Posted by: r.m. | April 11, 2012

environmental stresses not separated from economic policies

The uprisings in the Arab world.  The great [pls note sarcasm] Thomas Friedman has found the complexity in the struggles.  In a recent piece in the NYT, he wrote: “The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well.”

There are a few significant problems in his thinking (not surprisingly for Friedman): economics is the management of natural resources – so this separation of use of natural resources from economics is a fallacy.  Furthermore, the issue is not the droughts per se climate change has intensified, but the human mismanagement of agriculture and the human failure to protect farmer livelihood –and these policies are driven by economics. 

Take Syria, for example, as Friedman does. As reported by the Middle East Institute:

Soon after assuming power in 2000, Bashar al-Asad introduced wide-ranging economic reforms that lay an irreversible foundation for a market-driven economic order. He enacted an investment-promoting decree; privatized state farms; introduced a private banking system; liberalized capital and trade accounts; heavily reduced customs duties; and promoted private sector-led investment at the expense of state-led investment.

Such changes built on the more limited market-friendly reforms gradually implemented by Bashar’s father, Hafiz al-Asad. Economic liberalization during Bashar’s regime also differed from his father’s in that it was advised by International Financial Institutions (IFIs), i.e., the IMF and the World Bank, which allegedly claimed that these reforms would promote macroeconomic stabilization. The parallel conviction that evolved among Syrian policymakers was that neoliberal policies and expanded private sector activities would inevitably “trickle down” and improve the social conditions of the majority of Syrians in terms of job creation and expanded social services. Nevertheless, a succinct review of the socioeconomic conditions of the past ten years reveals that developmental and welfare gains have not materialized. The move toward the market economy neglected equitable income distribution and social protection, thereby culminating in anti-developmental economic growth.”

And the result? As reported by Al-Akhbar:

The plan transformed Syria’s economy and left many behind, especially the people of the countryside [those also impacted by drought – my comments]. Stripped of economic security, they had little to lose. The state, their former protector, had became their enemy.

This is why it was no coincidence that the countryside has been the heart of the Syrian uprising. Daraa, Dariya, al-Moadamiya, Doma, Harasta, al-Tell, Saqba, al-Rastan, Talbisa. Even the cities of Homs and Hama could be considered part of that rural region.
The economic malaise was enough to make these rural Syrians risk death in defiance of the regime. Many residents saw their well-to-do neighbors become richer while unemployment slowly crept into their homes.
The country’s agricultural and industrial sector that they relied on to survive was eaten up by a neo-liberal order sponsored by Assad and engineered by Dardari.”

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