Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Just to be sure

Christopher Caldwell reviews Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, at the Claremont Review of Books.
"The Acemoglu-Robinson scheme is less comprehensive than the culture—or technology-based accounts of Samuel Huntington, David Landes, or William McNeill. It is, however, flexible enough to prove almost anything the authors wish. Episodes that contradict it can be dismissed with what English journalists used to call a 'to be sure' clause. In France, the Reign of Terror 'was temporary and did not derail the path toward more inclusive institutions.' (Temporary for France. Permanent for those who lost their heads.) In Rome, 'the transition from republic to empire increased extraction and ultimately led to...infighting, instability and collapse.' (Well, yes, 'ultimately'—after about 500 years.) The authors might call this kind of growth unsustainable, but in the long run, we are all unsustainable. So are our political institutions."

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