Haven't posted in awhile. Been busy. Arm is better.
Anyway, today I had the considerable misfortune of sifting through Acemoglu's new textbook for a paper I'm writing. It's f*cking terrible. So, I reviewed it for Amazon, and the posted it on DeLong's blog as well. Here it is, for posterity:
This book is bad, bad, bad. Plain and simple. I give it one star b/c I don't know how to advance to the next screen and submit for no stars.
Having suffered the extreme misfortune of having been assigned to read and present some of Acemoglu's papers (some 2-3 times now), I have a lot of pent-up aggression that needs to be released. Now will be that time.
Acemoglu is that nerdy, pudgy, 4-eyed kid from school who everyone picks on and hates b/c he doesn't shut-up, is ignorant, and incredibly and persistently annoying. The kid who says stupid, ignorant things which are just plain dumb on multiple levels, who does not understand what he should know -- just doesn't get it -- and who everyone therefore (or perhaps just me) wants to strangle with their bare hands. He evokes the same feelings in me I get when I watch George W. Bush give a speech. (If you like George W. Bush, then you will love this book!)
So that is how Acemoglu makes me feel when I'm forced to read anything by him. Now, what is it that gives me those feelings? Here are some of the things I hate about his research/book:
1) His famed settler mortality data, which Albouy has convincingly shown were fabricated, do not merely affect GDP via institutions -- they also should and would have affected levels of technology, human capital, and culture, each of which are persistent. The kicker is that since he had data on initial institutions, there was no reason to make up the settler mortality proxy in the first place.
2) His unquestioned use of Maddison's data, which Maddison, by all accounts, simply made up, and which implies (counterfactually) that there never was a Malthusian world. Aside from being made-up, Maddison's data are obviously and fatally flawed.
3) His arrogance in thinking that he could write a book about economic growth without knowing anything about history, and his arrogance in thinking that he could write about geography and development without really having read Jared Diamond (and without even citing Alfred Crosby). It is frustrating that he equates the belief that geography is important for development and history with "geographic determinism" -- that geography is the only thing which matters. No thinking person could believe that, and reading Diamond or Sacchs in the round suggests that they are certainly NOT geographical determinists.
4) As such, he "misunderestimates" the "geography hypothesis" as he calls it.
5) He is a full time believer in the idea that by doing algebra (but not by reading the history of development), one can gain insights into the history of development.
6) A troubling array of shoddy facts, inaccurate statements, frustratingly wrong-headed logic, and all hidden behind a veneer of high-handed math and regressions. Some of these include:
a) His insistence that the North Korea/South Korea split tells us that geography and culture does not matter, and that it is institutions such as property rights which do matter for growth. The trouble with this is that North Korea was taken over by an utter madman who was an absolute dictator and who shut off trade and contact with the outside world. Logically, it's like saying that eating well and exercise do not matter for health b/c, look, you and your brother (who got hit by a bus) ate the same things and exercised the same amount, and your brother got hit by a bus and died. Of course, looking both ways before you cross the street is also important, but then again, who is saying that it isn't? (Acemoglu is basically saying it's the only thing...) The question is which institutions matter, and since North Korea got almost all institutions terribly wrong, the North Korea/South Korea split is actually not insightful.
b) In 'moglu logic, the "Reversal of Fortune" was supposedly that countries like Argentina and North America which were poor in 1500 are now rich, and vice versa has just one flaw. The peoples who lived in modern day argentina and north america are now dead, not rich. and we don't actually have any idea that say, north america was more/less developed than mexico. and certainly don't know if it was rich (and those are two different things, which acemoglu doesn't understand, b/c the world was malthusian then.
8) How does a tenured faculty member at MIT in economics not understand the Malthusian model? WTF?
9) In fact, there are many theories that can be taken "off the shelf" so-to-speak, which do tell us quite a bit about economic development, such as in Krugman's Geography & Trade, the Malthusian Model, Crosby-Jared Diamond, Engerman-Sokoloff, etc., which are all either butchered in Acemoglu's retelling or omitted.
OK, so I've clearly used up more actual thought writing this review than Acemoglu has in his entire research career.
In short, this book is sooooo bad it discredits: not Acemoglu, b/c u can't blame him necessarily, he is what he is, but rather, it completely discredits MIT economics, Robert Solow, growth economics (the soft underbelly of Macro, which is the soft underbelly of economics, which is the soft underbelly of Social science), and the entire economics profession. I am know dumber than i was before i read what parts of this book i could stomach. This book is bad enough to cast a black shadow over the department and the entire field of economics. This book is fodder for those who equate economists with medieval priests or doctors, who babble on about things about which they know nothing, and have no value-added to society.
This book is of interest to sociologists or anthropologists wishing to document the funny "sociology of economics" and the anachronistic, heavily ideological lens with which conservative economists view the world.
Lastly, it is rather strange that while many decrie the fall of U of Chicago, the decline and fall of MIT Economics has hardly been commented on. Clearly, Acemoglu's rise at MIT can and should be equated (in its impact on educated society) with the Vandals sacking of Rome.
that is all.
Have a great day!!!