Whilst Acemoglu and Robinson [1] state in their recent book that economic success or failure of nations is mainly a question of the respective presence or lack of inclusive democratic institutions, I would argue against such biased simplification: same democratic institutions exist in both less developed countries of South as well as the leading countries of North Americas. The main differences appear in their cultures. Whilst Southern culture is still supportive of wider family relationships and dependency midst their strong surrealist art and cultural tradition, the North tends to be more individualist, micro-family oriented midst a more realist arts and its prevailing rationalist and Protestant cultural traditions.

For example, whilst the creative seeds of banking and capitalist entrepreneurship may have broken-out within the trade and craft centres of Italian statelettes, the much more fertile grounds for more liberalised, interest based financing and higher growth were found in Protestant countries of the Northern Europe.

The authors however also reject Max Webber's argument that the Protestant ethic had a critical role in the facilitation of modern entrepreneurship driven capitalism. As an argument against the decisive role of Protestant ethics they gave an example of France which caught-up with Protestant countries rather quickly. They however omit to mention that France, soon after the revolution, went on to fully separate church and religion from the state affairs and develop a novel culture based on the mixture of the basic principles of humanity, fundamentally similar to the principles of early Christian ethics: “Égalité, Fraternité” and that of “Liberté”, however, without having to accept any specific religion itself.

The authors do accept Webber's definition of state as an institution with “monopoly of legitimate violence” within defined geographical borders and abstract typology of the states in two categorical groups, the extractive (one can say closed and exploitative) and the inclusive (one may say open and liberal-egalitarian). They however fail to define what the nations in their book title are and seemingly identify nations with their sovereign states. They follow-up on Webber and seek the main cause of success in the presence of the more beneficial inclusive institutions as opposed to failure of states with predominantly extractive ones mainly due to the resulting luck of incentive to save, invest and innovate within the exclusive ones.

But they omit to see that building inclusive institutions on the grounds of egalitarianism of the fraternal, religious community were some of the main goals of Protestant, puritan ethics and its integration with their liberalisation of interest-yielding investment practices were decisive driving factors for their economic growth. And so, though not being either the necessary nor the sufficient condition, Protestant ethics nevertheless provided excellent grounds for faster growth of the early capitalist industrialisation.

Acemoglu and Robinson also reject decisive influences of environment despite that we now know that the most powerful civilisations of Ancient world, including that of the Old Kingdom Ancient Egypt, effectively collapsed due to a series of extreme drought brought by small climate changes [2] which, by some measurements, brought levels of Dead Sea down for none less than nearly 100 meters ... [3]

They also seem to be neglecting another, crucial factor – the cost of democratic institutions. "The best democracy money can buy" reads the title of a Greg Palast’s (2002) cynical book [4] - and the money may be running out now too.

Running and maintaining the traditional institutions of democracy, may be taken for granted but are not coming for free: it is a costly business that represent a substantial part of democratic government budgets.

Even a minimal state democracy, its electoral and operational logistics and infrastructure do not come for free, nor are they cheap either: salaries of parliamentary members, their many assistants and their premises, not to mention commissioned services and the external advisory only represent substantial but rarely reported budget resource. This is all without much higher costs of the executives institutions as well as law arbitrage (courts) and enforcement forces (police) or foreign representations.

According to research by Limongi and Pzevorski only countries above certain level of GDP per capita can have a chance of their democratic system surviving, and above a higher threshold, to be sustainable.

Limongi and Pzevorski show that even if democratic systems were established successfully in some poorer, developing nations, those democracies frequently died-off: In the period of 1950-90 democracies with (inflation adjusted, today US dollar) GDP < 1,500 USD lasted an average eight years or less and those with GDP 1,500-3,000 USD lasted an average 18 years. Probability of democracy with GDP > 6000 USD (like Croatia) was estimated as 1 in 500. Thirty two regimes with GDP around and above 9,000 USD survived over seven hundred years whilst out of 69 poorer ones, only half survived.

If however, the governments' budgets are dramatically reduced, those institutions may be affected by the cuts too. And when I asked several people if they are prepared to pay e.g.10 or 20% more in income taxes to sustain the same present levels of democratic control and the institutional service rather than give in their democratic rights to the benevolent technocratic emergency rule, they mostly expressed various excuses not to.

Therefore, democracy is more of a result of higher levels of GDP and sufficient taxation that render a state and its institutions able to sustain and defend democratic process rather than fail it.

