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Wealth-enabled poverty

James Surowiecki's piece in the December 3 New Yorker is very interesting, but the way it was written bothered me. (And this from the New Yorker, too!)

After a long lead paragraph about suggested causes for "the struggling economies of the Middle East", he turns to oil, seemingly laying it at the root of the problem. It isn't until the end of the piece that he clarifies his belief: The oil-rich countries have mainly themselves to blame for their weak economies, not their oil. (To sum up the article in a sentence, I would say: A wealth of natural resources enables a country to survive while neglecting long-term investments in its economy.) Well, yeah.

Surowiecki also seems to suggest that oil's explanatory power might outweigh that of Islamic hostility to modernization. But, when he points out those resource-rich countries that have prospered seemingly despite their wealth of natural resources (Chile, Mauritius, Malaysia and Indonesia), none are from the Middle East or North Africa. And while Indonesia is Muslim, it lacks the hostility to modernization that colors the policies of Middle Eastern nations.

Still, it's a good article. It's worrisome that Middle East countries, which have focused on military investments at the expense of the most basic economic and social developments, blame outside forces (and especially the United States, of course) for their current levels of poverty. Strong economies require educated workers and markets to trade in. Middle Eastern nations have neither. Oil or no oil — and "Western exploitation" or no exploitation — their economies will not mature until they do.

Maybe that's too pedestrian a claim to make in a column for the New Yorker, though.

December 1, 2001 4:28 PM


i remember thinking that article was kind of weird.. i was with him until he reached his "it's their own damn fault" conclusion...

so, like, this comment is going to show up on the website somewhere??

hey, the preview mode should have a back button, otherwise, why the preview mode? (luckily for me, i am clever enough to right-click my way back, but you know, keeping with the standard UI assumption that your average user has the brains of a sharpie marker...)

Posted by rob on December 6, 2001 5:02 PM

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