22 Feb 2011

The future of the Middle East

I'm glad to see the dead hands of so many dictators being removed and/or upset, but the next step is going to be important. Here's my advice:
  • Implement freedom of expression, press, religion, business, etc.
  • Reduce government (and the army) to the smallest possible size.
  • Distribute as much wealth (esp. oil revenue) as possible to citizens.
  • Use a broad tax base (e.g., property) without exemptions to fund a broad safety net (e.g., health) that's centrally funded but not centrally-operated.
The key is to minimize the concentration of power and wealth, so that there's less reason for politicians and the military to control people's lives and economic activity. Then maybe they can concentrate on good policies and governance.

Many of the problems in these countries can be traced to corruption related to capturing money; see, e.g., Iran, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Congo, China, and others... Countries without strong central control -- India -- or resource pools -- Turkey -- tend to be less corrupt. Strong institutions (Norway) or lucky dictators (Singapore) can deliver results, but don't bet on it.

Bottom Line: The revolution will succeed when it makes the average person's life better, not if new crooks replace old crooks.