Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jan/11

30

“The Worse the Better”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someoneShare on TumblrShare on Google+

Cross-posted over at the Corner:

In a long and interesting post over at the London Spectator Alex Massie thinks aloud over where the Egyptian revolution might be going. Agree or disagree, it’s all worth reading, but this caught my eye:

At the moment the protests and the grievances do not seem to show any support for turning Egypt into a religious state. Rather it’s a matter of economics and opportunity.

“Any” is too strong a word. Nevertheless while Alex is surely right that it is “economics” that are the underlying cause of the current uprising, that is no reason for those concerned about the rise of another Islamic republic to relax. History tells us that economic failure (compounded in this region by a massive increase in the population) can often open a door through which fanatics can come pouring in. In 1917 Lenin’s most effective slogan was “peace, land and bread”. That whole dictatorship of the proletariat thing was for (a little) later…

·

8 comments

  • Mike H · January 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    It’s doubtlessly a difficult situation to appraise. Though I think experience with the region would strongly suggest that whatever follows Mubarak, it won’t be the system and society of Finland or the Netherlands.

    It’s tremendously easy to talk of democracy and freedom when they are in the realm of abstract demands but in practice Egyptian society seems terribly unprepared for popular rule. A third of the population is illiterate. Yes, a lot of the protesters don’t look like Muslim Brotherhood acolytes but what does that mean? Numerically I doubt the proponents of liberal democracy are enough to even make a dent.

    I just always feel reminded by the events in Persia. In 1979 the leftists and liberals marched side-by-side with the Islamists – and the dissatisfied masses in general – to topple the Shah. The first post-Shah Prime Minister was a relatively liberal democracy-minded fellow. Well that didn’t last very long.

    And Egyptian society might arguably be less secular than Persian society was at the time..

  • TangoMan · January 31, 2011 at 2:09 am

    History tells us that economic failure (compounded in this region by a massive increase in the population) can often open a door through which fanatics can come pouring in.

    Adam Przeworski noted the following in 1999 (adjust dollar figures accordingly):

    Between 1951 and 1999, the probability that a democracy would die during any particular year in countries where it emerged with per capita income under $1000 was 0.0819, which implies that their expected life was about twelve years. For countries where democracy was inaugurated when they
    had incomes between $1001 and $3000, this probability was 0.0248, for an expected duration of about forty years. Between $3001 and $6055, the probability was 0.0099, which translates into about 101 years of expected life.

    To the extent that the forces at work in poor economies tend to destabilize democracies, Egypt’s $5,900 (2009 dollars) GDP/capita economy doesn’t put it in the free of danger zone.

    Massie cites a report that the protests are driven by economics rather than religion. That may be so but what isn’t clear to me (I’m not up to speed on internal Egyptian policies) is that Mubarak’s policies were actually inhibiting economic and job growth. Were they? Will a revolution and new politicians lift the lid that Mubarak supposedly instituted and thus create the conditions for the economic and job growth that the citizens demand?

    A few observations from the Globe and Mail piece:

    Egypt’s youth also covet public-sector jobs, but the pay is so bad that many government employees – such as school teachers – take a year off to work in garment factories, where they earn a slightly higher wage.>/blockquote>

    The prestige attached to jobs matters quite a bit. We see this in the Gulf States as well – citizens want to work in government and they import workers to work in the private sector, especially in the menial jobs. The problem for the Gulf States is that there simply aren’t enough prestigious jobs to offer the citizens.

    >blockquote>They may believe they have little to lose: those with a secondary education or above made up 95 per cent of unemployed youth in 2006, the last year for which statistics are available.

    Much of MENA went through a massive baby boom in the last few generations. The problem is that population grew faster than the economy. There are more people (net) entering the workforce every year than there are jobs created. As I noted above, I’m not clear on exactly what the Egyptian youth think that Mubarak was doing to actually stifle job growth and what a non-Mubarak regime will do to boost job growth.

    If you look at the historical data for the international economy, you find that Korea, Singapore, China, Hong Hong, Thailand, and some other Asian nations had GDP/capita figures that were in the same range as those of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Algeria back in the 1950s and 60s and yet the Asian nations steadily climbed the income ladder while the MENA nations haven’t (apart from oil income.) The interesting question to me is why the disparate outcomes. I think that the cultural attitudes towards are suggestive of an answer. Pride and dignity are coming at the expense of economic development. Not wanting to work that is beneath you and doing so only under the most dire of circumstances leads to a complacency in the MENA nations. There is a cultural “chip on the shoulder” factor at work here. There is a belief that they are owed the stature they believe that they deserve. Asian nations which climbed the economic ladder started at the bottom and individuals worked hard and for meager pay and slowly developed their economies.

    If the cultural expectation (assuming I’m interpreting it correctly) remains constant and there is simply a change in figurehead for the government, then I don’t put much hope into believing that a way out will develop. If a way out, meaning improved economic mobility, improved economic growth and improved job prospects don’t appear, then that might very well create enough churn and discontent in society to prepare the ground for a more radical religious take-over of society for at least those revolutionaries have an alternative vision to what many will see as a failed system. Many will also likely believe themselves to be on the inside track and if oppression comes then their self-interest will be covered as they oust the existing structure and replace it with their own.

    Does anyone know of specific complaints leveled at Mubarak on the issue of stifling job creation? It seems to me that if this concern is primary then the prospects for the future will hinge on better performance on this metric.

