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First things first
Sanctity of life and property

By Hamid Zangeneh
June 1, 2001
The Iranian

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 undertakings.

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 protected.

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 Missouri-Columbia.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for writer Hamid Zangeneh

By Hamid Zangeneh

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