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James Robinson

Why are some nations rich, and others poor — and what can we do about it?

Noted Economist and Political Scientist, co-author of Why Nations Fail

Contact James For Booking
James Robinson | Noted Economist and Political Scientist, co-author of Why Nations Fail
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

James Robinson—the co-author of the hard-hitting book, Why Nations Fail—knows why some countries are richer, healthier, and more prosperous than others. In his keynotes, Robinson delves into real-world examples that contrast success and failure among various nations. To thrive economically, a nation needs a strong government, clear incentives for investment, powerful institutions and sound infrastructure. 

James Robinson’s book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, co-authored with MIT’s Daron Acemoglu, is a practical and momentous work—the culmination of 15 years of groundbreaking research. Why Nations Fail opens a new path of exploration into examining—and then closing—the gap between rich and poor countries. It upends conventional thinking to show us that, despite what some historians claim, good climate and technology are not the main factors determining a country’s success.


Why Nations Fail illuminates the past as it gives us a new way to think about the present. It is that rare book in economics that convinces the reader that the authors want the best for ordinary people.”

— Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

A political scientist and economist, James Robinson is the Reverend Dr. Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies and University Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. He is also Institute Director of The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts. Robinson’s previous book, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, also co-authored with Acemoglu, argued that different social groups prefer different political institutions because of the way they allocate power and resources. The Financial Times called it “brilliant.” James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu discuss issues from their new book Why Nations Fail on NPR’s All Things Considered.   

Speech Topics

Lessons of Why Nations Fail
With Egypt and Pakistan roiling the headlines and the extent of inequality among nations at an unprecedented level, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped people for centuries: why are some nations rich and others poor? Why is the world divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? In this riveting talk, James Robinson reveals the factors that make the city of Nogales, a place half in Arizona and half in Mexico, outperform its southern neighbor. He explains why Botswana succeeds while neighboring Congo does not, and, among other striking stories, he shows why North Korea fails where South Korea thrives. In speaking on why the average person in the U.S. is ten times as prosperous as the average Guatemalan, 20 times as prosperous as the average North Korean, and 40 times as prosperous as those living in the Congo, Robinson presents new insights on the crucial role of incentives and institutions and the absolutely essential role of strong governments. This sweeping, detailed, and highly optimistic talk refutes much of what we know about why some countries are mired in poverty while others are perpetually successful — and it lays out a roadmap for real change.