. Mark M

    Apologies if this video was originally from here.

    Otherwise, if you have 55 minutes …

    1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Eric Cline, PhD)

    I looked out of curiosity, stayed an hour because this is a most interesting history lesson.

  2. Entropy

    What prevents the return of the extractive elites? Democratic elections, a strong central government, the rule of law, and so on. These are more or less embedded in our system. They are not immovable, however, and they need protection.

    Australia since World War Two has always vulnerable to corporatist capture of the levers of government: that happy little tri-umpherate of Big Business, Big Union, and Big Government.

  3. Dr F red Lenin

    On tracing my ancestry I found I am descended from the Orkney Islands where the standing stones are older than Stonehenge and people lived in fairly sophisticated dwellings 5200 years ago , these dwellings were far more sophisticated the anything the anoriginals ever had . The Orcadians obviously had contact with other societies exchanging cultures to improve life ,the Australian aboriginals obviously had no outside contact and thus remained primitve

  4. MPH

    Average IQ of the inhabitants and energy scarcity or abundance, which are somewhat overlapping. Next question.

  5. the not very bright Marcus

    As I keep telling (trolling) my leftie mates …the aboriginals should have dedicated more to defence and stronger borders.

  6. I_am_not_a_robot

    The sub-text of the story is the difference between Argentina and Australia …

    In 1930 the gross national product per cap for Argentina was ~20% higher than for Australia.
    As I understand it, it was a combination of autarkic economic policies of successive governments and the growth of a corporate state, where left or right categorisation was irrelevant, that stuffed Argentina.
    It is the increasing intervention of the state as demanded by CC™ hysteria that will fuck-up this country as in Europe, particularly Germany.

  7. Roger

    Democratic elections, a strong central government, the rule of law, and so on. These are more or less embedded in our system. They are not immovable, however, and they need protection.

    “We just can’t sit on our asses and leave the political process to Neanderthals who don’t want to believe in the future.”

    John Kerry, Global Table Conference, Melbourne, 2019.

    A former POTUS candidate!

    And he’s not the only one saying such things. Prog-Leftists are increasingly taking soundings on delegitimising the democratic process and suspending the rule of law in order to implement their revolutionary economic and political agenda under the guise of saving humankind from climate change.

  8. Iampeter

    Oh great. Another terrible book by people who have no idea, trying to get to the root of why nations fail.
    At least this one doesn’t go with the obviously wrong deterministic explanations, like “geography,” that you normally get from the usual hacks. Although Don Aitkin, whoever that is, still seems to think terrible explanations like this have “a lot going for it.”
    No, instead these original geniuses go with nonsense terms like “extractive and inclusive political systems.” Derp.

    Don’t read books like this. They do not make you more informed.

  9. Crossie

    In my view it is the prevailing culture in every case that ruins a country. As long as you have Amore than two thirds of the people believing in one system of government, one economic system, one ethical or moral code you have a cohesive society and a productive society. Once those beliefs erode and head towards the fifty/fifty ratio you get instability and conflict with young people usually in favour of change.

    In the 50s we were at the two thirds believing the same, the agitation started in the 60s continuing through to the 80s when the agitators started occupying the corridors of power. Today they own the two thirds of the culture and we are done.

  10. Gilas

    Hello wimpeter!

    Trolling, as always, the ancillary threads, but (almost?) never the OT… I wonder why..

    Just for once, elevate yourself, escape the abjectly ignorant close-mindedness you wallow in and watch an intelligent discussion on what is required to escape the group-think that’s destroying the West, including YOUR wealth.

    You might learn something.

  11. Iampeter

    Gilas, randomly throwing insults instead of even trying to address anything I’ve said, means it’s you who has a lot to learn.

    But I do appreciate you inviting me to the OT in between the insults.

  12. John Stankevicius

    I tried reading this book on the Australian Aeroflot flight home from Bail. Could not read more than 30 pages as all it does on each page, line after line, extractive societies fail, later we will show you an example – the example never comes. The upshot is if societies take more from the individual the society fails . Interesting point is that before European entry into Africa, the area of modern day Congo, the chief was trading his males into slavery to other tribes.

  13. John Stankevicius

    Entropy – spot on, wise man said that to me, govt is not there for you or I but for govt, unions and big business.

  14. Pyrmonter

    Is it right to say the comparison of Argentina and Australia has been ignored? It seems to have died off, but CEDA used the ‘Argentine Road’ as a metaphor in warning against what would now be termed ‘populism’ in the 1980s, and a good deal of Ian McLean’s economic history writing touched on the subject, as noted by Tim Harcourt, someone else who has looked at it:

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