Acemoglu and Robinson Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist Jim Robinson, who just published a new book called Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty and are now blogging on a variety of interesting development topics.

Their thoughtful responses below cover everything from robber barons to the artificial construction of African nations to whether the race of a country's leaders determines its success.  A big thanks to Daron, Jim, and all our readers for another great Q&A.  

First, a note from Daron and Jim: "We thank everybody for these excellent questions and comments. We had to pick a few to be able to provide detailed answers.

Why Nations Fail

One of the great experiences of my stint in grad school was taking Advanced Macro classes from a fellow who at the time was regarded as a promising young professor at MIT -- Daron Acemoglu.  It was well worth making the bike trip from Harvard, down Mass. Ave., to learn from him.  He is surely the most productive economist alive.  And his frequent collaborator Jim Robinson may just be the most interesting political scientist.  Their joint research program — figuring out what works and what doesn't in economic development -- involves asking some of the most important questions any social scientist can ask.  

Daron Acemoglu on Inequality

If you're even a little bit interested in income inequality and how it matters, this Browser interview with MIT economist Daron Acemoglu is a must-read. Acemoglu explains how economists generally think about inequality:

The default position of economists is that inequality reflects the unequal human capital or productive capabilities of different workers. If you start with that premise – that what people earn is commensurate with their contribution to their employer, and also perhaps to society – then greater inequality tells you something about how people’s productivities have evolved over time. This is by no means what every economist believes, but it’s a common view. Economists have cut their teeth on inequality by looking at things like the increase in the college premium over the last 30 years in the U.S. and other economies, as well as the increase in the gap between relatively high earners – the 90th percentile of income distribution – versus the bottom 10th percentile. We’ve seen a big increase in inequality, measured in various ways, and this reflects the fact that the top people, the more educated, high earners have become more skilled. Technology has favored them, globalization has favored them, and inequality has increased for that reason.

Acemoglu wins Clark Medal

In golf, there is a tradition of the last winner of the Masters helping the latest victor slip into a green jacket. In economics, we don’t have the same tradition, but if we did, it would have been an honor for me to bestow a green pocket protector on Daron Acemoglu last week when he […]