  • TangoMan · January 31, 2011 at 2:10 am

    History tells us that economic failure (compounded in this region by a massive increase in the population) can often open a door through which fanatics can come pouring in.

    Adam Przeworski noted the following in 1999 (adjust dollar figures accordingly):

    Between 1951 and 1999, the probability that a democracy would die during any particular year in countries where it emerged with per capita income under $1000 was 0.0819, which implies that their expected life was about twelve years. For countries where democracy was inaugurated when they
    had incomes between $1001 and $3000, this probability was 0.0248, for an expected duration of about forty years. Between $3001 and $6055, the probability was 0.0099, which translates into about 101 years of expected life.

    To the extent that the forces at work in poor economies tend to destabilize democracies, Egypt’s $5,900 (2009 dollars) GDP/capita economy doesn’t put it in the free of danger zone.

    Massie cites a report that the protests are driven by economics rather than religion. That may be so but what isn’t clear to me (I’m not up to speed on internal Egyptian policies) is that Mubarak’s policies were actually inhibiting economic and job growth. Were they? Will a revolution and new politicians lift the lid that Mubarak supposedly instituted and thus create the conditions for the economic and job growth that the citizens demand?

    A few observations from the Globe and Mail piece:

    Egypt’s youth also covet public-sector jobs, but the pay is so bad that many government employees – such as school teachers – take a year off to work in garment factories, where they earn a slightly higher wage.

    The prestige attached to jobs matters quite a bit. We see this in the Gulf States as well – citizens want to work in government and they import workers to work in the private sector, especially in the menial jobs. The problem for the Gulf States is that there simply aren’t enough prestigious jobs to offer the citizens.

    They may believe they have little to lose: those with a secondary education or above made up 95 per cent of unemployed youth in 2006, the last year for which statistics are available.

    Much of MENA went through a massive baby boom in the last few generations. The problem is that population grew faster than the economy. There are more people (net) entering the workforce every year than there are jobs created. As I noted above, I’m not clear on exactly what the Egyptian youth think that Mubarak was doing to actually stifle job growth and what a non-Mubarak regime will do to boost job growth.

    If you look at the historical data for the international economy, you find that Korea, Singapore, China, Hong Hong, Thailand, and some other Asian nations had GDP/capita figures that were in the same range as those of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Algeria back in the 1950s and 60s and yet the Asian nations steadily climbed the income ladder while the MENA nations haven’t (apart from oil income.) The interesting question to me is why the disparate outcomes. I think that the cultural attitudes towards are suggestive of an answer. Pride and dignity are coming at the expense of economic development. Not wanting to work that is beneath you and doing so only under the most dire of circumstances leads to a complacency in the MENA nations. There is a cultural “chip on the shoulder” factor at work here. There is a belief that they are owed the stature they believe that they deserve. Asian nations which climbed the economic ladder started at the bottom and individuals worked hard and for meager pay and slowly developed their economies.

    If the cultural expectation (assuming I’m interpreting it correctly) remains constant and there is simply a change in figurehead for the government, then I don’t put much hope into believing that a way out will develop. If a way out, meaning improved economic mobility, improved economic growth and improved job prospects don’t appear, then that might very well create enough churn and discontent in society to prepare the ground for a more radical religious take-over of society for at least those revolutionaries have an alternative vision to what many will see as a failed system. Many will also likely believe themselves to be on the inside track and if oppression comes then their self-interest will be covered as they oust the existing structure and replace it with their own.

    Does anyone know of specific complaints leveled at Mubarak on the issue of stifling job creation? It seems to me that if this concern is primary then the prospects for the future will hinge on better performance on this metric.

  • Clark · February 1, 2011 at 1:05 am

    I think what’s scary about Egypt can be seen in the survey data over at Razib’s other blog.

    “Religious authorities interpreting laws is an essential characteristic of democracy” : 48% of Egyptians agree whereas 2% of Americans do. (And yes, that means even these arch fundamentalist Christians disagree) Even Iraq and Turkey only have 19% and 11%.

  • Clark · February 1, 2011 at 4:24 am

    To add, stories like this one suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood would get about 1/3 or more of the votes. That’s pretty scary.

    There have been lots of Egyptians on TV and radio saying the revolution wouldn’t change anything. I’m not so sure. I know in the west these groups tend to be a bit exaggerated in their portrayals. However even the “moderate” positions may lead to a lot of things blowing up in the middle east.

  • Polichinello · February 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    The reality is that Mubarak is 82. Even if he still had enough authority to quash these protests, his time would be limited. The same is true to some degree of the other “friendly” Arab regimes, like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and even Jordan. They’re all on borrowed time. Trying to prevent their fall is like trying keep a bunch of balls in the air. A skilled juggler can do it for while, but eventually gravity will win.

    In the end, it may turn out that letting the people their get a bellyful of Islamic rule will be the best cure for Islamic rule. It’ll be a rough ride, though.

  • Clark · February 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I’m not sure I’d want to live through a world where people get a bellyful of islamic rule. I think the mideast would blow up and the resultant oil spike would plunge us back into a worse recession than the one we’re coming out of. Bad for everyone.

    Plus once these guys get the reins it’s harder to remove them than it is a dictator. (Witness Iran)

  • Polichinello · February 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I’m not sure I’d want to live through a world where people get a bellyful of islamic rule.

    Like it or not, it’s probably coming to much of the mideast for about a generation. The only question is the intensity.

<<

>>

Theme Design by devolux.nh2.me