Civil War in Libya?

More and more people talk about an upcoming civil war in Libya. The question is if the civil war erupting in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's fall, due to the powder keg suppression of his regime, could have happened as is now potentially happening in Libya?

Even if the aspiration for freedom is driving change, the question is if people thus freed will be tolerant or if they will just reestablish a dictatorship?


David Cameron's trip to the Middle East

David Cameron has demonstrated that he is able to do what the EU can't by being the first statesman visiting Egypt after the revolt. In a speech given at the Kuwaiti parliament today, refered to in The Times, he claims that each country in the Middle East has to find its own way in its own tempo. The West should not impose their form of democracy.

Aspirations of freedom is driving the change that might happen. There is reason for cautious optimism, according to Cameron. It is highly interesting that Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" that has haunted him for some years due to China's economic progress, might actually have returned. The crisis in Arab states shows that an alternative to democracy does not work.

Even if democracy is not the end stage of history, it is probably the platform from which all mankind might have to evolve.


The J-curve is unstable, in both ends?

Ian Bremmer writes today in The Financial Times about the J-curve that he originally introduced in 2006 as an illustration of what is currently happening in the Middle East. The J-curve is the graph created of dots forming a J plotting stability on the y-axis versus social openness on the x-axis. North Korea is on the tip of the J on the closed side and the US is on the open side at a higher stability position on the head of the J.

His point is that moving from the lower enforced stability position you have to pass a minimum which they are currently flirting with in the Middle East.

My comment would be that we are currently seeing a move from both ends of the J towards the minimum due to the nature of the stabilizing order. People are becoming more and more resistant to the charm of Secret Service which results in that the Service tries to become more efficient, spelling deterioration.

Speaking from the democratic end it might be wise to react before democratic values are forgotten so that a return to the good old order can be achieved.

Stabilization is good?, and bad. It is possible to increase the concentration ability on students, recently discussed as superior Chinese mothers on the wsj.com thus fighting a war against Asia by forcing more and more young people into an artificial efficiency.

It can also be really bad by imprisoning people at lower intelligence levels--marginalization.


The Great Divergence

Between 1500 to 1700 there was a battle of ideas between Europe and China which they were not aware of at the time. Today this battle is about how to govern large populations most efficiently.

Kenneth Pomeranz in the book The Great Divergence from 2000 essentially claims that China was at a comparable level of development during the time of 1500-1700 but due to geographical reasons, ie availability of coal, Europe won this game.

This is the politically correct version, no doubt. Apparently people working in the field of comparable history over this era belong to one of two schools. One where people imagine that the West always was more or less ahead. We actually started out about 2000 years earlier with the domestication of animals. The other, which Pomeranz belongs to, claims that there is not much difference and that circumstances matter most. People from the different schools tend to call each other names.

Niall Ferguson, that discusses the matter in his book The Ascent of Money where he refers to Pomeranz book, don't think China will change to a democratic governance. They will keep autocracy, something that made them follow Mao in his madness. His head still features on the "Red Back" despite his mistake The Great Leap Forward that killed 30m people. This worries me. As I pointed out earlier on my blog, the battle is about whether or not creativity will reach the same per capita level in an authoritarian system as in a more free setting.

Stability, for example, is a problem for China which is hardly discussed here in the West. When there is a need for discussing stability, people suffer unnecessarily. This is not a trivial issue. Making people more stable could become an industry? The earlier we begin to discuss what may be lost in this process, the better.

Swedish Foreign Policy?

The so called crisis commission of the Social Democratic party, set up to frame the moment after two consecutive losses in elections, has generated a new policy that, for not being a copy of the center-right coalition, turns out to be a so called "vänstersväng", a return to the left.

