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Arun Khanna

An organization like Hamas after coming to power has to cater to extreme opinions in their base in order to avoid being outflanked by an even more extreme version of their ideology. This is similar to what despotic regimes under Khomeini, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot... did after coming to power.
Assuming concern for the economic well being of the society by such organization is an heroic assumption given what we learned from history of the 20th century.


despotic regimes, Mao?



Hamas will have to govern. Governing tends to moderate ideologues. However, Iran might seek to be a player in a Hamas-run government. Do we have any estimates of how much investement could realistically flow into Palestine from Iran and Venezeula if both countries decide that propping up an anti-American, anti-Israeli regime is in their interest?

John Carragee

I agree that the economic straits facing Hamas will have greater influence on goals and policy than will likely military vulnerability. You cite the direct subisidies by Europe and the U.S., but I would rate the economics as absolutely decisive.

My judgment depends, of course, on the Americans and Europeans adopting, for the first time, a rational policy in awarding the funds. Until now, the Fatah movement was given the funds in return for the mere pretence that Yassir Arafat and the PLO would negotiate in good faith and rein in Hamas terrorism.

This pattern -- feckless bribery by the donors, astute milking by the PLO -- can not have escaped the notice of Hamas. To maintain both the funding and the intifada we can expect to witness Fatah's sham conversion -- perhaps somewhere along the road to Damascus where the military wing will be plotting the next wave of suicide bombings.

Percy AdM

Prof. Becker,
Your comment seems to assume that the only possible donors to the Authority are some Arab countries, Europe, and the U.S.
However, most of your reasoning would be troubled if Hamas gets at least the same level of financing from other countries that share the same desire to destroy Isarel.
First question: Is this a reasonable assumption? Second: What if Hamas manages to do so?
My impression is that it could happen. In this scenario, the conflict would only escalate, as surely USA and Europe would try to block the new donors. Then Hamas would feel empowered.
This, in my view, would be a very unlikely way to improve the prosperity of Palestinians.

Percy AdM

Sorry, just to clarify... in the last sentence of my recent post I meant to say that such reality would be unlikely to improve the economic situation of the Palestinians.


"However, most of your reasoning would be troubled if Hamas gets at least the same level of financing from other countries that share the same desire to destroy Isarel."

I don't think it is established that either Hamas or the new Iranian government actually desires to destroy Israel vs. improve their economic and political standing within or relative to it, rhetoric aside.

As Becker asserted:
"Hamas showed that it could win an election by downplaying its hostility to Israel, and instead emphasizing its ability to run the government more efficiently and with less corruption than Fatah."

Additionally, over on the Posner side of the Blog, we have an Iranian suggesting that Iran's loud rhetoric is partly a smokescreen for the government's failure to deliver on its populist/redistributive economic campaign promises.

I would go farther than Becker though. I don't think Hamas merely promised to be more efficient and less corrupt than Fatah. Did the Palestinian people really risk alienating aid just for yet another republican style government? Hamas has radically different history with money, they have been populist, re-distributivist, and fairly socialist for a long time.

To what extent can the Palestinian vote be seen as a revolutionary endorsement of a new economic model? (I wish we could get actual palestinians posting here.) If it was the populist socialism of Hamas that palestinians went for, then the analysis changes. Instead of talking about Germany we might talk about the French Revolution, or better yet the Anarchist revolution that sparked the Spanish Civil War, or the Bolshevik revolution in Russia before the Leninists seized power. Or the Populist movement in America at the end of the 19th Century.

The threat to stability wouldn't be totalitarianism in the Hitler vein, but rather the Lenin/Mao style. The danger wouldn't be representatives refusing to leave office and appropriating more power, rather, the threat would be severing of populist connections and the turn to a central-planning model. (which people on this blog often wrongly accuse me of supporting) If Hamas is deriving its legitimacy and power from its special responsiveness to personalized needs of Palestinians, then the real worry is that they will stop listening once they gain power.

All of this may be moot given that 1) the West doesn't have access to authentic accounts of what Palestinians who endorsed Hamas hoped for, and 2) the prior question of not being a terrorist rightly dominates any debate.

Becker points to a need to:
"...retain human capital, attract foreign direct investment, and widen foreign trade, all essential for significant economic progress..."

