Why Nations Fail

The time for talks in Syria has passed

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012


Kofi Annan’s mission is unlikely to lead to a meaningful resolution to the crisis in Syria (see here). This is not only because the conflict has in all likelihood reached the point of no return, but also because the Syrian regime would have probably never acquiesced to a peaceful transition in the first place. It is useful to understand why Bashar al-Assad’s regime decided to fight it out, with only the flimsiest attempt to reform and placate opponents.

Caste and coercion in Nepal

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012

Slavery in Nepal was abolished only in 1921. Corvée, forced labor, was made illegal in 1952, but survived. It was only in 2000 that various sorts of coerced and bonded labor finally disappeared.

Who’s afraid of economic development?

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012

Surely even the most kleptocratic dictator would be in favor of economic development. Economic development means greater income, greater taxes and more stuff to grab, so what’s not to like about it? But actually, it often doesn’t work that way.

Is the one percent the same everywhere?

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012

Allan Meltzer’s article raises a lot of interesting issues. The main argument is that top one percent has increased its share of national income pretty much everywhere, and this underscores that the causes of this trend should be sought in global trends. It is true that there have been important global trends — in particular, skill-biased technological change and growing international trade — increasing the demand for skills. See for example Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz’s magnum opus on this, or this discussion of their book, or this article on technology and inequality. None of this is (very) controversial.

The unending warfare in Africa

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012

Sierra Leone is not the only African nation that has been ravaged by civil war. They have been all too common, and any explanation for African poverty that does not come to grips with these all-too-frequent civil wars is bound to be incomplete. Though the number and death tolls of African civil wars have been declining, they are still ongoing in many parts of the subcontinent, including in various parts of the Niger Delta, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, and of course Somalia.

Schooling in Egypt vs. Schooling in Uzbekistan

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012

An Egyptian friend reacted to our blog on schooling in Uzbekistan (see here) saying that schools under Mubarak weren’t all that different.

Fear and loathing in Sierra Leone

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 15, 2012

By 1991, Sierra Leone was a failed nation, mired in poverty, with an economy almost continuously shrinking for almost three decades. And then failure turned into total collapse…

The problem with Sierra Leone’s chiefs

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 1, 2012

The economic institutions that keep Sierra Leone poor are not just national. Most people in Sierra Leone still live in villages, and their lives are governed by chiefs. Chiefs raise taxes, hire the local police, dispense justice and control the most important resource in rural Sierra Leone today – land. The chiefs are the “custodians of the land” which in effect means that they decide who gets what. Here are two imposing Paramount Chiefs photographed in the 1980s, Madam Yatta K. Saffawab II and M.K. Mustapha Ngebeb IV (from “Portriats of Paramount Chiefs of Sierra Leone”, by Vera Viditz-Ward and Roslyn A Walker, Smithsonian, 1990).

The cow eats where it is tethered

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 1, 2012

We saw the fancy school and the nice new houses in Sierra Leone’s president Ernest Bai Koroma village, Yoni, in our last blog. Koroma is in good company among Sierra Leone’s presidents.

The easiest way to live well in a poor country?

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
March 1, 2012

Where do you think this fancy school is located?

Not in the United States. Not on a Greek island, financed by tourism revenues and EU funds. It is in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world with about 1/50 of the income per capita of the US, where only 41% of the adult population can read and write. But it is not in Freetown, the capital city, nor is in Bo, the next biggest city and capital of the south. Indeed, it is not in any of the major urban centers. It is a small village, Yoni in Bombali district. It was recently built there by China Aid. Why would anyone want to build a wonderful school in the middle of what Africans call “the bush”?