Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

On Why States Fail (Robinson & Acemoglu)

I wanted to make one comment and raise one question at the end of your
talk, which I enjoyed immensely.

I was surprised that your model pretty much treats war and peace as
exogenous.  Geography matters, it seems, only with respect to economic
organization but not the security dilemma, at least not as IR types
have articulated this concept.  Paradoxically, as the war makes states
school of scholars has long argued, where the security dilemma is more
intense states will have incentives to build states all else equal.
In Latin America, there is seems to be a high correlation between
external threats (i.e. and a more intense security dilemma) and more
robust states (Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Southern
Brazil, & Argentina).  Overall, the the security dilemma in Latin
America has been rather benign.

I was going to ask about the title of your book: “Why States Fail.”
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why states in Latin
America generally don’t fail when prima facie circumstances suggest
strongly that they should.  Colombia, Peru, and Cuba come to mind as
states that should have failed and yet did not do so.  Today we can
add Guatemala to the list of states that should fail.  Why did things
not fall apart in these states?  I have a Huntingtonian read of your
thesis, which I believe is consistent with what I understood from your
presentation: both inclusive as well as exclusive regimes are
incredibly resilient.  Both provide order if not creative destruction
and rapid economic growth.

Last comment: I buy the argument about political institutions not
being what they appear to be and Mexico is, as you noted, a terrific
illustration that is comparable to the U.S. South.  Mexico’s
transition to democracy, on the surface, puts is in one of your bad
diagonals.  Inclusive political institutions + Exclusive economic
institutions.  In fact, the electoral institutions in Mexico remain
heavily biased in favor on vested interests: organized labor and
monopoly capital, public and private.  They remain, in short,
exclusive as you noted.  That said, electoral competition is very real
and is beginning to loosen up the economic institutions.  There has
been movement on anti-trust.  There have been noises about changing
electoral institutions in significant ways.  My guess is that this is
being prodded along by the drug war, which has focused attention on
the state and its performance as voters are getting ready to flock to
the polls next year.


One response to “On Why States Fail (Robinson & Acemoglu)

  1. Pingback: The author responds… « Grits and Tamales

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