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Good Reads: Why nations fail, and how we overlook some successes

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“The various durations of government around the world are linked to the various durations and productivities of farming that was the prerequisite for the rise of governments. For example, Europe began to acquire highly productive agriculture 9,000 years ago and state government by at least 4,000 years ago, but subequatorial Africa acquired less productive agriculture only between 2,000 and 1,800 years ago and state government even more recently. Those historical differences prove to have huge effects on the modern distribution of wealth.”

Why we fail to recognize success

Here’s the thing about comparison: It is so subjective.

A successful economy in Europe looks impressive in the glossy pages of Vanity Fair, but a successful economy in Africa, say, can look a little shabby. It’s all relative.

Yet, as Howard French writes in this week’s issue of The Atlantic, while stereotypes of African poverty may be blinding ordinary Americans to one of the world’s biggest success stories, the sustained economic boom of Africa. Corporate America has moved to Africa in a big way. Out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, seven are African. This economic boom is creating the beginnings of a massive continental middle class, which is already larger than the middle class of India, and by 2030, African consumers spending will grow from $680 billion in 2008 to $2.2 trillion.

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