Why Nations Fail is a great book focused on the titular question. It joins prior popular science books on development that look into the question of why some nations have failed, why some have flourished, and what can be done to push all nations towards success. Unlike The End of Poverty, The Bottom Billion, or The White Man’s Burden, Acemoglu and Robinson focus more on the question of how nations end up in these situations than on the question of how to get them out of there.
The thesis of the book, succinctly, is that political institutions beget economic institutions beget development, and that going through history one can contrast the outcomes of what they term “extractive” vs “inclusive” policies (both in politics and economics). The authors rally a large number of examples: the evolution of Britain from backwater to seat of the Industrial Revolution; the differential development of colonized and non-colonized portions of countries; the shifting of countries into extractive phases and subsequent state collapse.
They make a compelling case overall, and I’m relatively convinced. The import of this from a global health/development tip is the argument that development requires organizations with an inclusive bent, and that development without this will usually be transient.
Changing culture, of course, is very difficult. So while I’m sold on the “what” that needs to occur, the “how” laid out by this approach is quite, quite opaque.