Urban Ahlin, the porte parole of the Social Democrats for foreign policy, proclaims the following in a debate article in Svenska Dagbladet today:

1. Demands should be set on the junta in Myanmar. Burma, for not using the name of the junta, is squeezed in by India and China and as such has new influence that competes with that the West might have. China's influence is particularly strong and therefore success in dictating rules for the junta might be hopeful at best. My question would be if it in reality is useful for Sweden to have a foreign policy on this matter and if not acting via EU might be preferable. Ahlin wonders if the junta has broken rules against humanity which it in all probability has. It is also right that Aung San Suu Kyi's party should get legal status but that and free elections is the same as requesting a regime change. Not likely.

2. Ahlin claims what most people know that the US and the EU have had "short sighted" interests in Northern Africa for stability. After Tunisia and Egypt, this seems to be what people say. However, asking for democracy in this region has a little of the same ring to it like the beauty pageant "and I also want peace on Earth". At times like these people discuss whether or not democracy is a universal quest for mankind. I have begun to doubt this. It takes hundreds of years to prepare for it and many nations seems more prone to authoritarian regimes and tries to solve their problems in this fashion not having such a history. The current battle of ideas has to be won in order to proceed globally with democratization. It has become necessary again to prove that democracy leads to a better society. I, for one, am convinced it does.

3. EU should put demands on the collaboration with Russia according to Ahlin. This is in all probability very important. Russia is not developing in the right direction right now on human rights and the fight to lower corruption. Great care should be taken in the interactions with Russia.

4. Sweden should support Palestine to become an independent state, says Ahlin. Well, this is what the Israelis also have agreed to, given a set of conditions. I agree that these conditions are important. Especially now with the unknowns presented in the region by the revolt in Egypt. The security requirements for Israel have become more important all of a sudden than they were a month ago.

5. Sweden should stop charging for visa for people from the Eastern Partnership area in Eastern Europe. Strange demand since a person not affording a visum would not afford a ticket?

6. Ahlin wants Sweden to increase its engagement in the UN. It might seem appropriate to do so in The Age of Anxiety but I would think improving bilateral engagements with friendly nations should be better than flirting too much with the dictatorship stuffed UN and their weak leader. Sweden, with its earlier neutral past, really needs to improve such ties.

7. I also don't have any constructive suggestions on the tragic case of Dawit Isaak.

8. The Social Democrats want to set a side a billion SEK of the money allotted to international aid to the support of handling conflicts and work preventing war!?

9. The Social Democrats are going to monitor the governments acting in the Afghanistan assignment and will also demand a wide agreement in the Parliament about the structural issues of the foreign service. The Social Democrats apparently has had problems realizing that there are differences between the right and left concerning in which countries Sweden should have embassies. Naive!


Conspiracy Theory about the revolt, not revolution, in Egypt?

Amir Taheri writes a column about Egypt and its military in The Times this weekend. Apparently the military and all its "tentacles" represent 10% of the population in Egypt. It is a state within the state. And the people of Egypt loves it as we know from the debacle at the Tahrir square.

Mubarak was part of the military!?

Isn't the easiest solution for this equation that the military staged a coup, which Taheri also suggests. They let the revolt happen and made sure they would look good as a result of it.

The good news for the 90% non-military people of Egypt could be that the Western educated forces within the military now can concentrate of rebuilding Egypt, with their newly won popular mandate, to something that is economically more efficient although I doubt that we will see much of liberalism. The question is rather how Chinese it will become? After all we witnessed severe anti-Western sentiments during the revolt especially during the attacks on the foreign press.


Multiculturalism is dead again, ..., and again

First David Cameron is echoing Angela Merkel in saying that we don't want a society within the society. We don't want alien values although cultural pluralism is OK. Now also Nicholas Sarkozy has joined the fray today in The Financial Times and denounced multiculuralism.

Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the French anti-immigrant party FN, lauded Cameron for his new stance. I guess Sarkozy wanted a little of this attention in France as well to boost his chances in the upcoming presidential election. The question is if Fredrik Reinfeldt will be tempted to follow Sarkozy's lead in order to steal votes from the Sweden Democrats. The question is if this path is not the best to stop the appearance of anti-immigrant parties when immigration is necessary for a future prosperous Europe.