It can be therefore argued therefore that there is a chicken and egg issues and that democratic institutions, may be more of a result of an economic development, at least of a certain minimal level needed to maintain sustainable democratic institutions, midst the public will and demands, before those democratic institutions may be established and then made sufficiently functional to augment further economic development... that is... if at all needed for it.

How can we otherwise explain the rise to a high level of economic strength of, at the time, a dictatorship lead Korea, not the North but South, one which was effectively lead by military dictatorship throughout its highest economic growth from 1960s until 1980, or, the recent rise of great economic power of the, from the Western perspective, less democratic states such as China.

Acemoglu and Robinson possibly wrote their book as a reply or in attempt to complement a related, earlier work by Ian Morris – Why the West Rules – For Now. The book is based around positive, measurable metric of social development index based on:

1) ability to capture and use energy, 2) levels of social and urban organisation, 3) war making and engaging, and, 4) information technology,

for which the author provides calculation methodological appendix and website.

On the other hand, Railey and Reycraft (2008) state that two of the main endogenous causes of collapse of many cultures (civilisations) and societies in the distant and the not so distant past have been economic over-extension (leading to diminishing returns) . They refer to archaeologist Colin Renfrew who in his 1984 essay1 linked economic over-extension and diminishing returns with over-specialisation and listed them as some of the main cause of the rapid collapse of early societies or civilisations. Renfrew assigns prime position however to the collapse of central administration. His view is that economic over-investment into complexity results in its over-extension and this then to diminishing returns leading to recession or even its collapse.

These issues translate into modern systems through system theory and a lack of so called systems’ observability and of their controllability due to the increased complexity whilst corruption induces high level of systems sub-optimality. Along those lines, many authors claimed that Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) and the related Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs) increased the complexity of the international financial system beyond an ability to be understood and managed (manageability) and that this unmanageable complexity inevitably contributed to its 2007 collapse.

Despite developed democratic institutions, in the last 20 years, the so-called developed countries have been showing rather small growth, 2-5% comparing with the developing countries with less developed democratic and civil institutions, potentially contradicting Acemoglu and Robinson's hypothesis.

On the other hand, those developed countries have been collecting smaller proportion of their GDPs in taxes and their budgets have been decreasing relative to GDP. E.g. for UK.

“...annual revenue for total HMRC Receipts, and revenue as a percentage of GPD since 1980- 81. In cash terms, receipts have grown fairly steadily over the period, but as a percentage of GDP there has been quite a degree of variation. From 1984-85 to 1993-94 the proportion fell from around 30.5% of GDP to around 25.5% of GDP [5]”.

However, this is just part of the story. Capital liberalisation with its enabled easy capital flow for investment in the new, developing markets, has in recent years led to underinvestment and actually lowered GDP of developed countries as the profits were not spent there but moved to the new markets or the off-shore tax havens. The Caribbean islands, once shelter of the high sea pirates, have become tax shelters of the large investment funds [6].

As a result, both the developed and those developing countries, particularly the smaller ones, are increasingly starting to appear like business conglomerates, competing on the international capital investment market (mainly that of Caribbean hedge and large, oil-funded sovereign funds), promising and realising higher and higher returns on the foreign investments in their territories.

To add to the problem many of both, developing and the developed countries appear as if they may have been effectively blackmailed into a race of reducing nominal rates of corporate taxes for the multinationals to keep them and their investments ashore, whilst increasing social security or VAT taxation to compensate for the loss of tax revenues. This is, however, in turn, effectively reducing real incomes of the domestic employees and their consumer families. For example, UK receipts from corporate taxation has shown even steeper decreasing trend relative to the GDP mainly due to reduction of corporate tax rate:

"Reductions in the main rate of CT have also affected receipts; the rate fell from 28% in 2010-11 to 26% in 2011-12, 24% in 2012-13 and 23% in 2013-14 [7]".

Hence, the shrinking coffers of the heavily indebted developed countries are likely to decrease their ability to meet all the costs and maintain both, the controllability of the increasingly complex markets and their existing democratic institutions. Lack of resources may then slowly drive them down the path of crumbling the pillars of their democracy, their sovereignty or their sustainability.

[1] Why Nations Fail
[2] Climate effects on ancient Egypt examined
[3] link.springer.com
[4] The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
[5] Reproduced from HMRC Tax and NIC Receipts, UK HM Revenue and Customs, released 20th February 2015
[6] e.g. see Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens by by Nicholas Shaxson
[7] Reproduced from HMRC Tax and NIC Receipts, UK HM Revenue and Customs, released 20th February 2015