Why nations fail | James Robinson | TEDxAcademy

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Why do some states enjoy wealth, security, health and nutrition while others face poverty, unemployment, lack of health care and safety?

James Robinson is a political scientist and economist. Professor Robinson teaches Economics, History and Government at Harvard University. His main research interests lie in the study of the economies of
developing countries. He travels a lot in Latin America and Africa and spends
his summers teaching at the University of Bogota. In 2012, he was elected
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2007, James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu coauthored the book “Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”. The book was considered the best book released on U.S. policy and international relations. Their latest book, “Why Nations Fail”, was included in the ten best releases of the 2012 list in
Washington Post.

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Žaneta Baršić-Schneider says:

Not that I’m an advocate of the Soviet regime in Eastern Europe, BUT most of the extremely poor and corrupted African countries would be more than happy with the very well organized and free healthcare, education, housing, paved roads only to mention the few of achievements including those in science. Remeber Jurij Gagarin, the first man in Space?

Arman McHitaryan says:

Oh, don’t you dare mentioning the Congo… Congo’s hope, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was murdered through US and Belgian proxies in 1961 – he refused to sell the country’s natural resources to Western corporations ‘for free’ – his body dismembered and dissolved in sulfate. Should I also add who ruled there before that? Belgian stooges the like of Leopold 2nd of Belgium, who alone is responsible for the death of nearly 15 f**in’ million people… It’s all on wiki and all over the Internet…

Kingmucktoad says:

I have read the book “Why nations fail” (I’m not even kidding) probably 20 times AT LEAST and it blows Guns Germs and Steel right out of the water. Institutions are the reason behind the failure and success of nations a simple look at any economic map will show this.

I Created An Account For This says:

Interesting that I don’t think he mentioned corruption once, yet he appears to be drawing a comparison between relatively corrupt institutions and non-corrupt ones.

HowSci says:

This theory might be fine, but he’s given a plenty of bad examples.

Samo Piuzi says:

Good reading.

Anna Korbinska says:

wonderfull theory…but full of half-truths … :/

KootFloris says:

He totally ignores the activities of some very rich countries (read incl. huge corporations) to keep many poor countries poor. Most famously USA support to dictators who protect their interests.

Ryan Ogden says:

Oh my goodness! Ken robinson has six siblings and his father’s name is James. is this ken robinson’s brother??? He kind of looks like him. He’s even British! haha

Roberto Orsi says:

You cannot compare North Korea and Congo.
North Korea is poor, but it is not total chaos.
Congo is a complete disaster even if it is not a communist state or a nation in an awkward geopolitical spot. Something else rather that just institutional difference is going on.
If anything, North and South Korea, or even Japan, demonstrate that certain cultures reproduce patterns of order regardless of political and economic conditions.

caesarmatty says:

Every audience shot shows a hundred assholes on their phones.

Cyberization says:


Shadoufang says:

Because of US+allies intervention (invasion and infiltration) ;’DD
(and I’m only A BIT kidding… look it up, even until today 2017 — the Venezuela conflicts, Syria and Yemen.)

Chance Robinson says:

What a myth! The only differences between Carols Slim and Bill Gates are: 1) Carlos Slim took care of his bribes first. After Microsoft hired an army of lobbyists and made a few campaign contributions, the Department of Justice settled the case; and 2.) Just like the Carnieges, Rockefellers, and all the rest, try and buy their good name back by appearing to give the wealth they stole away, but they still control enough to keep themselves in the 0.001%. Once they’re gone, no one is around who remembers them as ruthless robber barons.  The distribution of wealth in the U.S. is proportionately the same as the Third World.

NeoMaxim says:

Political power and free markets cannot be reconciled. This is the point that is ultimately missed. When you have free markets, populations generate tremendous wealth, which is then expropriated by governments and redistributed in a wasteful fashion. South Korea has a freer market compared to North Korea, that is the only reason for its prosperity, and it can be argued that it would generate even more wealth with less government regulation. North Korea is a great example of the big boot of Government’s true function: to limit the prosperity and quality of life of its population in order to maintain a parasitic political elite class.

