Tunisia and the ‘Great Recession’: A J-Curve Case of a Food Crisis
The recent unrest in Tunisia and Algeria is quite worrying, but I cannot resist to point to what political science has to say on the topic. One of the many theories trying to grapple with the issue of revolutions (and thus trying to predict where and when they arise), is the “J-curve” theory by James Davies. In resume, we can see that according to this theory revolutions come in the wake of sudden reversions of otherwise long-term and stable upwards trends. Thus, while people’s expectations continue to grow, the stagnation and even degradation in the situation (economic, political, social…) opens up a gap between reality and expectations. There comes a stage when the difference between the projection of expectations and the reality on the ground becomes unacceptable and social movements erupt, possibly leaving to a revolution - when the difference becomes unacceptable is obviously the million-dollar question here. However, we might see that the 2008 crash did not lead to revolutions mainly because we started to think immediately about the ‘recovery’. Indeed, now that the prospect of a jobless and sluggish recovery in the developed world with unemployment rate stubbornly high at 10-ish % and not looking like they are going to be reduced meaningfully even when profits are picking up again has turned into reality, and also when the costs of the bailout of the banks ‘too big to fail’ has finally trickled through the government to the people in terms of a mix of higher taxes, reduced benefits and deficit-slashing, we are seeing much more anger and challenges to the ‘system’ since the ‘bright future’ is somehow lost from the horizon of our actions and a dumb and painful everyday struggle becomes a reality.
However, if we return to Tunisia we could probably observe the same logic - for people there no change for the better seems likely and it has driven an unemployed graduate to kill himself in protest, which indeed unleashed the wave of protests, which spilled over in Algeria. Up until recently,Tunisia was in fact one of the more successful countries in the region. Of course, behind this particular case, we can find the same logic as behind previous food riots - the dynamics of the food crisis. A fluctuation of 1% in the the price of basic food products puts 16 million people into a situation of malnutrition (even a decrease has the same effect, as it pushes small agricultural producers which receive a meagre income into poverty). There are plenty of reasons for these food crises - increased demand (increased consumption of meat and fish in China and India and generally in the developing world; increased population - from 3 billions in the 1940s to 6.5 billion today and probably around 9 billion in 2050; increasing urbanisation and therefore consumption) and decreased supply (due to climate change and erosion due to abuse of pesticides and GMOs; the importance of the agrocarburants, which put food and energy in direct competition; and decrease of agricultural land due to the above-mentioned urbanisation); the politics of the WTO, hostile to any support from developing states to small farmers; increased costs of energy which is required for transportation, transformation and conservation; but crucially - speculators who make a profit on a fairly unregulated market. In Tunisia’s case, this is the reality, toppled with an authoritarian political system - since independence, it has only had two presidents (Bourguiba from 1956 until 1987, when in his 90s he was declared senile; and the current leader - Ben Ali). The same regime also promises the creation of some 300 000 jobs in the next 2 years - a very unreasonable estimate given current growth estimates. In a move taken out from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (the episode between Borgia and D’Orco), the Interior Minister has been asked to use violence to repress the riots and then sacked as a scapegoat for having used too much violence. Finally, there is also the demographic factor - 55% of the population is under 25, but this is still under the standard for Africa (you could see this map in French about the percentage of population of countries under 15 years).
Another interesting aspect is that apparently Wikileaks disclosures have played a role in provoking the anger of Tunisian youth - which begs the question whether the Tunisian regime is not a collateral victim to the US Diplomatic establishment targeted by Assange? However, people seem here to trust the information in the cables, which a bit paradoxically proves again that the Cablegate scandal revealed a diplomacy which was working fairly well and which corresponded fairly closely to what it was perceived to be from the outside (by careful observers at least).
There are also some interesting articles today:
…on the politics behind the ICC and the attempt of Kenya to organise a African-wide walkout;
…on one of the few positive things to note on the anniversary of the Haiti quake - CSR and investment by telecom companies;
…executive summary of the diplomatic review ordered by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton;