Bringing History Back in: Three Big Books
Are you short on time, but feeling the pressure to keep up with the latest ideas in development theory? If so, you probably won’t have had a chance to read fully the three recently published and important books on the politics of development:
- Violence and Social Orders (by D.C North, J.J. Wallis and B.R. Weingast, 2009)
- The Origins of Political Order (by Francis Fukuyama, 2011), and
- Why Nations Fail (by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, 2012).
DLP may be able to help….
This paper provides the core summaries of their main arguments and the supporting evidence, accompanied by a brief analysis of some common themes and questions. Summaries of this kind, of course, cannot do real justice to the richness of these books, nor are they intended to be a true substitute for reading them in full. But at least they should whet the appetite and provide a useful introduction.
Three important questions emerge from these very important studies.
- First, they all ‘bring history back in’ as central to our understanding of development. But can historical evidence be used as a basis for policy and operational advice and, if so, how?
- Second, all three books offer different ways of classifying different types of political and social order: for instance, limited or open access orders; societies characterized by effective states, the rule of law and accountable government; and societies shaped by ‘extractive’ or ‘inclusive’ institutions. But classification is not explanation and each category itself contains many ‘varieties’. So do such classifications contribute to consistent explanatory theories of change that tell us how one type of social or political order replaces another and what the common inner politics of those transitions have been?
- Finally, all these books point sharply to politics as the ultimate binding constraint on growth and development. If correct, what is to be done? More precisely, what can the international community do to support the emergence of developmental leaderships and coalitions - up, down and across the politics of developing societies - that will help to shape the locally appropriate institutional arrangements and policies that, in turn, can promote both inclusive growth and political stability?