It may be true given the dominance of the WTO plan for development that these things are essential now, but I doubt that Hamas can endorse direct foreign investment and foreign trade without changing its fundamental character and perhaps losing its mandate. Palestinians might think that anything is better than current conditions, but they might also be skeptical of their exposure to labor exploitation by foreign investors or the possibility that Israel will simply appropriate any capital development on "palestinian" soil. That certainly would be a skepticism supported by history.

What if Hamas = Palestinian Nationalism? If so, then their economic policies are going to be protectionist and socialist. Their economic plan would be: retain the profits from human capital, establish control over land, build schools and factories, sell finished goods on the world market. The West will condition aid on opening up markets to multinationals, Hamas may resist and, like the above commentator said, turn to other dissenters from the WTO plan like Iran.

I think Hamas intends to be more than Fatah minus Corruption. Maybe they will reform to be more representative and less protectionist, but maybe they are not meant to by the palestinians who voted for them.


I want to look at the fundamental premise that bringing democracy to the Middle East will decrease the terrorist threat to America.

On paper, the idea appears to have some merit. If we suppose that much of the anger in the Arab world is an outgrowth of the repressive authoritarian regimes that restrict freedom and have denied material progress to much of the Middle East then democracy and open societies might be the antidote. Of course, much of the anger (at least directed to the U.S.) is also due to a conflation of factors having to do with real and/or perceived historical actions by the U.S. against the interests of many Arab nations (e.g. the CIAís overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran, our support of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s ñ as well as supplying him with chemical weapons used on Iranians ñ , our support for the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) as well as our continued support of Israel and our perceived bias against the Palestinians.

Again putting aside the morality or wisdom of bringing democracy by military force to the Middle East, I want to delve into something even more fundamental: whether democracy is necessarily conducive to human rights and a more peaceful society. And there is no better place to start than with our own history.

Paradoxically, the American democratic experiment, with its commitment to individual liberty, began in the late 18th century when the slave trade was at its peak. Since Africans were not considered fully human it was easy for our founders to deny liberty to millions of blacks. In addition, women were given few rights in our new democratic experiment and brutal suppression and extermination of the Native Americans continued almost unabated throughout much of the 19th century. It is clear from these events that democracy, at least in its infancy and by earlier historical standards, can coexist alongside some of the worldís greatest atrocities.

Many argue (rightly to some extent) that it is problematic to judge people hundreds of years ago with the same moral lens that we have today. The fact that our republic was founded by people who were themselves slave owners for much of their lives, or who didnít believe women should have the right to vote, does not diminish their astounding political accomplishments. But it does cast doubt on the premise that democracy in and of itself is necessarily consistent with human rights and peaceful societies.

In fact, the American subjugation of blacks continued in many parts of our nation for almost 200 years. My own parents grew up in America at a time when the South was segregated and blacks were routinely brutally murdered for nothing more than looking at a white person the wrong way or trying to exercise their democratic rights (even though the intensity of lynching decrease in the early to mid 20th century). In many parts of our great democratic nation domestic terrorist organizations with a worldview just as hideous as the Islamofascists (i.e. the KKK) reined for decade after decade, and the murder statistics donít do justice to the intense suffering and fear these groups (and individuals) inflicted on millions of our own fellow American citizens. While all of these facts are common knowledge to most Americans, it is truly astounding to recognize that our democratic system based on liberty and freedom not only tolerated such psychopathic behavior for almost two centuries, but that many in our political establishment condoned it. As I have mentioned before, Democratic support in the South for Jim Crow and institutionalized brutality is a titanic shame that will always stain the Democratic Party.

But more importantly, our history puts firmly to rest any notion that democracy automatically leads to the promotion of human rights and peace, at least within the short-term. Sadly, majorities in democracies can easily use their power to oppress minorities and continue doing so for very long periods of time. We even see this practice continue today in America with the oppression of gays that is being institutionalized around the country (I am referring to the bans on not only gay marriage but even civil unions which have characterized most of the anti-gay legislation around the country).

It is clear that human rights, while no doubt easier to achieve in democratic societies, require much more than open societies and the right to vote.

