The Wintry Economics of the Arab Spring

Most of the coverage of the turmoil in Egypt and Syria (the latter of which has decreased in proportion to an increase in coverage of the former) focuses on political, religious, and social factors. These are all obviously important. But once you read David P. Goldman's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the economic underpinnings of the Arab revolutions, you may see things differently. A few key excerpts:

Sometimes economies can't be fixed after decades of statist misdirection, and the people simply get up and go. Since the debt crisis of the 1980s, 10 million poor Mexicans—victims of a post-revolutionary policy that kept rural Mexicans trapped on government-owned collective farms—have migrated to the United States. Today, Egyptians and Syrians face economic problems much worse than Mexico's, but there is nowhere for them to go. Half a century of socialist mismanagement has left the two Arab states unable to meet the basic needs of their people, with economies so damaged that they may be past the point of recovery in our lifetimes.

This is the crucial background to understanding the state failure in Egypt and civil war in Syria. It may not be within America's power to reverse their free falls; the best scenario for the U.S. is to manage the chaos as best it can.

What Is the Relationship Between Income Inequality and Revolution?

A pair of interesting-looking papers, particularly interesting when paired, about income inequality and its relationship (or not?) to revolutions. From "Russian Inequality on the Eve of Revolution," by Steven Nafziger and Peter H. Lindert:

Just how unequal were the incomes of different classes of Russians on
the eve of Revolution, relative to other countries, to Russia's earlier history, and to Russia's income distribution today? Careful weighing of an eclectic data set provides provisional answers.    We provide detailed income estimates for economic and social classes in each of the 50 provinces of European Russia.  In 1904, on the eve of military defeat and the 1905 Revolution, Russian income inequality was middling by the standards of that era, and less severe than inequality has become today in such countries as China, the United States, and Russia itself.  We also note how the interplay of some distinctive fiscal and relative-price features of Imperial Russia might have shaped the now-revealed level of inequality.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. But It Will Be Tweeted

A new paper from Chris Edmond at the University of Melbourne examines how the quantity and quality of information impacts regime change. This is particularly timely in light of the Arab Spring taking place across the Middle East, and the current goose chase for Muammar Gaddafi.

Edmond constructs a simple model to study how a regime's chances of survival are a ffected by changes in information technology. He finds that information alone does not destabilize an oppressive regime. In fact, more information (and the control of that information) is a major source of political strength for any ruling party. The state controlled media of North Korea is a current example of the power of propaganda, much as it was in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, where the state heavily subsidized the diffusion of radios during the 1930s to help spread Nazi propaganda.