“Why Nations Fail,” Perhaps Because They Read About It Too Late?

Nikolay Torosyan

Editor of PanARMENIAN.Net

In January, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan woke up one quiet sunday, visited a bookstore and bought several books. In the evening, the Prime minister bought a few books by Armenian writers, Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, as well as Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s Why Nations Fail.

And while the majority of those on the internet were bewildered or made jokes about the title of Manson’s book, the choice of Acemoglu’s book remained unnoticed.

This is a good occasion to talk about how late incomplete and outdated we are when it comes to discussing the problems of economics, politics and other fields of expertise, and how this incompletion threatens to distort our understanding of any problem we may have.

The book of Acemoglu and Robinson describes the success stories and failures of different countries, civilizations and cities.

Emphasizing the importance of political and social inclusion , that is, the role of inclusive institutions, the work often prefer that quality over other characteristics, such as geography, history, neighbors, resources, etc.

Whether the work was both widely welcomed, being reprinted repeatedly, and criticized.

For example, you can read Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gate’s criticism of the book and its authors and the author’ response to the businessman, read the Acemoglu-Robinson’s debate with economist, Jeffrey Sachs, watch Acemoglu’s and Sachs’ face to face discussion or find opinion regarding the work on your own.

And here is the crux of the matter: the book that we are reading advertising and discussing in the winter of 2019, was released in 2012.

Six years have passed since the publication of the book in the Armenian language, one university generation and a little more. There is a great deal of professional and interdisciplinary discussion around the book, as a result of which some of the arguments are convincingly denied, and another has been established and new knowledge has been born.

Of course, we have the opportunity to read it in all other languages, but it is mostly done by professionals. In contrast to the West, where Acemoglu-Robinson’s book became a hot topic in the press, academic circles and universities, and the knowledge gained a relatively broad public audience, in our case, the reader’s wide masses are “condemned” to read only the original source, the original book.  

That is conditionally the same as tuning into the Game of Thrones TV series halfway through then switching it off: You will understand and remember some things, but the information you receive will be incomplete.

There is absolutely no blame on the translator, publisher, or book seller here. Publishing a book is a business, the industry solves the problem of its own survival and income and does what it thinks is right.

There is a demand for Acemoglu, they satisfy that demand and it’s a good thing they do. Where did that demand come from?

The Armenian pubic would probably not be aware of Acemoglu if he wasn’t Armenian.

Can you remember the name of the many economist who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2018? And we heard about Acemoglu for the first time in the context of Nobelean’s perspective, it had been a little while since the book was in print.

Then in 2015, on the year of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, the invitation made to Davutoglu to Acemoglu to come and work in the Turkish government. 1-2 video bridge episodes about the dangers of corruption in Armenia. The Velvet Revolution, a telephone conversation with Pashinyan and an invitation to visit Armenia.

The demand for Acemoglu’s book arose not out of its academic merit, but because he is Armenian and is in this or that way dealing with Armenia.

This, obviously, does not create a positive background for translating professional literature or articles into “vigorous” discussion of such issues.

Perhaps the press has re-published 1-2 important interviews or articles at a very low frequency, but seeing that they are not in demand, they will stop doing it altogether. Therefore, we have to be satisfied with whatever we have.

And so, why do nations fail and how can failure be avoided? It’s doubtful that our society will find the answer to that question and find the recipe for one’s own country by taking into consideration only one author’s point of view.

Here’s a list of some relatively classical and modern literature on the subject, in order to look at the question through other perspective:

Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations

Alexander Hamilton – Report on Manufactures

Mancur Olson – The Rise and Decline of Nations

Eric Reinert – How Rich Countries Got Rich . . . and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor

Ha-Joon Chang – Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

Joe Studwell – How Asia Works

Nikolay Torosyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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