Reinfeldt has spoken about the guarding the open society of Sweden, as recent as his Christmas speech after the Stockholm suicide bombing, and it is of course important to know if a free Islam, even political Islam, is something condoned by an open society. In this case Germany, Britain, and France now are less open.

Timur Kuran concludes, in his book The Long Divergence from 2011, that even if Islam historically has had deleterious effects on the development of the economy in the Middle East there should not be any problems today. Still, he claims, there are problems with corruption and with the efficiency of the economy there. If this is something that Europe might import with immigration, this could be a problem.

While remembering that approximately 300 people have died in Egypt already, we can ponder the prospects of change there if the people get what they want, eventually. Dr. Kuran does not think change in the economy of the Middle East will come in a "hurry" as he suggested. With the result from Tunisia and Egypt at hand, I must admit I'm still a little pessimistic on the prospects of significant change during the upcoming year, although it will eventually happen.

The feeling I'm getting from reading The Long Divergence is that the Middle East is fundamentally different and that the final goal of its society might not be the same as for the West. It was interesting to note that Westerners had been admitted in the Middle East with their own legal systems in the past to do business but that this was not as abundant as the ghettoisation that occurs in Western European cities where Muslims now number up to 20%.

R&D productivity in biomedical science?

The Financial Times has an article today that features a graph plotting R&D productivity over the time from 1950 until now.
Interestingly, there is an exponential decline from some 60-70 drugs developed per 1$bn spent to about one drug today. Apparently this is leading to investments in health and nutrition drugs, like multivitamins instead because of its lower risk.

The graph also features a history of the development of molecular biology along the time axis. It begins with the discovery of DNA structure 1953 and ends with the sequencing of the human genome 2001. In other words the R&D productivity is declining despite fantastic flabbergasting developments in biomedical science.

One explanation for this might be that the prevailing paradigm in pharmacology has been to vacuum clean Nature for natural products that are testing positive in bioassays. By now they have found most of the ones easily available, thus the exponential decline.

My feeling is that we have not yet been able to reap the benefits from the revolution in molecular biology and all the knoweldge we so far got from this field. However, if I am not correct in this assumption it would mean that we are running on empty towards a situation where new "blockbuster" drugs will be hard to find. This would mean a large blow to the usefulness of biomedical science.

In a way we are seeing the same thing in physics with the need for enormously expensive accelerators that seems to exhaust the possiblities of getting much further in science on this front. My worst nightmare is that we will reach a new plateau, like after Plato and Aristotle. The current, almost desperate, scream for innovation is indeed ominous.


The nature of the magic that started the economic and scientific revolution in Europe?

Timur Kuran has written a book concerning the difference in the development of the economies in Europe and the Middle East called The Long Divergence from 2011. It is clear from this information that Islam as a religion has acted repressive on economic development.

The joint stock company did not develop for example and heritance rules made it more difficult to keep wealth in the family. The less equal primogeniture of Europe scored better during the crucial time of 1500-1700. The waqf, a type of trust that existed in the Middle East the existence of which is believed to have hindered the development of the corporation due to its locked-in type of construction. It was held by an individual and had a fixed purpose and fixed rules for its care. Interestingly, the corruption seen in the Middle East originated to a large extent from attempts to bypass these laws by bribing the kadi, the Muslim judge, setting up the waqf.

In general, the Muslim laws that governed both religiously and politically apparently gave commerce a bad name and there was not a development in the number of different professions in this field relative that of military and bureaucracy, education and religion. They still have problems separating church and state.

One unsolved question is whether the scientific development influenced the economic development or if it was the other way around. There was no scientific revolution taking place in the Middle East as in Europe and this could serve as an argument for saying that science and thus the relative disregard for religious dogma spurred the economic development. People began experimenting with economic improvements realizing that the status quo was broken. Dr. Kuran makes a point of the self-generating innovation taking place in business. One change leads to new problems that new innovations have to solve. Each innovation leads to many more questions, just like in science.


