First things first
Sanctity of life and property
By Hamid Zangeneh
June 1, 2001
In order to usher real permanent political and economic development in
Iran we need to make life and private property (jaan, maal, hayseeyyat,
va naamoos-e afraad) of everyone immune of momentary personal and collective
whims of the society, regardless of their origin, rationale, and justification.
That is, we need to make sure that threats or possibility of threats are
removed once and for all to ensure a dynamic economic and political system
worthy of a great and growing nation.
Every one of us has heard of slogans that are issued by those in opposition
that we need to rid the society from the evils of this or that. Whether
this evil is an individual, a class, a clan, or an ideology is immaterial.
The important issue is that in this day and age, there are still people
who believe in political violence to achieve political goals.
There are people who have not grown to appreciate the sanctity of individual
life, ideas, and private properties, yet. There are still people who do
not value new and alternative thinking as the source of progress, rather,
unfortunately, they consider different ideas as threats to society and therefore
advocate their elimination by violent means. We need not go too far to see
the wastefulness of this mode of thought and reasoning.
We need to think whether we, as human beings, would have been better
off if Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, Khayyam, Hafez, Confucius,
Shakespeare, Tschaikovsky, or Charlie Chaplin had been assassinated or executed
before they provided us with their masterpieces? Or, ignoring the politics
of the bloody war with Iraq, would we Iranians have been better off if we
had executed those brave young devoted Iranian patriots who, due to lack
of equipment, functioned as minesweepers and walked in the minefields to
clear the mines for the rest?
And finally, would we have been better off without those brave men and
women who are in Iranian prisons because they believe that you and I must
have the freedom to speak our minds and work wherever we wish? I am sure
that any reasonable person's answers to these questions would be emphatically
negative. How poorer would we have been if those had happened?
In order to achieve a civil society, we need to learn to solve our political
differences through dialogue and eventually, if need be, through the ballot
boxes rather than through terror, intimidation, imprisonment, and execution.
Therefore, the next president must introduce an amendment to the constitution
to the effect that: no one could be arrested, put on trial, or harmed in
any way for any political or religious act or belief.
Another counterproductive impediment to economic progress and development
is the threat or possibility of a threat to someone's private property of
any kind. Security of private property is important from two perspectives:
from political as well as from the point of view of economic development.
Threat to ones' private wealth has been a tool of silencing the potential
of political activism. The economic impact of this is more devastating that
it's political affects. Insecurity creates uncertainty and thence disinvestment
and capital flight. Those who do not find foreign markets as a viable option
for personal reasons invest their capital in projects that could be liquidated
easily. This means investment in unproductive and speculative short-term
One could look at the "sick" economic conditions in Iran to
see the direct result of this phenomenon. Even though there might be several
reasons for the "sick" state of the Iranian economy, one could
pinpoint and shorten the list by looking at one of the most important factors.
The investment picture of the post-revolutionary years has not been promising.
The limited rate of investment explains the slow growth rate of the GDP.
The low investment rate was not limited to the private sector, but also
was characteristic of the Iranian government. Both public and private sectors
have been investing increasingly lower percentages of the GDP in construction
and machinery every year.
In 1995, private investment in machinery and construction, as a percentage
of the GDP, was to 10.8%. A same scenario is true for the government investment,
which dropped to 8% as well. These figures are low by any standard, be it
by the standards of industrially advanced countries or newly industrialized
countries. The question is why?
Political, social, and economic insecurity and instability, unrest, threat
of confiscation, and confusion increase risk and uncertainty and therefore
decrease the possibility of domestic investment as well as foreign direct
investment in the country while they encourage brain drain and capital flight.
The Islamic Republic has shown to have a very slow learning curve in
economic management. It has been quite successful in instilling uncertainty
and lack of economic and political stability and security in the minds of
potential foreign and domestic investors. As a result, we see very little
domestic and foreign investment relative to all other countries despite
the abundant natural resources, strategic location, and the sophisticated
labor force that Iran has.
None of these political and economic hardships are necessary. They would
diminish if the regime allowed universal rule of law and democracy to prevail.
Therefore, in addition to the principle of no political retribution, the
new president must simultaneously introduce a second amendment to the constitution,
which assures unmitigated and unconditional property rights.
The new principle should be clear and straight forward to the effect
that: ownership of private property rights of any kind (tangible, intangible,
movable, and immovable) is immutable. No private, religious, or government
person or persons can interfere in supervision, management or transfer of
ownership of any legally acquired private property for any reason. The government
shall pass no law or regulation contradicting or circumventing this principle.
Despite the fact that there are many who would like to argue differently,
these two principles are inseparable and a prerequisite for each other for
long-term balanced growth and development.
Even though one could show short-term economic progress in some authoritarian
or totalitarian regimes such as the former USSR and its satellite countries
or in South Korea, no one could point to a well-developed country in which
political civility is not present and private property rights are not fully
Let us put this squabbling aside and see to it that people's interests,
not rulers' interests, are put on the top of priority list.
Hamid Zangeneh is professor economics at Widener University, Chester,
Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of