Pillars of Prosperity: The Political Economics of Development Clusters

Princeton University Press
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"Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things." So wrote Adam Smith a quarter of a millennium ago. Using the tools of modern political economics and combining economic theory with a bird's-eye view of the data, this book reinterprets Smith's pillars of prosperity to explain the existence of development clusters--places that tend to combine effective state institutions, the absence of political violence, and high per-capita incomes.

To achieve peace, the authors stress the avoidance of repressive government and civil conflict. Easy taxes, they argue, refers not to low taxes, but a tax system with widespread compliance that collects taxes at a reasonable cost from a broad base, like income. And a tolerable administration of justice is about legal infrastructure that can support the enforcement of contracts and property rights in line with the rule of law. The authors show that countries tend to enjoy all three pillars of prosperity when they have evolved cohesive political institutions that promote common interests, guaranteeing the provision of public goods. In line with much historical research, international conflict has also been an important force behind effective states by fostering common interests. The absence of common interests and/or cohesive political institutions can explain the existence of very different development clusters in fragile states that are plagued by poverty, violence, and weak state capacity.

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About the author

Timothy Besley is the School Professor of Economics and Political Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Torsten Persson is the Torsten and Ragnar Söderberg Chair in Economic Sciences and professor of economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 8, 2011
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Pages
392
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ISBN
9781400840526
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Development / Economic Development
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Law / General
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Political Economy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities.

The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:

- China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?

- Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?

- What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?

Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world. 
Leading scholars examine political, legal, social, and market institutions through a microeconomic lens.

The narrative of development economics is now infused with discussions of institutions. Economists debate whether institutions—or other factors altogether (geography, culture, or religion)—are central to development. In this volume, leading scholars in development economics view institutions from a microeconomic perspective, offering both theoretical overviews and empirical analyses spanning three continents. After substantial introductory chapters by Pranab Bardhan and Marcel Fafchamps, two scholars who have published important work on this topic, each of the remaining chapters examines a particular set of institutions in a unique setting. These chapters treat the effects of Angola's violent conflict on that country's development; institutional accountability in Uganda; the effect of Indonesia's ethnic diversity on the distribution of public goods; the impact of trade liberalization on India's investment climate; extended family networks in Mexico; and a microeconomic perspective on land rights in Ethiopia. The chapters demonstrate the remarkable heterogeneity of institutions—policy change is mediated through local market institutions, government institutions, and families—as well as the empirical and methodological ingenuity of current research into this crucial topic.

Contributors
Manuela Angelucci, Oriana Bandiera, Pranab Bardhan, Timothy Besley, Martina Björkman, Robin Burgess, Giacomo De Giorgi, Stefan Dercon, Marcel Fafchamps, Rajshri Jayaraman, Pramila Krishnan, Eliana La Ferrara, Gilat Levy, Marcos A. Rangel, Imram Rasul, Ritva Reinikka, Jakob Svensson

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