Who is in actuality governing - the state or civil society?

I'm reflecting on the last editorial of PJ Anders Linder, the political editor of Svenska Dagbladet, one of Sweden's top dailies, which brings up what 'Alliansen', the center right coalition, stands for.

Democracy is the prefered system for governing and supposedly this political creed permeates also civil society to a certain extent. However, civil society can also show its teeth and act more decisively if need be. After all 90% of all innovation is taking place in companies. And then we have the Universities, where supposedly the basic science is taking place.

Some people have voiced concern about whether or not the state capitalism of China will be more competitive that the democratic government of the US, which has a tendency of being divided on itself, occasionally. Perhaps what we are watching instead is the battle between the US civil society and the Chinese polite bureau?

Perhaps the civil society is not only providing the funds for operating the state? It might in its own way in actuality also govern a country.


What is it the demonstrators in Egypt want?

There is on the Tahrir square a large sign held by the demonstrators that informs that people want to get rid of the "regime". Perhaps it is not so much Mubarak, as the regime. Now what do people mean by this?

Probably they want to get rid of "Secret Service", whatever that means. Perhaps it is sleepless nights in pain after what some unknowns interpret as insubordinations?

Some people think this is advanced and blame the West and Israel. Others blame Iran, apparently. However, there are no signs for requests for democracy that I have seen and the attacks recently on foreign press ought to mean that the regime wants to do what they are good at in "peace".

What seemed impossible actually happened in Tunisia, or did it? My guess is that "Secret Service" is still there and what is important is to improve the quality of this entity in order for it to be more similar to those in the West. The central question is, how do you achieve that?

It is possible that what we are seeing in the Middle East and The Mahgreb is due to the relative decline of the West. Muslims thus feel empowered. As was pointed out recently in polls at least anti-American sentiments are strong in countries like Egypt and the Tunisians did not like France. There are calls for an "orderly transition", but again, to what?

My guess is that the Arab world, due to their anti-Western sentiment, has to find their own order. The experience from Iraq shows that. Things looked very fortunate, from a Western standpoint, on Tuesday. But it was apparently not possible for Mubarak, due to his loyalties, to step down. Instead the regime fought back by sending in the hooligans to create "chaos" in order to shout "stability". An outrage in Western eyes?


Reform in the Middle East?

I saw today on the news that Iran relish the idea of an Islamic Middle East as a result of revolutions in many of the countries with secular governments. Jordan is for example coming down with demonstrations today and the king has fired the Prime Minister presumably as an early response that he hopes will quell the problem.

Is Iran's idea good or bad? Charles Krauthammer, an American conservative, does not think anything good will come out of this in the short run. The experience in Iraq would indicate that so called "real" democracy is quite far off, although it might be better with an endogenous development. Another problem is that the more countries involved the less chance for the West to help. The Swedish Radio correspondent Cecilia Uddén mentioned also that people on the street are irritated over the reluctance of the West to back them. Erdogan of Turkey entered the fray today, perhaps to take that point, and suggested to Mubarak to listen to the people. A development along the lines of Turkey, rather than Iran would be of course be preferable.

What about more theocracies like Iran then? Perhaps a hint from history might give an indication apart from the general viciousness of the Iranian regime and its apparent lack of potential compared to Turkey. Timur Kuran, a Turkish-American academic from Duke University in the US has published a book called The Long Divergence where he claims that the reason for the non participation in the European revolution of ideas and economy after the 16th century was the presence of sharia according to a column in The Economist. This despite the fact that The Prophet actually was a merchant.

If Dr. Kuran is correct, and the effect of sharia would be the same despite what we know today, this might also be important for a country like Sweden where we today have 5% Muslims, a figure that will double to 2030. It would be an argument for integration without sharia.