Politics & Polls #168: The Struggle for Liberty Featuring Daron Acemoglu

Jan 23 2020
By Brillian Bao
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Liberty is a value often associated with democracy. Grassroots advocates and organizers have historically mobilized to pressure leaders and bring about change in society. But these efforts haven’t always been successful. With this in mind, what does it take for liberty to emerge?

This pursuit of liberty is at the center of economist Daron Acemoglu’s new book, “The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty.” In this week’s episode, Acemoglu joins Julian Zelizer and Sam Wang to discuss the role of norms and mobilization as states and societies struggle in the corridor to liberty.

Acemoglu is the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT. Earlier this year, he was named Institute Professor, the highest faculty honor at MIT. Acemoglu has authored multiple works, including “Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” and “Why Nations Fail.”


Wang is a professor at Princeton University, appointed in neuroscience with affiliate appointments in the Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Center for Information Technology Policy. An alumnus of Caltech, where he received a B.S. with honors in physics, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Stanford University School of Medicine. He conducted postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center and at Bell Labs Lucent Technologies. He has also worked on science and education policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He is noted for his application of data analytics and poll aggregation to American politics. He is leading an effort at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to build a 50-state data resource for legislative-quality citizen redistricting. His work to define a state-level legal theory to limit partisan gerrymandering recently won Common Cause’s Gerrymandering Standard Writing Contest. His neuroscience research concerns how the brain learns from sensory experience in early life, adulthood and autism.

Zelizer has been among the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He has written more than 900 op-eds, including his popular weekly column for CNN.com and The Atlantic. This year, he is the distinguished senior fellow at the New York Historical Society, where he is writing a biography of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for Yale University's Jewish Lives Series. He is the author and editor of more than 19 books including, “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society,” the winner of the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. In January 2019, Norton published his new book, co-authored with Kevin Kruse,“Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.” In spring 2020, Penguin Press will publish his other book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” He has received fellowships from the Brookings Institution, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and New America.