Re: Ch. 2: Theories That Don't Work
It does seem that the authors might be beggaring the question if their solution for less successful countries is for them to build solid institutions. As you say, there are serious barriers to their making this leap, so it's not just a matter of wanting to or not. I've been thinking about the evolutionary concept of path dependence that D. S. Wilson talks about, a principle he summarizes as "you can't get there from here." How can cultures manage to jump the tracks of their customary ways of doing business?
When anyone says that a nation collectively made the wrong choices, there are going to be cries of racism or imperialism against the accusers, so it's common to avoid that message and is considered good manners. A deterministic argument such as Jared Diamond's also has been called PC, because it attributes the current state of countries' affairs to factors they had little ability to control, mainly of geography and climate. So Diamond can say there are no native differences in human groups that led to their being behind in the race. Well, he does make a curious claim that New Guineans are smarter, so that's one claim of native difference. In that case, though, it didn't matter because the geographic factors trumped intelligence.
I don't recall Diamond endorsing the cold weather hypothesis, but the specific favorable geographic factors he talks about, such as availability of native plants for domestication, did seem to cluster in areas of seasonal temperature variation. It seems simplistic to attribute the whole effect to the need to make warm clothing and have shelter from the cold.