Sunday, August 27, 2006

You cannot teach a donkey to play the piano!

Click on image to enlarge

The incompetence of the Baath Party and Assad clan is legendary. Here it is, in the above chart, for all to see.

Average income in Syria has barely moved in the last 24 years, despite the oil wealth. By contrast, our Jordanian and Lebanese neighbours, who hardly have any natural resources, use only their brains to scratch a living. Jordan's average income has been growing for 14 years. Lebanon's has more than doubled over the same period despite Syrian meddling in its affairs.

What is Syria's excuse? Security? Wars? Eathquakes? Famine?

Is it not obvious that the economy and people of Syria have been left to rot for decades while their rulers have been enjoying power and fortune?

What will they do when the oil runs out in a few years time? Will they give up and leave us alone or will they try to pinch our last remaing pennies? Will they learn to do better or are they really like the proverbial donkey whose brains are too small and hooves too big to play the piano?

You get no prizes for guessing the right answers.


HARBOOK said...

Your evidence is anecdotal. Comprehensive economic studies have not been completed. And by the way, I've seen a donkey play piano. Wow, you must feel like an ass.

Philip I said...


I am not an economist, but even a donkey can divide GDP by the number of people in the country to arrive at average income. These numbers are supplied by the Syrian government to the UN. They are not a state secret so they can hardly be anecdotal.

A Syrian In The Far East said...

No argument at all about the extremely bad economical performance of the Syrian Regime. No argument at all concerning the corruption and the dirty-deals of the regime elite circle of influential top-figures and merchants.
However, to be academically correct, and to be fair toward our history, the following facts should be noted:

1. Although the Syrian GDP did not increase in the sixties and seventies, a re-distribution of the total wealth on the population was achieved. That is, instead of having the total income concentrated in few urban areas in Syria, it was redirected to greater population through land-distribution laws, improving rural areas etc. This achievement, which you would really appreciate if you were a poor farmer in the Jazeera, Aleppo, Costal Area, and Hama, should not be forgotten. Despites all the mistakes, lack-of-planning, and dysfunctionality the regime showed since the beginning of the eighties, it is fair to say that the Baath rule, in the sixties and beginning of the seventies was the first rule to turn its attention to the rural areas of Syria. During those times, it did have good impact in term of economical performance regardless of its catastrophic impact regarding political life in Syria .

2. This re-distribution stopped completely in the eighties due to a full stagnation of the Syrian economy as a whole and to the destruction of the institutional system. In fact, the re-distribution process was reversed in the nineties and the 2000s and the total wealth was re-gathered in the hands of the emerging nouveau riches; the influentials of the new regime and their merchants.
Although this relapse has completely overshadowed the achievement of the sixties and seventies, it is fair to distinguish those two eras: Baath till 1978, and Baath after 1978, at least in term of economical performance.

3. Concerning Lebanon, the following facts contributes to its seemingly increasing GDP:
a. There is absolutely no new and correct population statistics of Lebanon. Although the security situation is always blamed for that, the real reason is that the politicians are afraid of bringing into light facts that might require changing the present religion and ethnic balances.
b. The figures that are used in Lebanon's GDP are very much approximate and many argue that they are extremely incorrect. In addition, the population that is used for calculating the GDP in Lebanon is been decreased annually due to extensive immigration.
c. The same (b) could be said about Jordan, were expatriates are not included. In Syria, however, due to the backwardness of civil registrant process and considerations related to military services and other political reasons, there is no specific statistics about expatriates and they are always considered “as present in Syria”. The civil registrant of most expatriates, myself included, shows their address as the address before leaving Syria. Added to this is of course the world-high birth rate.
3. Like Syria, both countries has an extreme non-balance of the distribution of the GDP, where many have very low GNPs. I did not see the reflection of the Lebanese high GDP on the poor people from the South who fled to Syria last month due to war!

4. The GDP that you showed does not represent the amount of external debt of the compared countries. Syria has the lowest in the area. Probably, the one and only good thing the Baath regime will leave to the next rule is a country free of external debt.

5. In short, I could sit happily and listen to someone comparing the poor economical achievement of Syria to that of the south-east Asian countries for example, most of them were less advanced than Syria at the beginning of the sixties, and are advanced democratic nations. However, with respect to all our neighbors and the people who admire them, comparing Syria to a “king’s farm made country” and “war-lords playground half-made country”, politically, economically and in regard to human-rights, is not fair at all even after all the poor and miserable doings of the Baath regime.

A final word my Dear Syrian Emperor Philip I. Besides getting rid of our present incompetent regime, a most way to retrieve the position that Syria deserves in the world is to recreate our national identity as Syrians and elevate it above all other identities as Arabs, Muslims, Druz, Alawies, Kords, etc., of course while maintaining and respecting those other identities. The way is, to rediscover our pride of belonging to a diverse and multi-ethnic multi-religion nation as Syria.

This requires us to be proud of all aspects of our history by brining the bright sides in every era, no matter how gloomy it was. The time will come for Syria to emerge from its present status as authoritarian inefficient and poor country (not nation), to a proud democratic and wealthy advanced Nation. When that time comes, we should not regard any part of our history as disgusting and inferior to any other country. We will remember the very few good things that the Baath regime did, and we will teach the new generation how this regime made mistakes and where it faulted.
You may have other opinion about the above suggestion, but, allow me please: by no means should we ever believe that we were inferior to any other surrounding failed semi-states such Lebanon or Jordan.

Your fellow Syrian citizen.

Philip I said...

a syrian in the far east

Thank you for your detailed comment and insight. It may not have been academically strictly correct to compare Syria, Lebanon and Jordan in terms of GDP per capita because of the underlying factors that you have outlined. Also it is better to compare GDP per capita after adjusting for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). On this basis, Syria's GDP per capita was US$3,576, Jordan's US$4,320 and Lebanon's US$4,320 in 2003. These numbers show smaller differences between the three countries than in the chart because 1 US$ dollar in Syria buys more than in Jordan or Lebanon, but the trends in terms of relative performance remain generally valid. Still arguing against myself, it may not also have been fair to the Baath Party to ignore its early achievements. So I accept your constructive criticisms.

However, past achievements were motivated by different ideals and a different generation of people. They were more in tune with the people and the times. We are really talking about the last 33 years since the 1973 war which ended in the loss of the Golan. Since then, the country's institutions have been systematically dismantled and its values and social fabric destroyed. What we now see is a state within a state (just like Hizbullah), which has its own resources and which is based on intelligence networks, militias and fringe Baath party structures. The Assads and their cronies control this inner state and the country's public resources as though they were their own private inheritance.

We have not only lost a whole generation of potential economic and social achievements, but have actually gone backwards. So it will take two generations to repair the damage and catch up with other countries of similar size and resources.

Innocent_Criminal said...

There is no question that our economy has under-performed compare to what was possible to achieve. but a very important note which Far East mentioned is external debt. Once you factor that in you will realize that most of Lebanon/Jordan is at/below the poverty line while in Syria it varies between 9-30% (depending on who you ask)

Fares said...

Ecellent post and discussion Philip. Syria has underachieved economically big time ever since I was growing up in the 80s...and is continuing to do so.

SimoHurtta said...

Hmmm Jordan has performed actually worse than Syria since 1990 if we watch closer the the graph. If we would eliminate the US help reward for peace with Israel the "picture" would be even worse for Jordan.

Well Kings are rarely good piano players...

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