In their latest book...Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson hark back to an earlier tradition of postwar social science, asking a fundamental question: What explains the rise and fall of democracy and dictatorship? In so doing, they offer a provocative framework for analyzing our current moment of democratic crisis ... This framework offers a powerful starting point for understanding the many perils facing aspirations for democracy and liberty today. First, it helpfully recalibrates our American tendency to collapse debates over freedom into a binary clash between the narrow liberty of 'free markets' on the one hand, and the economic and political freedoms provided by social-democratic 'big government' on the other ... While wide-ranging and provocative, this approach does have its limits. Polities do not oscillate between democracy and authoritarianism as monolithic states of being ... While Acemoglu and Robinson do not offer a playbook for today’s reformers, their book raises important questions that we will all have to grapple with.
... a work of staggering ambition ... offers a stinging critique of Trumpism and capitalism as practiced in America today ... even-handed enough that those from every point on the political spectrum will be able to cite scripture to their particular purpose. The problem, though, is it's a hard slog, even for someone who's interested in the subject and loved their last book Why Nations Fail ... The great strength and ultimately the great weakness of this book are its piece parts. It is chock full of delightful detours and brilliant nuggets ... The best part is that the authors make their argument by citing the world's first economist, Ibn Khaldun from Tunis, famous today for having invented what we know as the Laffer Curve. It's this sort of breathtaking erudition, linking ideas and events across geographies and time periods, that makes this book special ... I found myself flipping forwards and backwards—backwards to go back to something that was said earlier, and forwards to see how many pages were left. Many of the arguments are nuanced. It takes reading and rereading to fully understand what the authors are saying. And they don't make it easier by using a vocabulary borrowed from Thomas Hobbes and embellished with their own euphemisms ... Using a vocabulary we're already familiar with would have made this book a bit easier to digest ... Perhaps it's harsh to criticize this book for failing to live up to the absurdly high standard it set for itself, and instead we should appreciate it for what it is: smart and timely book on an important topic.
Crucially and rightly, the book does not see freedom as merely the absence of state oppression ... This book is more original and exciting than its predecessor. It has gone beyond the focus on institutions to one on how a state really works.
There’s some insight here, although not vast stores of novelty ... Alas, these kernels of insight come with substantial padding in a maddeningly episodic book of more than 500 pages. African tribes, Chinese emperors, Enlightenment philosophers, religious prophets and Founding Fathers drift in and out of focus, yet the book never gives a coherent account of how society might find its way into the narrow corridor or why it might permit itself to drift out of one ... When the authors do focus on a historical example, the results are unconvincing. Their potted history of America—which will garner them praise for their frontal assault on American exceptionalism—is hopelessly confused ... The relationship between state and society on the question of slavery and race in America is complex, rarely happy—and instructive. Yet at most turns the authors seem to get it backward.
The authors muster an admirable wealth of examples, then simplify the analysis with diagrams and easily remembered labels ... There is a good deal of repetition in this work whose thesis is simple yet examples are complicated, but it doesn’t affect a well-written and argued treatise ... Indispensable reading for political scientists but also accessible enough to appeal to all educated readers.
Though the argument is a little jargon-y, it is, as with the authors’ previous books, provocative and intuitively correct ... An endlessly rewarding book full of takeaways, including the thought that the best societies protect everyone’s rights.