WorldLady says:

The US economy is not inclusive, nor is its political system. As per 2013 US statistics, the top 10% of income earners own 74% of the wealth. The top 25% of earners own 90% of the wealth. The bottom 50% of earners own a measly 1.4% of the wealth. That’s NOT at all inclusive. The income inequality in the US is the same as in 3rd world countries. The 6 members on the Walton family have as much wealth as the bottom 30% of the US population combined (that’s 100 million people). Now, let’s talk about how inclusive and broadly representative politics are in the US. Currently, there is NO limit on the financial contributions wealthy individuals AND corporations can make to finance the election of politicians. Whoever has the money owns the government. That means the bottom 75% of the US population has no representation — and their rights and income have been steadily declining for years. The United States was built on wonderful democratic principles of equality and inclusion, but that is history. Today the exact opposite is true.

laarson johnson says:

Thank god for Microsoft not creating monopolies, oh wait didn’t they had lawsuits in europe just because of monopolies they created. Take this speech with lot of criticism.

Myelinator says:

Individual property rights is the key difference between poor countries and rich countries

Harry Percy says:

Keep swilling that Kool Aid James and hopefully the reality of first World’s rigged and closed system will remain unknown to you till you die. To those who know how the patent law really operates have no delusions about American moral high grounds or any such fairytale as equality of opportunity in the so-called ‘free Western democracies’

yourtv says:

Income inequality in US is what makes it strong.

Myelinator says:

A strong state is not necessarily a good thing especially if it’s centralizes Authority

Felipe Mejia Medina says:

Such a good book, such a bad conference.

Divya John says:

what about the role played by colonialism in making nations fail in the 21st century? The remnants of colonialism and imperialism still exist today

emawerna says:

It is silly to say that a particular set of rules or institutions is what creates the success.  You’ve ignored law variations and institutional variations within the subset of successful people.   Japan has vastly different laws than does the U.S.  Saudi Arabia has different laws than France. 

This is the same type of thinking behind lots of diet trends.  If only I can find the exact right diet formula, I will be successful.  I will lose weight without giving up anything.  We should focus all our efforts on finding the exact right formula.  Right???  It isn’t like persistent effort coupled with any sensible diet is the right answer. 

Go ahead have that chocolate bar you want.  In the case of Greece, go ahead spending without austerity even to the point of threatening your stability.  As long as you have the exact right formula of institutions and rules, you should be fine.  Right???

Once you’ve found the magic set of rules and institutions to keep countries from failing, call me.  I need a consultation on creating the exact right set of rules and systems to make my toddler behave.  That should be child’s play compared to diagnosing the laws and institutions of whole countries.

Policy Maker says:

His comments and comparisons might have been a bit too romantic for some, but the theory is so well put together by the facts and history/experience thats its hard to imagine it might not be 100% true. Sure some specific situations might need better analysis, but at its core, it just makes TOO much sense, compared to other theories. My favorite “book” up to now.

Marco Pinteiro says:

Sombody please tell JAMES ROBINSON that Microsoft have been sued for monopoly!

Eric says:

Corporations are dictatorships, when they have the income of a small country they can manipulate those and even bigger countries. The result is democracy is just a façade. The financial position of the corporation becomes more important, the starving poor don’t matter. There are times when the American Government has stepped in to protect American corporations.

Chance Robinson says:

Paul, you’re not bitter or cynical, just observant…, must have worked in IT. Lies like this, factoids, tend to get in the history books before truth ever gets in the newspaper.  In fact, being a “Truther” is now a pejorative. 

jones061 says:

I don’t think this dude is very good… the patent system is not inclusive because slaves created most of the inventions and got no credit for them!!!

rick fucci says:

The U.S. did well for many years because of the immigration of people striving to escape the dark age tyrannical political structures of the old world. The strength of these people set in motion the wave of change that has lead to a new dark age Tyrannical Political structure with the power to destroy the human race… We need new institutions that can replace these old dark age empire structures..

Emmanuel Iziomoh says:

Would like to ask whether James Robinson has been to North Korea???

Víctor Pacheco says:

Really??? Carlos Slim made his fourtune by holding a monopoly (which i do not doubt) but Bill Gates with Microsoft, that has been found guilty of antitrust behavior by the FTC in several ocassions, didnt?

Arman McHitaryan says:

You never hear these kinds of jokes mocking people and nations in speeches given by scientists like Noam Chomsky. So many missed points and obvious mistakes, such us no mentioning of external factors whatsoever (wars), or that Bill Gates DID build a monopoly and was sued for that reason, Microsoft HAS stolen hundreds of concepts (intellectual property) from Apple and other countless companies and has had many issues with that.
Bottom line: the book basically casts a brief look at the current state of affairs and gives no meaningful insight into Why Nations Fail. Which is I strongly believe, can’t be given a simple, unequivocal and definite answer. There’s one answer though that makes more sense than this whole book: concentration of power. Including South Korea whose power-base is the US.

Bastiat in the Andes says:

Great! Only thing I did not understand is what is an institution.

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