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September 10, 2013


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I'd call it very plausible, though not proven. The droughts were regional and were causing serious concern in both Lebanon and Jordan in the late noughts (and to a lesser extent, in Israel too). The first anti-Assad demonstrations were in poor rural areas.

Note that economic stress is often what tips a shaky regime over the edge. One of the major drivers of the collapse of Yugoslavia, for instance was a recession at exactly the wrong time. There have probably been a number of the opposite cases, where a boom or at least uptick defused a political situation that might have turned catastrophic, but obviously those are a lot harder to spot...

Anyway. The correlation between precipitation and revolutionary mobilization might not be as direct in 2011 Syria as it was in 1910 Mexico, because Syria had a much more advanced economy. The government was able to move food around and keep people from actually starving. So the stresses would tend to be more indirect -- rising food prices, internal migration, macroeconomic problems, and the like.

Doug M.

It's certainly there in Egypt. If you map global grain prices 2008-2011, grain prices in Egypt, and PPP, you can see fewer and fewer Egyptians getting enough calories as middle class incomes got sharply squeezed.

There were a wave of bread riots in 2008 that were linked to increased labor unrest, radicalization, and organization in several major manufacturing towns and the canal cities; the summer prior to the revolution, half the grain in Egypt was rendered inedible due to insects caused by the poor conditions of the warehouse.

While it was not the only cause, it certainly help put bodies on the streets.

In 2009, USDA noted that on average Tunisian spent 35.7% of their income on food and Egyptians spent Egypt 38.1%. It may be worth it to map any spending over 35% of income on a graph where the country has more than 5 demonstrations with more than, say, 10,000 people (or perhaps appropriate percentage of population) per year. Drawn from data here: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-expenditures.aspx#26654

As of 2012, that group includes Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Vietnam, Belarus, Peru, Ukraine, Guatemala, Nigeria, Georgia, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Egypt, the Philippines, Algeria, Kenya, Cameroon, and Pakistan.

As for Syria, in some ways, it's a much more advanced economy, but it's horribly Bonapartist and faces real difficulty with reform and liberalization so it can have real difficulty reacting to sudden changes in global trade.

WTH is Kazakhstan doing on that list? It's a middle-income country with a respectable ag sector and a massively postive balance of trade.

Doug M.

Doug, the data are drawn from household survey data, not national accounts. Simply put, Kazakhs earn low incomes relative to food prices.

That is entirely consistent with the country having a big agricultural sector and a trade surplus.

(The survey data as reported include pet food, animal feed, and ice. I doubt that distorts the figures too much, but it might.)

So, we might want to filter out countries with a large ag sector plus a big trade surplus.

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