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Why Nations Fail (Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson) – English Lesson

Nov 15, 2021

Listen to the episode here: Why Nations Fail - English Vocabulary Lesson

Welcome.  These are podcasts are for people who want to learn English, and specifically, people who want to learn English so they can read, speak or listen about economic issues.

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Today, we will introduce the book titled Why Nations Fail. This book was written by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson and it was first published in 2012.  The author's view of the relationship between institutions and progress has gained the support of many readers, but there are others who criticize the book and say its ideas are simplistic. I wonder what you think about it.

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Vocabulary. Here is some English vocabulary that helps you understand the topic, and more importantly, this vocabulary helps you THINK about the topic.

Here we go:

Natural resources: Elements that can be used for economic gains, like forests, water, fertile land, oil, or minerals, such as gold, or copper, or silver.

Procedure: An established or official way of doing something in a certain order or manner.

Institutions: refers to entities with procedures and ways of doing things. The state apparatus that manages affairs in a country is an example of an institution. In fact, it is an institution composed of many other institutions doing different things.

Institutional strengthening: The process of helping institutions develop and work better.

Sustainable development: This happens when the economy develops without depleting the natural resources that society depends upon.

Prerequisite: This is something that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen or exist.

Political Pluralism: When political power is shared among many different actors with many different opinions and ideologies.

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The complete title of the book is: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.  As you would expect from a book with this title, the authors try to explain how some countries have managed to achieve high levels of prosperity, while others have consistently failed.

The authors argue state that political and economic institutions — not culture, natural resources, genetics, religion, or geography — are the main reason why some nations have gotten rich while others remain poor. This is because institutions have a set of rules and enforcement mechanisms.

A good example is North Korea and South Korea. Eighty years ago, the two were very similar, now, thanks to the impact of the different institutions south and north or the border, the two countries are very, very different. South Korea is prosperous; North Korea is not. North Korea has a very authoritarian government, South Korea is much less so.

The authors say that pluralistic political institutions – where there is a wide range of thought and opinion –– can guarantee that the owners of existing monopolies will not be able to block the introduction of new technologies … new technologies that, according to the authors, are a necessary condition for the country's transition to sustainable development.

Authors Acemoglu and Robinson also believe that another prerequisite is a sufficient level of centralization of power in the country. Without this centralization, political pluralism can become a real mess, and nothing will get done.  It is a delicate balance.

Some critics point out that there have been cases of countries without political plurality, who have in some cases been dictatorships, that have experienced rapid growth and deep economic reforms, for example, the experience of China in the 1980s.  Others point out that there have also been cases of countries with pluralistic institutions which have exploited their natural resources without considering their sustainability at all.

So, what do you think about all of this? And that is your English homework now. In order for the vocabulary to sink in, take some time now and think about the questions I am about to ask you.

Think vividly about a topic is THE WAY for you to remember new vocabulary and structures. Better still, write your ideas down in English.

So, here is the vocabulary one last time, then wait for the questions.

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Vocabulary. Here is the key vocabulary from today’s podcast. 0y

Natural resources: Elements that can be used for economic gains, like forests, water, fertile land, oil, or minerals, such as gold, or copper, or silver.

Procedure: An established or official way of doing something in a certain order or manner.

Institutions: refers to entities with procedures and ways of doing things. The state apparatus that manages affairs in a country is an example of an institution. In fact, it is an institution composed of many other institutions doing different things.

Institutional strengthening: The process of helping institutions develop and work better.

Sustainable development: This happens when the economy develops without depleting the natural resources that society depends upon.

Prerequisite: This is something that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen or exist.

Political Pluralism: When political power is shared among many different actors with many different opinions and ideologies.

Discussion

  1. Do you think that institutions explain all of the differences in development across countries, or are some of these differences due to geography, culture, ideas, or even just luck (good or bad)?
  2. How can a central government create and strengthen institutions?

That’s all for today. If you enjoy studying English in the context of economics, visit our courses page to see what classes are currently available.

This is Alan Robert, have a fantastic day.

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