Tuesday, December 9, 2003
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Islam, geography, and economic growth
Marcus Noland argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, adherence to Islam does not lead to reduced economic fortunes:
Tyler Cowen disagrees:
Kieran Healy says this nut may never be cracked:
Kieran goes on to quote Ernest Gellner, a bigwig in the study of nationalism, who says:
Read all of the posts -- interesting debate. There's a bit of talking past each other -- Cowen is much more concerned with state structures in Muslim-majority countries, while Noland is concerned with effects on individuals as well.
What intrigues me is Gellner's comment. In international relations theory and economic history, a common argument for why Europe grew the way it did after 1500 is that geographic barriers permitted the proliferation of states and religious sects, decentralizing power enough to create a space for economic actors to operate free of state repression. One wonders if the curse of the Middle East is not its religion, but rather the absence of those geographic barriers.
UPDATE: Brad DeLong is similarly intrigued by this debate, and has the following thoughts on the subject:
Read the whole post.
ANOTHER UPDATE: This book may be of interest to readers of this post (Thanks to alert reader D.G. for the link)posted by Dan on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM
Aren't we missing some empirically plain points here? The growth of contract law, and the sanctity of contracts, made Western-style commerce possible. I think most analyses of (perhaps theoretical) Islamic society suggest that family connections have been more important than abstract contracts.
Consider also the Western development of religious authority being something distinct from state authority. This allowed a tension where each can challenge the other, something you don't see in many Islamic societies. This in turn allowed free scientific inquiry. It is generally observed that Islam allowed free scientific inquiry only during a brief, late medieval "golden age".
It seems to me that contract law and free scientific inquiry would be two cornerstones on which Western prosperity has been built. Whether individual members of Islamic society have had Western educations doesn't seem to have assisted those societies in modernizing. I'm somewhat puzzled that we're looking at a discussion in which empirically plain information that would be accessible to a sophomore taking a World History survey course is being disregarded.posted by: John Bruce on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
You may need to go back before the factors allowing economic actors to operate free of state repression to the formation of European nation-states themselves. What these mostly did was diminish the influence of families and tribes on economic as well as political life, a step that the Middle East as a region has not yet taken.
I can't speak to whether Islam is responsible for this or irrelevant to it; I suppose arguments could be made for either proposition.posted by: Zathras on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem like Noland controlled for the fact that most Muslim countries in his sample are LDCs, while many Christian countries are not. This is an important factor given that LDCs have a tendency to grow at a much faster rate than industrialized countries. (I'd feel more comfortable evaluating Noland if I could see what countries were in the datasets.)
I realize that he attempts to control for levels of development in his comparative studies, but considering the difficulties of generalizing based on small-N, many variable designs, and considering the fact that Malaysian results ran counter to his expectations, I don't think his three case studies carry a lot of weight.
I'd like to see a lengthier comparative survey which includes many more countries than the three, and also looks at countries that weren't British colonies, so as to control for the effect of residual British administrative structures may have on growth.posted by: Matthew Stinson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
It seems a cliche by now, but wasn't the Islamic world a key economic engine about 1000 years ago? So would people then have said that Islam, with its beliefs like "Seek ye learning though it be in China" and legal system which protected property rights and everything was more conducive to economiv growth than some other religions?
I don't think you can see Islam as a necessarily a cause of social conditions without setting of a solid, unchanging block of beliefs and practices which you call "Islam." Despite stereotypes, no religion remains unchanging forever, even as most believers think they do.posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Islam may have been an economic engine in the late medieval period, which is generally recognized as its "golden age" -- though it would be interesting to see whatever analysis could be done to support that. However, I believe most analyses of Islam say that Islam changed after its golden age, and commentators like Bernard Lewis have made a good case for religious doctrines as a factor in the general backwardness of Islamic society.
Take, for instance, the economic observation that if women aren't permitted to drive cars in places like Saudi Arabia, many more people must work as taxi drivers rather than computer programmers. Or the factors in Mohammed Atta's conversion to terrorist -- he studied architecture and city planning in Germany, but found that such jobs in Egypt went only to certain families. As some have commented, the continued dominance of family as an organizing principle is an element keeping Islamic society from advancing.posted by: John Bruce on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
A certain degree of freedom is mandatory. Singapore is a quasi-authortarian country, but its citizens have sufficient freedoms and legal protections to increase their economic fortunes. This simply is not the norm especially in the Arab communities. The male chauvinism of the Muslim culture also dooms its inhabitants to a second rate financial status. Muslims even still widely advocate ridiculous usury laws (the Protestant Reformation eliminated this obstacle to economic prosperity for the Christian world ).
Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said foolishly argue that the Islamic world’s economic troubles are due to Western imperialism. The far more brilliant Bernard Lewis rightfully points out that around 500 years ago the Muslim world decided to embrace Ludditism and shun virtually all forms of modern progress. Lewis’ “The Muslim Discovery of Europe” is a must read. This is a choice their ancestors made---and therefore they have no right to scapegoat the Jews and other alleged capitalist exploiters. Muslims simply must look into the mirror and candidly admit that their problems are of their own making. Self pity will accomplish nothing.posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Further to Mr. Bruce's comment: An interesting article some years ago related religious involvement in civil legal affairs to problems with human rights, with a focus on the middle east; in many areas of the law, religious authorities there still have exclusive jurisdiction, to the exclusion of civil courts. Similarly, until about 400 - 500 years ago, much of Europe had religious 'courts' (or analogous authorities) coexisting with civil ones, and exercising exclusive jurisdiction over matters with clear relevance to economic progress . . . which progress seemingly took off coincidentally with the decline of those religious legal authorities. The seizure of adjudicative power by the state, as part of the general struggle in Europe between church and state, may have been a crucial precondition to the creation of an independant commercial law, itself a precondition to capitalist growth.posted by: vflood on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
An historical comment. The Frankish victory at Tours in 732 is the most historically overrated battle in history. The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) defences of Constantinople in 674 and 717 are much more historically important in limiting the ultimate success of Islam in Europe.posted by: msj on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
John Bruce et al. have a point which has been lost in the discussion of the viability of Bush's forward strategy for modernizing the gulf region. The alignment of family, economic, social, and tribal interests along with a poorly defined distinction between secular and religious spheres promotes dogmatic demagogery over reasoned public debate based upon verifiable facts. Rather like using gay marriages as a social wedge issue. The oldman doesn't condone homosexuality, but neither does he think that who is sleeping with whom is relevant toward the governance of the Republic.
If that's an issue over here, one must only imagine how easy it is to use blatantly religious reasoning over there to interfere with the most basic dialogues of pragmatic policy making. The failed democracies of Russia and other countries show that even when one establishes institutions and elections, cultural factors and entrenched interest constituencies can render real democracy a pipe dream. Trying to imagine that we can import democracy off the shelf is a silly idea, without the necessary cultural grounding that would make such a hydridization fertile socially.
Sorry Mr. Bush but most of the world ain't ready for democracy yet, and trying to make believe it ain't so won't make it so no matter how little your advisers fail to contradict your parochial ideas! And even if they were Democratic, nothing says they're gonna swing our way - Germany and France are notable recent examples.posted by: Oldman on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
The alternative to modernizing the Arabs is to kill most of them. This is why we must try to modernize them first. It's the right thing to do, plus trying will avoid unnecessary guilty feelings if we fail and then kill them.
The major question in our war against terror is how many Arabs will survive our victory.
Proclamations that America is or is not at war with Islam are attempts to distract attention from the likelihood that we're at war with a thoroughly psychotic Arab culture. They're using their perverted Wahabbi version of Islam as cover.
This is not a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. They've movable all right - we can send them all to hell.
But it is our moral duty to save as many as possible.
As a practical matter, I expect intramural Arab nastiness to kick off genocide, most likely with a Sunni Syrian massacre of their ruling Alawite minority, followed by mutual massacre of Saudi Arabia's different varieties of Wahabbis. Arabs committing genocide on each other will make it easier for non-Arabs to do it too.
Check out Steven den Beste at:
from the latter:
"This gives a sense of Greek tragedy, with its dialectic of hubris and nemesis, to what has been unfolding in the Islamic world. If they continue to use terror against the West, their very success will destroy them. If they succeed in terrorizing the West, they will discover that they have in fact only ended by brutalizing it. And if subjected to enough stress, the liberal system will be set aside and the Hobbesian world will return - and with its return, the Islamic world will be crushed. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. And the only way to avoid this horrendous end is to bring the Islamic world back to sanity sooner rather than latter."
IMO Harris errs in his depiction of "Islamic world" - that isn't the problem. The perverted Wahabbi version of it promoted by Saudi oil income is the problem.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
“IMO Harris errs in his depiction of "Islamic world" - that isn't the problem. The perverted Wahabbi version of it promoted by Saudi oil income is the problem.”
This is not at all accurate. Wahhabism is indeed a radical interpretation of Islam. Still, moderate Islamism tends to be antagonistic towards progress---and is virulently anti-women.
