Friday, March 04, 2011

The Problem In The Middle East Might Be The State Preventing Entrepreneurship

I saw this article mentioned at Carpe Diem, the blog of economist Mark Perry. It links an article in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki called The Tyrant Tax. Here is one paragraph:

"Healthy economies need a thriving and independent private sector, where resources are allocated by markets and competition, and where small and medium-sized businesses can flourish. But in most of the Middle East the state and big business are so tightly intertwined as to be indistinguishable, and competition has been discouraged in favor of central planning and private monopolies. It’s hard for entrepreneurs to start and run a business. Minimum capital requirements tend to be high, so you can’t get started without lots of cash, and getting business licenses and registering property are frequently arduous. Political favoritism is rampant, and byzantine regulations are difficult for outsiders to navigate. It’s instructive that the young man whose self-immolation helped set off the protests in Tunisia had had his fruit cart confiscated for violating some government rule."

"The state’s intrusive presence forces much economic activity off the books—in Egypt, eighty-five per cent of small businesses are in the “informal” sector—and this reduces growth, since informal businesses have a hard time getting credit or expanding beyond a certain size."
"Strict regulations enable the government to protect its friends in the private sector from competition, and bureaucrats line their own pockets, becoming further indebted to the system."
"Not surprisingly, when autocratic regimes in the region have tried to change their economies they’ve done so primarily with an eye toward maintaining power. In the past decade, countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria have made vaunted public commitments to reform. But, as a recent study by the political scientist Oliver Schlumberger shows, reform did not, for the most part, aim at introducing genuine free-market competition, the most important feature of a healthy capitalist system. Instead, it strengthened what he calls “patrimonial capitalism”—a system in which the key determinant of success is how close you are to those in power."

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