Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting it right--Egypt

Getting rid of a corrupt dictator is, unfortunately for the cheering throngs in Tahrir Square, only a beginning.  To get the sort of society most Egyptians want (most humans, actually) the folks who brought down the Mubarak government must embark on a complex and difficult pro-development agenda.

1)  Having a society with a prosperous middle class and opportunities for the children is MUCH easier if, as is the case of Egypt, the population was 20 million rather than 80+ million.  It is often said that a if everyone on planet earth were to live as the inhabitants of USA, we would need at least five more planets like earth.  This means population controls.  As nearly as I can tell, the ONLY way to reduce the birthrate is to change the culture so that sex is almost always for fun and almost never for procreation.  This is not impossible.  Look at Italy!

2)  There is probably no better predictor of economic performance than to look at indicators of corruption.  The folks at Transparency International do this on a regular basis and they found the 9 out of 10 countries at the top of their 2009 rankings were countries awash in the Protestant work ethic and 4 of those are culturally Lutheran.  All countries in the top 10 do especially well economically, and such countries as Finland "punch so far above their weight class" they are almost freakish.

There is a reason why this is so.  Those who do well in science and technology soon discover that honesty is not merely the best policy, it is the ONLY policy!  And this must be true of all levels of endeavor.  Trust me on this, you do NOT want a dishonest person fixing your brakes.  Nor do you want economic advice from someone who believes bundled sub-prime mortgages are a risk-free investment.  Since the fundamental teaching of the Protestants is a LOVE for the truth, their cultures do well by default.

The interesting exception on the TI top 10 list is Singapore.  It is not that they a doing poorly economically, it is that they are especially un-corrupt in a part of the world that is known for corrupt practices.  But this makes Singapore an even better example of the economic benefits of low corruption.  Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew describes his anti-corruption efforts in From Third World to First : The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.  The point here is that you do not have to go "full Protestant" to have an honest society.  And if they can do it in an Asian seaport, they should be able to do it in North Africa.

Since Egypt ranks 111 in the 2009 Transparency International rankings, the absolute #1 demand the protestors in Tahrir Square now should be for a Yew-like anti-corruption government.

3) The difference between a developed country and one that isn't can be most easily seen by looking at the production and consumption of energy.  According to World Bank Stats, Egypt doesn't use a lot of energy by comparison to, say Canada so if the teeming masses along the Nile want to have a first-world life-style, they are going to have to "hire" some more mechanical slaves.  The bad news is that consuming more carbon-based energy is a recipe for disaster.  The good news is that Egypt has large population centers only short distances from some of the finest solar collection sites on earth.  The Tahrir Square revolution will have truly succeeded if in 10 years, the greatest experts on solar energy are Egyptian.

4) Egypt cannot feed itself!  Of course, neither can Singapore.  But Singapore has only 5 million people.  Eventually, Egypt will have to figure out more intensive methods of agricultre.  But as we in the USA Midwest know so well, intensive agriculture is usually a function of energy inputs.  Now it may be possible that someone can figure out how Egypt can increase its food output without fixing its energy problems but it is HIGHLY unlikely.

5) The Biggie!  No more listening to neoliberal economists. They are largely responsible for the mess you are in--they have shot their credibility.

Good Luck! Egypt.  You folks helped invent civilization itself.  It would be especially appropriate if you could develop a more enlightened civilization that would again be a model for the rest of the world.

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