The sad thing is that few people are familiar with the insights of Bernard Lewis. This is truly the scandal of the age. The academic "elite" world has instead mostly promoted the silly writings of Edward Said.posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
You do 'dogmatic demagogery' with the best of them, yet you've yet to advocate blowing things up, regardless of your choice of sleeping partners. Thus collapses your informed opinion on what ethnic subset can best handle which form of governance.
But perhaps you can show Mr. Holsinger or I where it's Administration Policy to make nation state's "swing our way". You accuse the President of something he doesn't contend - where now your support of "reasoned public debate based upon verifiable facts"?posted by: Art Wellesley on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Speaking from that "academic elite" world I think you've been reading too much campus watch. I made it all the way to Ph.D. Candidacy in Islamic history, and the only Said I had to read was Orientalism for my prelims, which I was told wasn't that important anymore. Bernard Lewis's The Middle East was used as the core textbook for the "Making of the Islamic World" survey when I TA'ed it, and a couple of his other books were required in seminars.
That said, you're right that scholars have tended to ignore his recent books, mostly because from the scholarly perspective they don't break much new ground. Lewis's methodologies are also a bit out of step with the field: He tends to be an old-style orientalist who starts with the Qur'an and interprets all Islam through that, then tries to explain the behavior of all Muslims through Islam. Most people today (admittedly as a legacy of Said's attack on orientalist methodology) tend to see the Qur'an and Islam both as cultural products, and prefer to explain both the developments of Islam and Muslim societies as related to various economic, social and political factors. (And these are not necessarily codewords for Western oppression of some kind.)
I won't lie and say Lewis is to the right of most Middle Easternists and they dislike him for that reason, but at least in the history/poli sci fields relevant here, political views and arcane academic methodological disputes don't mesh nearly as well as some think they do.posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Once again the intellectual quality of your commentary doesn't even rise to interesting opposition, but languishes in the realm of idiotic gibberish.
Last I heard, the President got up there on TV and articulated a forward policy that the conversion of Iraq to democracy would be a powerful force for modernizing and democratizing the entire Gulf region. Seeing as the President has said this on national TV, that he intends to influence the form of government of multiple non-democratic regional governments, perhaps you will do everyone the favor of taking your head out of your ass.
As for your earlier comment, it shows even more superficially out-of-context logical construction. Last time we went a round, you couldn't even understand the basic point of English grammar you'd misinterpreted. Try at least learning basic reading at grammar school levels before you go up against the oldman again. Your incompetence is socially embaressing to have to witness. Compared to you Thomson is a rational being, and Holsinger a paragon of intellect. Holsinger can actually present logical complete thoughts responsive to another human being. Him I disagree with. You, you can't even articulate something intelligible enough to really understand.
A clarification: My last paragraph is meant to concede that Lewis's politics are opposed by most in Middle East Studies. I needed another negative in there or something.posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned response. Of course, I disagree but as one rational person with another. Thomson's attack solely of radical Wahabbism is misguided and cariactured like usual. If it were only the Wahabbist sect.
It is also the radical Shiite Iranian harliners. And the Egyptian Islamic anti-westerners from which that branch of Al-queda springs. And the hard-line Syrian Baathist element. And the Afghanistan Taliban pro-al-Queda-ists. And the Pakistani northern border region Taliban sympathizers and the hard core Islamists. And the Phillipine radical Muslim secessionists. And the bastards who bombed Bali. And the hard-core American Muslims recruiting for Al-Queda in our jail systems. And the Yememi Al-Queda sympathizers and Cole-bombing enablers. And the north africans who were against us in Somalia and helped the bombing of the embassies in Kenya. Are you getting the picture?
Practically every single Islamic ethnic and cultural variation in the entire world has a virulent variant that hates America and either passively or actively uses the greater body of Muslims to recruit and finance terroists against American interests.
No you are absolutely right, it is not the West or even America against Islam. However, it being our "moral duty to save them" would smack too much of "White man's burden" save that I will concede that Western powers have really messed them up and to save ourselves we had best clean up our mess as best we can. But for us, and not out of a misconceived notion of saving them.
So we have no choice as you rightly say but to engage in forward looking cultural cooperation and encouraging modernization of their economies. However to do this, we have to do two things. First we have to slowly stop supporting authoratarian regimes and start supporting internal organic grassroots democratic movements. Second we have to stop doing things that provoke and radicalize American interests in the eyes of large numbers of Muslims.
Coming down on from high and attempting to impose prescribed democratic reforms won't work. If we're serious about "draining the swamps of terrorism" we need an adroit, strong, but diplomatic approach toward *nurturing* grassroots democracy in the region. The Bush and neo-con grandious schemes of radical social restructuring via revolution or regime deposing won't work.
