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Mon Sep 17, 2012, 11:02 AM

Thom Hartmann: The Arab Spring ''J Curve'' [View all]

So, what the heck is going on in the Middle East right now? I submit for your consideration that what we’re seeing is actually the logical continuation of revolutions against poverty and dictatorship that we’ve been calling the “Arab Spring.” And it’s going to continue - and get worse - until one very specific thing happens. Here’s why and how. In a brilliant paper that explains revolutions far better than Marx & Engles, back in 1962 James C. Davies wrote for the American Sociological Review an article titled, “Toward a Theory of Revolution.”

In it, he proposed that revolutions don’t happen because life is intolerable for people, which was basically Marx’s theory. He points out correctly that there are countries all over the world and all through history where life was and is terrible, but people don’t revolt. Keep in mind that of the 7 billion people on earth right now, about 5 and a half billion of them live on less than $5 a day, and about 3 billion of them live on less than $2 a day. Over a billion of them don’t even have access to sanitation or safe drinking water. But they’re not revolting. Why is that?

Davies proposed that it’s not life being terrible that provokes revolutions. Instead, it’s all about the gap between what people expect life to be like and what it’s actually like. When that gap is small - people live in squalor, but just figure that’s the hand life has dealt them - then you don’t have revolution. But when that gap is large, when people expect that life is going to get a lot better very quickly and it doesn’t, then they revolt.

Which brings us to the Arab Spring and James Davies’ "J curve" theory of political revolutions, which seeks to explain the rise of revolutionary movements in terms of rising individual expectations and falling levels of perceived well-being. All across the Arab world, people took President Obama’s advice from his famous Cairo speech in 2009, and tore down those dictators. They knew that Mubarak and Qaddafi and the others were stealing billions from them, essentially keeping them in poverty.

And, therefore, they expected that when the dictators fell, that there would be more money, more services, better schools and hospitals, even a middle class life, for them. But because Congress would not approve any spending that the Obama administration proposed, and because the Obama administration apparently wasn’t so familiar with Davies’ work, we never did a “Marshall Plan” for those countries that had just overthrown their tyrants. And, to make things worse, we didn’t work hard to demand that the new governments themselves start building schools and hospitals, put people to work, and spread around the wealth.

So what happened was that people had their revolution, but they didn’t see the expected outcome of revolution - a better life for themselves and their families. In Egypt, the military is still in charge and still owns most of the nation’s businesses - and hasn’t given a pay raise to workers or undertaken any sort of stimulus for their economy. In Libya, the new government is barely hanging on by their fingernails, and hasn’t made any substantial efforts to share the oil wealth of that country with it’s poor or working class people.

Variations on these two themes are pretty much the case in every country where the Arab Spring has happened. It’s also what’s going on in Iraq right now. So the revolutions are still incomplete - and, even worse, people now have high expectations for better lives, but are seeing no movement in that direction. When we look at what’s happening through this lens, the solution is obvious. We need an Arab Marshall Plan, and we need to work with the new governments to improve the lives of their people fast.

Arab people are no different than any other people. They want to be part of the middle class. They want a decent job, and good schools for their kids. They want to see life get better, generation to generation. And they resent their nation being looted by the top 1 percent and having nothing “trickle down” to them. Threatening and bluster - like Romney and the neocons are suggesting the Obama Administration sould do - won’t stop this second wave of the Arab Spring revolutions. If anything, it’ll make it worse.

Similarly, just stepping back and encouraging “self rule” as the Obama administration has been doing won’t stop the revolt, either. Because it doesn’t address the issue of the expectations people had when they literally put their lives on the line to tear down the dictators - successfully! - and then didn’t see their lives improve. If America intends to play any sort of leadership role in that part of the world, the tiniest sliver of our federal budget - just a percent or two of our military budget, for example - being spent instead to build schools and jumpstart industry in those nations would make all the difference in the world.

The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann on RT TV & FSTV "live" 9pm and 11pm check www.thomhartmann.com/tv for local listings

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