As to the supposition that democratic nations do not incite wars of aggression this too is historically inaccurate. Hitler and the Nazis had widespread popular support in Germany and in addition to the imperialistic wars and conquests led by the democratic nations of Europe, Americaís involvement in the Spanish-American War was also based on imperialistic motives. The Vietnam War was initiated based on false pretenses in the Gulf of Tonkin, and we overthrew the democratically-elected in Guatemala in the 1950s.

My point is not to insinuate the democracy is an unworthy goal (it is) or to excessively criticize the history of U.S. foreign policy, but to dispel the notion that somehow bringing democracy to the Middle East will greatly reduce the terrorist threat. By simply looking at our own history (as well as other historical examples), it is clear that democracies in the Middle East could easily thrive in conjunction with strongly anti-U.S. policies, terrorists, and all sorts of homegrown forms of oppression (the Iranian and Palestinian elections support this). And my guess is that bringing democracy by force to such a volatile region might very well magnify the chaotic and unpredictable forces that are unleashed when people experience greater individual freedom after centuries of abuse (e.g. there are lots of scores to settle).

In summary, there is little support for the core assumption underlying Bushís primary foreign policy objective that bringing democracy to Iraq will decrease the threat of terrorism. Supporting democratic movements is a noble goal, but unless it is coupled with the promotion of human rights, economic integration, and international cooperation it is unlikely to translate into the establishment of peaceful and friendly allies that respect human rights. Bushís policy has emphasized the democracy angle largely at the expense of these other dimensions and this is a recipe for disaster.



I think the challenge with democracy is really the issue of free speech.

Some countries cannot tolerate free speech. Even cartoons offend some cultures.

I think the challenge is that democracy and freedom of speech go hand in hand.

Without freedom of speech, alternative opinions have no meaning.

I simply don't remember any Israeli's protesting over free speech. Furthermore, the idea that you can offend a religious figure through a cartoon is absurd.

James Wilson

It would be nice to think that Hamas' election victory forms part of the democratisation of the Middle East that seems to be central to the Bush Administration's plan in Iraq. In a region with almost no history of democracy, however, I think this is pretty far fetched.

Posner makes the _realpolitik_ remark that it will present Israel with some easy targets if Hamas continues with its avowed policy of the destruction of Israel. I doubt Hamas' leaders will be that unsubtle, however. More likely they will fund, train and supply insurgents covertly, like Iran is currently doing in Iraq. Also, if Israel launches conventional attacks on Palestinian institutions this will be seized upon by Palestinian sympathisers and Islamic fundamentalists as an example of Israel oppression, and will accordingly be used as a recruitment selling-point for prospective terrorists.

If, however, Hamas succeeds in improving the economic lot of Palestinians, that will be the best antidote for terror. So much is made of the economic and political oppression of Palestine, rightly or wrongly. Posner is right that the people who don't like war tend to be the affluent middle class. The formation of such a class in Palestine seems to be the best hope for peace (I leave aside the fact that affluent, democratic America started a war in Iraq with severe consequences the vast advisory resources at the White House's disposal failed to predict). Less corruption, the platform upon which it stood, is the starting point. Here's hoping.

Robert Book

With respect to Prof. Becker's statement that:

...[T]he easiest [path] would be to maintain its charter that calls for the "obliteration" of Israel. Surely, however, that would further discourage foreign investment, and is likely to speed up the out-migration of talented Palestinians. In addition, it will mean the end of aid to the Palestinian Authority from America, and possibly also from much of Europe as well. A sizable reduction in foreign aid may force Hamas to try to introduce economic reforms, but these cannot succeed as long as its goal is to eliminate Israel.

The wiser course would be for Hamas to become more flexible and greatly moderate its hostile actions and rhetoric toward Israel.

Doesn't this make some assumptions about Hamas' utility function for which there is little evidence?

Specifically, it assumes that that Hamas cares more about foreign investment and out-migration of (economically) talented Palestinians than about obliterating Israel. It is quite possible that the utility to the Hamas leadership of obliterating Israel exceeds the utility of economic development. Given that Hamas regularly sends young people (i.e., its own most dedicated members) to a certain death for which the only "gain" is the deaths of a few Israeli civilians, they have clearly revealed a set of preferences that might well be consisted with valuing the destruction of Israel much higher than the economic development and material well-being of Palestinians.

And if that is indeed the Hamas leadership's utility function, there is no reason to believe that Hamas will moderate its position when in power, or that their ascendance to power will result in better relations with Israel.


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