The question of the origins of the wealth of nations has nagged at the mind of many an economist since the first modern contribution to the theme by Adam Smith in 1776. From Angus Maddison to Amartya Sen, by way of Joseph Stiglitz, Jared Diamond or Tony Atkinson, many have tried to offer some sort of answer or to propose arguments capable of explaining inequalities in socio-economic development between countries. In a work published in 2008 (An Introduction to Modern Economic Growth, Princeton: Princeton University Press), the economist Daron Acemoglu identified four fundamental causes of economic growth: natural environment, culture, institutions and luck. He has gone further into this question, with the assistance of James Robinson, in Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York: Crown Publishing Group), published in late 2012.
This work has given fresh stimulus to the debate on the origins of international economic inequalities (particularly on account of one of its conclusions –that Chinese economic growth can be expected to falter without major institutional reform in that country) and Charles du Granrut outlines it for us here. He focuses specifically on the factor the authors regard as essential for guaranteeing sustained economic development –“inclusive” political institutions– and cites various examples in support of their argument. Without neglecting the originality of their approach, he compares it to that taken in an earlier, similarly conceived work (Violence and Social Orders by D.C. North, J.J. Wallis and B.R. Weingast) and highlights some limitations of their analysis.