As one rational being to another, yes engagement is the only rational policy. But who among our leaders has the credibility and discipline to carry out such a long term policy? Hence the true roots of the problem fester, while empty words are shouted to the masses - as usual. Plus ca change.posted by: Oldman on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Isn't not charging interest a problem for economic growth? Call me crazy...posted by: praktike on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
“I made it all the way to Ph.D. Candidacy in Islamic history, and the only Said I had to read was Orientalism for my prelims, which I was told wasn't that important anymore. “
So what? the fact that you may not have directly read Edward Said until later in your academic career is of secondary importance. His nefarious influence underpins the mindset of the liberal dominated Middle Eastern studies programs. You even concede this point: “Most people today (admittedly as a legacy of Said's attack on orientalist methodology)..”
“He (Bernard Lewis) tends to be an old-style orientalist...”
Is this your subtle way of saying that Lewis is a bigot lacking the ability of looking at the Islamic world in a non-prejudicial manner? I have taken a quick peek at your blog---and you seem to enjoy writing in an ambiguous and rambling style. Can’t you be a bit more blunt? I also take to task your apparent moral equivalency regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reality is that most Israelis wish to live in peace with the Palestinians while the latter only wish to push them into the sea. Did I not ask you to be blunt? Shucks, perhaps I should provide you with an example:
The Israelis are mostly the innocent party and the Palestinians are racist slime balls! The polling data adamantly support my contention.posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
“No you are absolutely right, it is not the West or even America against Islam. However, it being our "moral duty to save them" would smack too much of "White man's burden"”
I’m guilty as charged! We should be trying to convert the Muslim world over to our Western secular values. There is nothing to apologize for. It is the morally decent thing to do. This ain’t a white thing, a yellow thing, a black thing, or a brown thing---it’s a human thing!posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
“Isn't not charging interest a problem for economic growth? Call me crazy...”
You are not crazy. The Islamic world’s economy has suffered greatly because of its bizarre prohibition of charging interest. Sigh, you are unfortunately not suppose to point this out---somebody like Brian Ulrich might call you an orientalist.posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
I admit I am surprised to hear that any Islamic Studies program in this country has succeeded in marginalizing Said. Care to tell us which program this is?
I agree entirely with you that Lewis is still more marginalized than Said (sorry David, it may not be just but it is true, he is perceived as "old fashioned" and there is no more damning critique in the trend-crazed academy).
To add another point to the debate, most of the specialists writing today have a favorite sect or group within the larger Islamic world, whom they see as the true upholders of the faith, and who are generally up against the ropes by the West/modernity/fundamentalists--take your pick. This is usually the sect/people among whom your typical academic did their original field work (when they were young, impressionable, sexually active, etc). There is thus a melding of nostalgia for one's own past with that of "your people."
I never did any fieldwork in a majority Muslim country (though India, where I did spend a happy year, has the largest Muslim population in the world) but most of the teachers I worked with (Duke, UNC, NCState) had a borderline obsession with the Sufis. The sufi ethos fit in quite well with the peace, love, grooviness of the 60s generation now in charge in the academy. On a less sarcastic note, the Sufis really were a tolerant, syncretistic group whose influence worked against the hard-line militancy of Arab Islam (Wahhabist and otherwise). The decline of Sufism, largely at the hands of hostile Arab missionaries, funded by our friends the Saudis, has brought us closer to Oldman's apocalyptic vision (sadly).
Maybe all we need is a revival of Sufism--anyone at the CIA listening?posted by: Kelli on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Kelli: Said's influence is probably most directly in fields like literature and general "culture studies." In history, he's simply tough to take all that seriously, as he never seems to really get engaged with the methodologies of history as a discipline.
On whether my calling Lewis an old-style orientalist is a subtle way of saying something - no, please don't read things into my comments which I don't say. The disputes between orientalism and postcolonialism are primarily methodological. There are also political disputes between Lewis and Said, but these relate only marginally to the methodological disputes.
On my lack of bluntness: I'm not sure what you mean. I find that you use a lot of strongly worded adjectives, but I have trouble telling what your opinions are based on. I am capable of bluntness, as in certain posts critical of the Palestinian leadership. However, I'm mostly interested in more objective facts on the ground and where they might lead. Whether or not Sharon's plans are right or wrong is not a question where I can make definitive pronouncements. What affect they might have on the peace plan is.
May I ask the source of your knowledge of Middle East Studies? You've quoted Bernard Lewis for your Middle East knowledge, which gives me a sense of where you're coming from, though I haven't read The Muslim Discovery of Europe, which I think falls into that "recent" phase of Lewis's work which I described above.
