Why do stability and democracy fluorish in some places of the world, but not others? Here's one provocative theory: rain.
The Hoover Institution's Stephen Haber and the University of Washington's Victor Menaldo, explain that democratic societies need farms. Farms need rain. But in the Middle East, agriculture is virtually impossible because of the dry and arid climate. Experts in property rights, they make the point that nobody owns the rain. But in arid lands, a small elite owns the property rights to water--hence, autocratic societies flourish.
A glance at a precipitation map of the world quickly reveals why the countries of the Middle East and North Africa have social structures that are not conducive to democracy: they are among the driest places on earth. With the exception of a few very narrow strips along the Mediterranean, and the river valleys of the Tigris, Euphrates and the Nile, agriculture is virtually impossible. As a result, these societies did not evolve out of family farmers who accumulated surpluses that could fuel a long-run process of economic growth, investment in education, and democratization.
Instead, they were populated by tribal, nomadic peoples, such as the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula or the Berbers of North Africa, whose economic raison d’etre was to provide long-distance transport across the desert. Grain agriculture was only possible in a few places where a river, like the Nile, could be harnessed. The economies of scale and barriers to entry imposed by the need to obtain property rights to water gave rise, however, to a society composed of a wealthy elite and a vast, impoverished peasantry. No one owns the rain, but access to irrigation is a natural candidate for concentrated ownership.
Here's Haber on Bloomberg TV explaining himself:
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So will democracy take root in the Middle East? Maybe after a rain dance or two.