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June 15, 2005

While We Are At It!
Arash Jalali  [info|posts]

money.jpgAs I am browsing through the comments posted under "I Will NOT Vote", it indeed seems that this election, once again, has turned into a referendum. To vote or not to vote, that seems to be the question. The Islamic regime itself has always tried to make it look like this. Voting per se is encouraged, as a sign of support of people for the regime, regardless of who gets elected. That was the slogan eight years ago when Mr. Khatami had that landslide victory over Nategh Nouri, and that still seems to be, even with more intensity, the case today. Overall, based on what I have read, heard, and seen from the candidates and the political commentaries, both inside and outside the country, I can fairly say that the focus of attention has been largely on pseudo-issues.

One group, mostly comprising people outside the circle of power and political dissidents, have once again, like almost all the other elections, engaged in the recurring "to vote or not to vote" debate. Those who advocate a boycott see it as a clear "No" to the regime, and those who advocate participation, emphasize that change, political change that is, requires action and cannot be achieved by inaction. Both of the factions in this group talk about long-term effects, although some are also hoping for some short-term results. i. e. foreign (military) intervention.

A second group, consisting of the candidates and their advisors and speakspersons, or the journalists and commentators on their payroll, mostly talk about issues that have proven to be outside the presidential jurisdiction. Freedom of press, freedom of speech, the nuclear issue, re-establishing ties with the U.S., even rewriting the constitution, and pretty much everything that the president and his cabinet have absolutely no authority in. Even when they do talk about relevant issues such as the economy, they make either highly ambiguous statements, or outrageously simplistic promises.

On one rare occasion, however, there was a roundtable discussion on one of IRIB TV channels about economy. The participants were all economic advisors to the presidential candidates. The show's host, Morteza Heydari, set forth a very clear issue and asked them to clarify their constituent's plans to deal with it, if they get elected as the next president:

Given the surging oil prices, and given the fact that both high and low oil incomes have proven to cause the government to face budget deficits, what are you going to do to get out of this vicious circle of lack of funds due to low oil prices, and high inflation due to high oil incomes?

The answers were quite interesting to hear. Some had absolutely no idea and therefore resorted to highly generalized and idealistic comments and even verses of Quran(!), and some, who did provide a concrete answer, amazed even a person like me with a lower than layman level of knowledge in economics. The guy representing Mr. Karrubi, the genius behind the "monthly 50,000 Tomans (US $60) per person" idea, actually suggested that since pouring the oil dollars into the country would cause inflation, instead of keeping it in the "national foreign exchange savings account", we should invest it in overseas projects such as the Petrochemical industries of Saudi Arabia! Someone else said we should spend it on building the country's infrastructure but was not quite sure how to do that without causing a huge inflation and at the same time ensuring that enough jobs are created for the domestic labour market. Personally, I do not know what the right answer is, but more frightening was that the people who are and will be running the country seemed to be as clueless as I am.

I am simply wondering, while we are all busy talking about whether or not to vote, who is going to worry about how the country's day-to-day affairs will be run in the next four (possibly eight) years? Do we have no more contribution to make than just having an opinion on whether to vote or not? Even if we are certain that voting, or bycotting, is going to have some result in an indefinite point of time in the future, do we have any idea what would happen to the country in the mean time? I for one would very much like to see an article posted here on FToI that offers some ideas on such issues as "what to do with the oil money!"

Babak S at June 15, 2005 08:23 PM [permalink]:

I take the lack of comments on your post as a sign that many (perhaps all) here are as clueless, Arash. You raise a very important point. Economy is a very big issue, and like many other areas of humanities, our educational system has mostly failed to produce (enough) people with a good grasp on economic issues.

Arash Jalali at June 17, 2005 06:41 AM [permalink]:

I called an economist friend and had a long discussion with him about this issue. He in fact indicated that the solution to such problems are easy from a theoretical perspective. That is to say, if you ask an economist how a country can absorb large increases in income, s/he will definitely have one (or sometimes more than one) answer for you. The problem with Iran, as he put it, is the high degree of corruption and involvement of the government in almost all affairs in all sectors. This, he said, leaves the responsibility of adjusting to high demand (due to higher income) solely on the government's shoulders; a responsibility which the government is often unable or unwilling to fulfill in due time. In most countries, he said, this adaptation and adjustment is automatically done by the market (comprising the private sector). The government will simply have regulatory role by lowering or increasing interest rates.

On the point you made about education, I really think a serious campaign should be launched to encourage more talented highschool students to get into fields like economics and managements. Our country is losing way too many talents to medicine, engineering, and science. I might have a post on this issue later (hopefully stirring more interest in our readers than this one!)