Kelli's unfortunately right about academia tendency to follow the trends. But I still don't see the tight nexus with politics.posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
>No you are absolutely right, it is not
You need to go back and reread Tom Holsinger's post and his links to Den Beste and TechCentralStation columns.
Trying to modernize the Arab world isn't "White Man's Burden." It is a necessary phase of America's "Salvage and Destroy" war strategy.
It is something that is necessary for American civic mental health before the final reckoning with the Islamists and their wider Muslim cultural enablers.
Invasion and overthrown of existing Mulsim tyrnnies fills that bill. Check.
We "Radicalize American interest" simply existing. Try again.posted by: Trent Telenko on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Well said, Mr. Telenko, you beat me to it. And good luck with presenting Mr. Oldman's reciprocal reasoning back to him.His response to Mr. Holsinger was the same as his response to me -just dressed up prettier.
You know, we should probably award points on a person's ability to get him to drop his pretense and go ballistic sooner than other posters.posted by: Art Wellesley on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
One last riposte and then I'll let this drop. I could not disagree with you more on the "Said is not important to historians" thesis. Said and his acolytes have remade history (at the very least non-western history) in their image. Postcolonial studies is his baby. It's an ugly baby, but strong and unlikely to go away or grow up anytime soon. And I'll put my Ph.D. in history up against yours anytime (not that either of them are worth anything, right:)?posted by: Kelli on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Crap, terminal spelling disorder strikes again. That should have read:
"Invasion and overthrown of existing Muslim tyrannies fills that bill. Check."posted by: Trent Telenko on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
“I agree entirely with you that Lewis is still more marginalized than Said (sorry David, it may not be just but it is true, he is perceived as "old fashioned" and there is no more damning critique in the trend-crazed academy).”
“May I ask the source of your knowledge of Middle East Studies? “
I am for the most part a second rate Eric Hoffer imitator. Forty years ago Richard Hofstadter wrote his seminal -Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.- Regrettably, he focussed only upon bad anti-intellectualism. A functionally illiterate who is proud of his lack of education should only be pitied. It is absurd to blast academics merely because they possess advanced degrees behind their names. Hofstadter, however, also overlooked the valid American tradition of taking everything said by academics with a modest grain of salt. People like me are more than aware that indeed academics are often “trend-crazy.” Becoming an intellectual slut is often the price that must be paid for academic success.posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Kelli: I guess you're right that all post-colonial influence goes back to Said, and he's the reason I don't do research the same way Bernard Lewis does. I might resist saying that a bit because too many people conflate his methodological influence with support for his political causes. There are too many people wandering around who want to make us all into Nicholas de Genova, and too many in Congress who seem inclined to listen.
DT: That's fine. See my comments to Kelli above. I wasn't claiming that because I'm in grad school I'm smarter than everyone else, but merely that I had a basis for knowledge of Middle East Studies itself as a field. Had you begun quoting Stanley Kurtz, we could have locked horns =)posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
“Had you begun quoting Stanley Kurtz, we could have locked horns”
Let’s put Stanley Kurtz to the side? What do you think of Martin Kramer ‘s Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America?:
Also how often do you visit Daniel Pipe’s website? :posted by: David Thomson on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
I argue against Martin Kramer regularly on my blog. I've read Ivory Towers on Sand, but it's been too long for me to remember details. I do know it's now required reading in the Middle East Studies program at Harvard. Lately, Kramer's blog (Sandstorm at http://www.martinkramer.org) has been mostly taken up with politics, but I think he plays a key role as a scholar in looking into terrorism and such topics as anti-Semitism in Islamic society.
Pipes I haven't followed as much, aside from the political activities that seem to be his main thing these days and most of which I disagree with. I admit I have trouble taking him seriously just because he lists Bat Ye'or as recommended reading on his web site. (My master's thesis and first conference paper dealt with Muslim-Christian relations, and I glanced through one of her books while researching it. It was pretty worthless...the primary sources were really cherry-picked to the point where it was essentially propaganda.) He also spoke on campus last year to the expected protests and other controversy, but I didn't go, I think because I had a meeting.posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
Re Warren Christopher
Marvelous caption. I witnessed one instance of Mr. Christopher's diplomatic ineptitude first hand when he was Undersec State in the Carter Administration. He dismissed all better-informed advice so that he could be tough and dfirm, thereby totally misjudging whether he could bully a smaller country, which simply replied f- off and made it stick. He's a formidable inside political fixer, but my heavens, having him endorse your foreign policy bona fides is like Clark Clifford endorsing your banking practices.posted by: Gene Salorio on 12.09.03 at 12:20 PM [permalink]
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