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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, is an attempt to answer one of economics' oldest and most important questions: why are some nations rich and others poor? After setting aside a number of common theories that answer the question with theories about geography, genetics and culture, the authors argue that the best explanation of the distribution of wealth in the world is institutional.
Specifically, the authors argue that rich countries are rich by virtue of having "inclusive institutions" or economic and political institutions that include the large majority of the population in the political and economic community. Inclusive institutions are democratic, in that they allow mass publics to vote and protect free speech such that political institutions respond to the interests of all persons. Inclusive institutions also set out clear property rights that are reliably enforced by adequate...