Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Economic Solution

In my last blog, I concluded that any real Iraqi reconstruction effort must focus on three elements: civil society, government reform, and economic development. Today I'd like to expand upon the economic dimension: What must a successful economic reconstruction strategy entail?

Prof. Eric DavisTo answer this question, I refer you to EPIC's Ground Truth interview with Eric Davis (pdf), professor of political science and Center for Middle East Studies director at Rutgers University. Prof. Davis proposes a three-staged plan for economic development in Iraq:
  1. Create jobs in Iraq immediately, using the New Deal as a model. Recreating the National Recovery Administration and Works Progress Administration would create the temporary jobs Iraq needs to put money in peoples' pockets, get them off the street and provide the basic services - such as sewage cleanup - that are essential to health and infrastructure in the short term.

  2. Engage local leaders/businesses in communities to develop sustainable industries and services. Every report of successful programs emphasizes the necessity of involving local level Iraqis so they will have a vested interest in the outcome. You'll have to read Prof. Davis' example of the "temporary housing industry" in Iraq, which creates makeshift shelters out of palm fronds and is in such high demand it actually can't find enough workers. With the investments of local leaders, such programs could provide hundreds more jobs.

  3. Establish middle-range business and service projects, including oil refineries ad construction projects. The model here would be the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which focuses on sewage and electricity and has met with success to scale in several regions.

The overall message Prof. Davis communicated in our interview was that of a "bottom-up" approach to Iraqi reconstruction. Top-down strategies just won't work; large-scale programs empirically aren't completed or are attacked by insurgents. But NGOs and even U.S. government-sponsored programs working with Iraqis in hands-on projects focused on putting people to work are the ones EPIC and Prof. Davis can point to with hope for a better, stronger Iraqi economy.

Seriously - go back and check out the interview for all the details about successful economic programs in Iraq and why they work. It's an incredibly insightful read.


Anonymous said...

Just who is going to implement this plan?

Ralph said...

If they can secure and repair the oil fields, all else will become simple because of the massive revenue stream. Because of their black gold, our direction of money towards Iraq should be in the form of loans, not gifts.

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - this is a recommendation for a U.S. government implemented strategy.

Ralph - unfortunately, even with secure/repaired oil fields, a massive revenue stream doesn't help the people much if government officials are corrupt and/or there is no plan for effectively managing and spending it on programs that work and people need.

It remains to be seen whether Iraq will ever be stable enough to pay interest on loans.

Meanwhile, since we made the mess there, it is our responsibility to clean it up - don't think of it as gift money, but rather more of a "you broke it, you buy it" kind of deal.

rt said...

Too bad we can't manage those oil reserves! Any way we can wangle that out of the mess we're in over there?

t said...

That all seems like common sense when you think about it. The less wealthy and less educated are the ones that are really suffering. Why not start by helping them first.

Think of Iraq like an anthill. The worker ants feel like they don't have a place in the hill anymore. If you give them something useful to do for their hill, they will be able to start helping themselves on a day-to-day basis.

Sure, it's well and good to keep the queen (government) alive via life support, but the queen can only lead effectively if she has happy workers.

I don't mean to imply that Iraqis are insects. I just like metaphors.

Emily Stivers said...

rt - I'm afraid having the US manage Iraqi oil would cause further harm to our international image. It would appear even moreso as though we were only in it for the oil.

Getting the oil under control is crucial, but that is a long-term project. Right now, we need quick-fix solutions to put Iraqis back to work, even if only in temporary jobs, while the big stuff gets under control. Afterall, nobody can run the oil industry with insurgents bombing pipelines every two minutes!

T - cute analogy. Only I'd say it's more as though some big, clumsy, dumb animal came and demolished the entire hill. The "worker ants" need to be put to work rebuilding it or else they'll just keep running around in a frenzy - and attacking the big dumb animal.


Anonymous said...

Actually, t's analogy is very good.

Anonymous said...

Do you all do anything besides write about the problems in Iraq? Is there a plan to get yourselves and your ideas noticed?

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - this blog is a tool to educate legislators, the academic community and the public about realities on the ground in Iraq, and effective peacebuilding measures we can implement. We are working to increase the blog's visibility and thus the reach of our ideas.

We also do a great deal of advocacy work, meeting with Members of Congress and/or their staff members to advise them on key legislation.

We have a number of other proactive projects as well. For more information about EPIC and how we are promoting peace in Iraq, please check out our homepage at www.epic-usa.org.

Michigander said...

FYI, one of the missing troops is a soldier from Waterford, Michigan. Only 19 years old.

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - I am always saddened to hear about the missing troops. It is unfortunate that we can't do more to protect them, and the civilians who are so often the casualties of combat operations.

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