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Institutions Spark Economic Growth: Edge Q&A with Economics Speaker Daron Acemoglu

“It's no mystery how you get economic growth,” bestselling author Daron Acemoglu says in a new, hour long interview at Edge.org. “You need to provide opportunities and incentives.” The problem, the noted economics speaker says, comes when trying to structure a political agenda dedicated to achieving those goals and having people abide by it—even if it is not in their immediate best-interest.

It is this type of counterintuitive thinking that has made Acemoglu's book Why Nations Fail (co-authored with James Robinson) such a success. In the interview, Acemoglu argues that prosperity comes from strong, citizen-driven, institutions rather than geography (which was the long-standing theory). This is a point that the MIT economist and Clarke Medal winner stresses over and over again: it is a country's institutions, and the opportunities they provide for their citizens, that account for that nation's economic successes. Further: growth and prosperity cannot come in the form of a top-down mandate. Rather, citizens have to play an instrumental role in achieving this growth.

“You really need people themselves to start taking part in the political process,” Acemoglu insists. “Any solution you impose from above is not going to stick unless it has the support of the people, unless the people themselves are the ones who push for it, who demand it, and who implement that solution.”