In “Twins,” a 1988 movie, fraternal twins Julius and Vincent who had been separated at birth and raised apart, were reunited as adults. The two men are total opposites, which illustrated the relative effects of nature and nurture. Twin studies of nations are similarly useful in illustrating reasons why some nations prosper and others languish.
In “Twins,” a 1988 movie, fraternal twins Julius and Vincent who had been separated at birth and raised apart, were reunited as adults.
The two men are total opposites, which illustrated the relative effects of nature and nurture.
Twin studies of nations are similarly useful in illustrating reasons why some nations prosper and others languish.
Cuba, only 90 miles from Key West provides us just such a research design e.g., nations with a shared heritage that turned out opposites.
Why are the citizens of Nogales, Ariz., on average seven times wealthier than those of Nogales, Sonora, within view across the Rio Grand River?
Why were East and West Germany and are north and south Korea now opposites when virtually all other of their historical antecedents similar?
That is the research design employed in a study of why nations fail. 
We have already looked at the history of the U.S. and now will look at that of Cuba to isolate the things that make some nations fail.
Europe Goes East
Wealthier folks in Europe those days before refrigeration ate bland, rancid food that needed spicing up to preserve it (salt) and to make it more palatable (pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon). They first learned of spices from returning crusaders (1099).
Then, spices were almost a monopoly of the Spice Islands in Indonesia (Maluka). (The island of Run was considered so valuable the Dutch would one day swap Manhattan for it!)
Trade in the Orient originated with the Chinese and was extended west over the Old Silk Road by Arab traders. (I’ve been on it in Khiva, Tashkent, and Bukhara in Uzbekistan.)
Starting in 1271 at the age of 17, Marco Polo left Venice and for the next 24 years traveled around the Orient.
His experiences were published by a fella from Pisa, which provided Europeans their first comprehensive account of the Far East. (Columbus carried Polo’s book on his voyages.)
Trade routes by land across Europe and across the Mediterranean Sea worked fine until the Italian merchant bankers locked up monopoly arrangements with the Arab merchants bringing goods from the Orient.
When Mehmed the Conqueror captured Constantinople in 1453, he renamed it Istanbul and began charging boats passing through the Straits of Bosporus, the principal intersection of sea routes connecting East with West.
With the path blocked between Europe and the East the only way east was to go west!
Going west meant crossing the Atlantic Ocean, named by the Greeks for the God Atlas. Its 41 million square miles beyond Gibraltar were unknown.
There were no maps or clocks for navigation or ocean-worthy ships.
Phoenician sailors had reached Great Britain by 300 BC and by 500 AD others had crept up and down the coasts a few hundred miles, not daring to venture from sight of shore as they went.
Beyond was a “sea of darkness” in which there might be monsters and the edge of the world where the sea fell into an abyss. 
About 1000 A.D., vikings made it to Vinland, 4,500 miles west of Bergen.
They didn’t realize it was a new continent and their isolation from Europe kept their achievement from much influence on Europe.
When the age of exploration began, what lay beyond Gibraltar, the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic, was myth and legend.
Greek legend depicted the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Spanish royal seal and the Spanish silver real contained these pillars connected by an S-shaped ribbon bearing the words, “Non Plus Ultra” e.g., nothing further beyond. It is now our dollar sign.
The Atlantic’s dominant current is the Gulf Stream flowing northeast from Brazil to Britain, and it is more powerful than its prevailing winds flowing southwest which, combined, can leave ships at full sail becalmed or moving backward!
Exploration had to await the invention of the “lateen” (triangular) sail, permitting boats to tack into headwinds and maneuver better in general.
For long voyages, they also needed to move faster and come into shallow waters for repairs.
The Spanish “caravel” solved all these problems by having a shallow draft, and three lateen sails. Spain won its naval competition with Portugal.
Going West to Go East
Sea exploration was incremental, creeping down the African Coast until rounding Cape Bojadar on the horn of Morocco by 1434.
Finding the ocean didn’t there disappear into an abyss, they continued on in successive voyages until rounding the southern tip of Africa in 1487 and naming it the Cape of Good Hope.
Like today’s venture capitalists, sea navigators had to raise funds for each voyage from wealthy investors and royals in return for receiving a share of the riches they hoped to discover.
Information was faulty — full of tales of precious metals and jewels.
It must be stated that slaves were common cargo on many return voyages then.
Next: Part II, Columbus discovers Cuba
 Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail, NY: Crown, 2012.
 Sandler, Martin W., ‘Atlantic Ocean,’ NY: Sterling Pub., 2008.