The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

The Great DegenerationWhat has caused the world’s richest and most powerful countries to lose their way and show signs of decline? Are they even in decline? This has been the quintessential argument of political science students everywhere for the past two decades (seethis article and this article for example). The Great Degeneration, based on a lecture series given by Niall Ferguson examines this question and develops a seminal argument about the reasons of the West’s decline over the past two decades and the resurgence of the East. Using new institutionalism, Ferguson argues that the decay of the West’s most powerful institutions is to blame for this degeneration, pointing his finger at four of the West’s most fundamental and pivotal institutions in particular: the government, the marketplace, the legal system and civil society.

Ferguson makes his way through each of these institutions, exploring how they have contributed to the actual or perceived degeneration of the West. Ferguson argues that the West’s democratic institutions, for instance, have become ineffective and are unable to make key investments in infrastructure needed to move the economy forward. He argues that the marketplace has become overly complex and debilitated, that the rule of law has become the rule of lawyers, and that civil society now expects the state to solve social problems that in the past have typically been solved by these civil society organizations themselves.

While Ferguson’s arguments have a libertarian flavour, they do raise some interesting questions for readers of all political leanings. For economic developers, he presents some, at times challenging, ideas about the larger social and economic structures that we work in. Check out Ferguson discussing the book with Christian Amanpour here for some more information. You can purchase The Great Degeneration here.

This Resource Review originally appeared in TINAN 48Subscribe to TINAN to get the latest economic development news and resources.