Review of Why Nations Fail by the always interesting Jared Diamond. In addition to good governance, geography matters too; it’s particularly hard to be a tropical, land-locked country:
Europe has had up to four thousand years’ experience of government, complex institutions, and growing national identities, compared to a few centuries or less for all of sub-Saharan Africa. Europe has glaciated fertile soils, reliable summer rainfall, and few tropical diseases; tropical Africa has unglaciated and extensively infertile soils, less reliable rainfall, and many tropical diseases. Within Europe, Britain had the further advantages of being an island rarely at risk from foreign armies, and of fronting on the Atlantic Ocean, which became open after 1492 to overseas trade.
He reckons that inclusive institutions (participatory democracies that share the wealth) account for 50% of nations’ successes. I think it’s great that smart people are looking closely at these issues, and that life seems to be getting better for almost everyone.