Opinion

Why Nations Fail

Schooling in Egypt vs. Schooling in Uzbekistan

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

When he was 10, five hours a day for months were spent not in the classroom, but preparing a dance show for Suzanne Mubarak’s annual visit. This was not an isolated event. There would be such a visit almost every year, and a large chunk of the school year would be spent on this. Not as bad as picking cotton, though probably contributing not that much more to useful knowledge. (For more on Suzanne, see here.)

Not that things were that much better when they were in the classroom. Key assignments included writing letters to President Mubarak thanking him for all his tireless work for Egypt; designing a logo for Mubarak’s campaign in elections (no matter that the elections were already fixed); drawing scenes of loyal Egyptians gathering in the streets out of their love for Mubarak. You get the picture.

You might think things may have changed after Mubarak’s fall. And yes they have. Now key assignments include writing letters to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, thanking them for their tireless work for Egypt. Bonus points are given to those students who emphasize that this tireless work includes defending Egypt against foreign-financed revolutionaries and their puppet masters masquerading as NGOs.

Welcome … to the world of failed nations

Failure is all around us. When you hear of failed nations, you may immediately think or Somalia or Afghanistan, where state institutions have all but completely collapsed. But failed nations are much more ubiquitous. In this globalized and integrated world of ours, there are huge differences in economic prosperity across nations. According to the latest World Bank data, income per-capita in the US, at $47,360 is about 50 times that of Sierra Leone, of 40 times that of Nepal, or about 15 times that of El Salvador or Uzbekistan. These countries have not experienced the sort of state collapse that Somalia or Afghanistan did. They have nonetheless failed in reaching anything close to the sort of prosperity that countries like the US, Switzerland or Germany have. This is a failure no less consequential than that experienced by Somalia and Afghanistan. And it is every bit as much a result of the choices that these countries — or to be more exact, their elites and leaders — have made.

This blog is devoted to understanding why nations fail and to shed light on current economic, political, and social events through the lenses of the theory we have developed in our book Why Nations Fail.

Welcome to the sad world of failed nations.

For starters, take Uzbekistan. Why does it have 1/15 of the US income per capita? Perhaps it is because of “human capital” — Uzbekis having less education and education and skills? Well there’s a surprise, Uzbekistan has close to complete primary and secondary school enrollment, and close to 100% literacy. But look a bit deeper, and you’ll see something a little unusual going on in Uzbeki schools.

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