Foreign Policy Global Thinker: Daron Acemoglu

December 1, 2010

Daron Acemoglu of MIT is #88 on Foreign Policy‘s list of the 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2010.  Acemoglu tells Chrystia that his big ideas involve “the relationship between democracy and development” and “the historical roots of economic success and political success, and unfortunately also economic failure and political failure, across nations.”  Professor Acemoglu explains why he disagrees with modernization theory, which states that nations tend to democratize as they get richer. He also disagrees with the thesis of fellow FP Global Thinker Raghuram Rajan that income inequality was a root cause of the most recent financial crisis.  Acemoglu also discusses the prospects for democratization in China, and Russia’s project to replicate Silicon Valley outside Moscow.  His next big idea, he hinted, is exploring the relationship between individualism and society.

Here’s Foreign Policy‘s take on what makes him a top global thinker:

Some Nobel Prize selections are a genuine surprise. The same won’t be true if Daron Acemoglu, already at age 43 one of the world’s 20 most cited economists, eventually takes the award. Born in Turkey and educated at the London School of Economics, Acemoglu quickly made a name for himself with papers and monographs that examined how economic incentives align with political life. His specialty is the analysis of the political conditions under which markets thrive — namely, democracy. It’s a theme Acemoglu has explored in a steady stream of academic papers, textbooks, and op-eds — work that so impressed his peers that he won the John Bates Clark medal in 2005, given annually to an outstanding economist under age 40. Acemoglu’s next book, co-authored with Harvard University’s James Robinson, Why Do Nations Fail?, argues that a real “freedom agenda” will start with democratic rules rather than free markets. “You would not need armies to implement such a scheme,” Acemoglu said, “just a functioning bureaucracy.”

Head on over to Foreign Policy to find out what’s on Acemoglu’s reading list and what he considers are the best and worst ideas of 2010.

Posted by Peter Rudegeair.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

FP list is a real dinger…because it reflects more on FPs insular (American)outlook than what globalization means i n emerging markets. If same list was produced, for example, in Sweden or Netherlands, there is good possibility that more than half of the List would more or less disappear. Insularity is the *new normal* for American thinking…reflecting the decline and fall of the Great Satan.

I don’t agree with Acemoglu’s views on mainland China and its relative relevance to moderanization – based on the Politburo – he can’t stomach Chinese definition of democratic socialism.

Posted by hariknaidu | Report as abusive

I think that when you are choosing ivory tower people and not real world people who work and sign paychecks you get just what you pay for. Lots of ideas from books, lectures, studies, and just ideas. We need more down to the ground people and less air heads.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

Much of this economic analysis we fancy-ourselves boils down to time-proven plain common sense such as the following –

– free and unregulated democracy broods corruption in capitalism and leads to polarizing the nation

– this polization – a signature of developing nation, makes the voice of truth to be lost in the noise of immoral majority

– an individual in this environment is helped by technology infrastructure such as the internet, where truth becomes transparent and pervasive instantly (such as WikiLeaks in the recent example)

– this truth when accounted by the functional justice system to bringing accountability of the corrupt, will represent meaningful correction to this process ; (if the justice system itself is corrupt, then a prayer would be in order)

– temptation of cheap goods and convenience come at the expense of environment, health, jobs and conduct

An aware and practical living within means, warding off temptations of current time and doing actions of common-good will sustain you well in this world and beyond.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

[…] Foreign Policy Global Thinker: Daron Acemoglu | Analysis & Opinion |. […]

Posted by Foreign Policy Global Thinker: Daron Acemoglu | Analysis & Opinion | | Making Sense | Report as abusive

Historically Chinese culture has proven itself to be far more resilient than adaptive. I found the observation on their preference for training engineers to be very revealing; Engineers are trained to avoid risk.

Efficiency comes with a corresponding cost in terms of flexibility. Forgotten now, but in the early ’90s places like Bell Labs were forcing their employees to attend lectures on Japanese manufacturing process management and on our need to embrace Japanese management thinking. I was a major pain to the lecturers there, because I brought up a lesson from WW II.

The naval architectures of the U.S. and Japan had enormous impact on the results; it wasn’t all our ability to make ships faster or our deployment of radar, we were winning when Japan still had considerable numerical superiority.

The Japanese made highly efficient ships, faster and better armed than ours, but with primitive to brutal living conditions for the crews. Ours placed a far higher emphasis on crew comfort. In part that was because both sides thought they would eventually fight the decisive battles in the Philippine Sea, close to Japan, a long way from California.

In 1944 those battles happened, pretty much where both sides had always thought. But by then the Japanese crews, which had been living in cramped unhealthy conditions for over two years, were exhausted. One historian quoted the commander of the force that committed a catastrophic blunder in Leyte Gulf as having made the wrong decision because he and his staff were simply experiencing mental exhaustion.

Japan never thought that their ships would be at sea for so long. China seems to think they will never face an economic slow-down. What happens when 100 million little emperors get a pink slip?

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive