James Robinson discusses ‘Why Nations Fail’

By Jocelyne Soto
Torch Correspondent

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Professor Robinson referring to presentation throughout lecture. Photo by Jocelyne Soto.

Professor James A. Robinson came to Roosevelt to provide insight on the question: why nations fail. He discussed his popular book of the same title in this discussion. There are many theories as to why there are some countries who are more well off than others.

Professor Robinson currently teaches at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and he is a faculty director of the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts.

According to his theory there have been “the emergence of weak, despotic and inclusive states.” Robinson goes on to differentiate between these three and in doing so describes how they could affect a state. Weak states would be unable to provide many basic services to the people and no one has very much power. Despotic states on the other hand have power for the higher ups but general citizens are not given very much or any power. The last being the inclusive states are much more balanced and give power to those meant to be in charge as well as the citizens.

Through these descriptions as well as Robinson’s own words, the theory is that it is inclusive states which tend to provide more powerful and balanced nations.

“When the people are weak, the state is strong; hence the state that possesses the way strives to weaken the people,” Robinson said.

Robinson recognizes China as a country with a great deal of power and potential but that it is very much a despotic state. The people of society are given less power than what they should have as is also recognized in Yang’s quote.

Likewise, Montenegro and Somalia would be considered weak states while the U.K. and Switzerland would be considered inclusive states. Robinson’s theory suggests that what truly differentiates under what state or region a country falls into are the political institutions established.

He provides also  the case of European history. Over the course of time there had been a shift to having control over the state by society. This shift in politics would have also created an economic shift which is often what defines a country. It is the economics which truly make or break a country.

The theory presented seems to suggest that the political institutions in regards to how they handle as well as distribute power will sway the direction the economy goes which in turn could improve a state or break it down.

In the end Robinson looks through this type of structure and variables involved to determine whether or not a nation may fail.


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