NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Economic Backwardness in Political Perspective

Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson

NBER Working Paper No. 8831
Issued in March 2002
NBER Program(s):   EFG

We construct a simple model where political elites may block technological and institutional development, because of a 'political replacement effect'. Innovations often erode elites' incumbency advantage, increasing the likelihood that they will be replaced. Fearing replacement, political elites are unwilling to initiate change, and may even block economic development. We show that elites are unlikely to block development when there is a high degree of political competition, or when they are highly entrenched. It is only when political competition is limited and also their power is threatened that elites will block development. We also show that such blocking is more likely to arise when political stakes are higher, and that external threats may reduce the incentives to block. We argue that this model provides an interpretation for why Britain, Germany and the U.S. industrialized during the nineteenth century, while the landed aristocracy in Russia and Austria-Hungary blocked development.

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Published: Acemoglu, Daron and James Robinson. "Economic Backwardness in Political Perspective." American Political Science Review 100 (February 2006): 115-131.

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