Fukuyama review of Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson

Over at The American Interest:

They present a sharply bifurcated distinction between what they call good “inclusive” economic and political institutions, which are sometimes also labeled “pluralistic,” in contrast to what they call bad “extractive” or “absolutist” ones. Unfortunately, these terms are way too broad, so broad indeed that AR never provide a clear definition of everything they encompass, or how they map onto concepts already in use. “Inclusive” economic institutions, for example, seem to include formal property rights and court systems, but also have to do with social conditions that allow individuals access to the market such as education and local custom. “Inclusive” political institutions would seem to imply modern electoral democracy, but they also include an impersonal centralized state as well as access to legal institutions, and forms of political participation that fall well short of modern democracy. We find, for example, that England following the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 was incipiently inclusive, despite the fact that well under ten percent of the population had a right to vote. When AR first used the term “extractive” in their early articles, it referred to truly extractive practices like the mines of Potosí or the sugar plantations of the Caribbean which extracted commodities out of the labor of slaves. In the current book extractive seems to mean any institution that denies any degree of participation to citizens, from tribal communities to ranchers in 19th century Argentina to the contemporary Chinese Communist Party.

Since each of these broad terms (inclusive/extractive, absolutist/pluralistic) encompasses so many possible meanings, it is very hard to come up with a clear metric of either. It also makes it hard to falsify any of their historical claims. Since more real-world societies are some combination of extractive and inclusive institutions, any given degree of growth (or its absence) can then be attributed either to inclusive or extractive qualities ex post.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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