Strongest point of contention for me is the link
between Ahmadinejad's supposed popularity and his proposed economic
August 19, 2005
In response to Rostam Pourzal's article on President
I found your article well-written, and your analysis of Iran's
economic prospects interesting. It aims at a sensitive topic and
illustrates the difficulty of trying to balance criticism of the
IRI with criticism of neocon/neoliberal forces. I am writing to
respectfully disagree with some of your observations and conclusions
and ask your opinions on issues you mention in your piece.
You mention free-market/IMF style economic reforms, but I don't
think you articulate what exactly "IMF-style" reform
is--privatization and deregulation are certainly not homogenous
economic mechanisms -- these reforms can vary wildly and take shape
only by the strength of their regulatory frameworks, and the policy
goals that drive them. What IMF-style reforms do you see happening
Though I am no free-market champion, privatization can serve
as a policy mechanism to stimulate an inert or underresourced public
sector, and the resulting competing innovations can improve efficiency
in allocating scarce public funding. It most certainly has its
drawbacks, namely that of exacerbating economic divisions
if it is without nuances and oversight.
I have studied privatization
mainly from an educational perspective, and found one can argue
for and against privatization using the criteria of freedom of
choice, equity, efficiency, and social cohesion. In El Salvador,
privatization of some public sectors resulted in higher enrollments
in primary schools. Yet in Chile, the presence of for-profit
private schools in a government voucher system has made Chilean
public schools a dumping ground for the poorest and lowest achieving
All this to say, reforms themselves are nebulous ideas; the outcomes
depend on how they are carried out, and it's too simplistic to
link reform groups to "neo-liberals" on the basis that
they have a different view of how to build the Iranian economy.
It is easy to criticize privatization in a government that is transparent
and accountable to its citizens, but that is not the kind of government
found in Iran.
The strongest point of contention for me is the link you establish
between Ahmadinejad's popularity and his proposed economic planning.
Rafsanjani is no saint, and would probably stand to make even more
money if free-market reforms were implemented . However,
Ahmadinejad is no John Maynard Keynes either, and chances are he
won't lift a finger against the numerous and Mafia-like bonyads
that operate with government funds and without public oversight.
Iran's over-regulated economy prevents substantial outside investment
because the current revenues allow the government to subsidize
basic goods and petrol, perpetuating the status quo of Iran's economic
production, stifling innovation, and allows the IRI's corrupt politicians
to come out looking like they have the interests of the people
at heart. It makes more sense for the government to preside
over a mediocre economy and subsidize its citizens than for it
control and relevance if the economy does well without it.
I also feel you do some image-repairing
for Ahmadinejad. It's genius to claim to be a populist while
pocketing untold billions of dollars that rightly belong to the
Iranian public. Ahmadinejad's
unfortunate victory is the latest symbol of Iranians' knee-jerk
resistance to their oppressive government, and is devoid of
legitimacy to the 45% of the eligible voting population that did
not partake in the elections. Why reinvent an obedient regime soldier as
a populist hero battling neo-liberal forces?
More importantly, Iran's distorted social welfare system strengthens
the dependency of the Iranian people on the government to provide
for its needs, creating a relationship that is rooted in patronage
and a cementing "handout" culture. In other words, these
programs are void of equality and human dignity, essentially
buying Iranians' social and political freedoms in exchange
for cheap gas and rice.
Still, I think you wrote an interesting article and I hope to
see more discussion on this topic in the future.