Tom Friedman writes today about a new book that explains why nations fail. The bottom line is that — surprise, surprise — institutions matter. Nations that build public institutions that work tend to thrive. Those that do not, tend not to. And what do we mean by “work”? The book argues that public institutions work better when they are “inclusive”. They fail when they are “exclusive”. Inclusive means opening up and empowering people. Exclusive means shutting people out and taking the money.
Hooray! We have new words for something we knew a long, long time ago. The problem is that while we always knew this, US foreign policy makers have had bigger fish to fry. Like propping up allies and punishing enemies. US “nation building” policy got into trouble when — for political reasons — the US government had to sell its intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan as nation building exercises. Well, those were high risk missions, yes?
And how has the nation building worked out? “Poorly” would be a polite way to describe the results. And now that we know better, will we perform better? Of course not. The priorities have not changed.