Vicious Circles

Why Nations Fail
The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
Crown, $30, 544 pp.

Helping the poor in the developing world has long been a central concern of Catholics. Catholic schools collect money for the missions; parishes sponsor sister communities in poor countries; organizations like Catholic Relief Services work on ground-level projects while advocating for increased foreign aid from governments. Supporting international charities and assisting efforts in developing countries are presented in homilies both as an ethical obligation and a source of spiritual growth.

Unfortunately, a large and growing body of research and experience shows that traditional ideas about how to help the poor in the developing world may be misguided or even harmful. Why Nations Fail assembles the best of this new research in a highly readable account. Co-authored by an MIT economist and a Harvard political scientist, it is a wide-ranging study of why some countries have developed and others have failed. Full of deeply researched historical and contemporary case studies, grounded in rigorous social science, it presents a fascinating and challenging account.

Recognizing that development cannot be measured only by GDP growth, the authors instead use a concept that assesses multiple dimensions of human well-being. In the process, they helpfully dismiss a number of shibboleths. Drawing on a plethora of comparative case studies, Why Nations Fail argues that development...

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About the Author

Mary Jo Bane is the Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she has been on the faculty since 1981. From 1993 to 1996 she was assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.