When I think of rentier states I am reminded of a time in the early 1970s with Richard Nixon invited Johnny Cash to the White House, provided that the sing the right-wing satire, Welfare Cadillac. Claiming he did not know the words, Cash instead sang the Ballad of Ira Hayes, about an American Indian who starved because the government never paid his veteran benefits. This brief anecdote illustrates the attempts President Nixon made (but failed to complete) in undoing Lyndon Johnson's creation of the American welfare state. Significantlyif ironicallyit also illustrates the differences between rent and non-rent mentalities. In a rent mentality, the ultimate receivers of the rent do very little to earn their benefits: more importantly the rents buy the loyalty of the beneficiary. Thus, just as Guy Drake's protagonist supports Johnson, a rent beneficiary supports the rent distributor.
[...] Bahrain, with the luxury of foresight, has taken a more gradual route, weaning rather than abrogating, its rentier state. In any case, both of these examples show that the rentier state is not a useful hermeneutic for the Arab state, unless one views it in transition to a neo-liberal political economy. Like Johnny Cash, the Arab state is forgetting the lyrics to “Welfare Cadillac” and singing the “Ballad of Ira Hayes” instead. Noland and Pack 26. Beblawi 52. Ibid. 51-52. [...]
[...] For example, revenues from these semi-rents formed of Syria's government expenditure in 1980 and formed of the GDP. It would thus be wrong-headed to confine the discussion of rentier states in the Arab world only to oil producers, for non-oil producing governments have operated in much the same way. Unsustainable Rentierism: The Case of Jordan Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Jordan benefited both from foreign worker remittances and from Arab and Western foreign aid in order to finance an import substitution economy: the government funded high-risk industries that made products Jordan would otherwise have needed to import. [...]
[...] Also like the Hashemites, Hamad only allowed democracy in a limited capacity—giving the appointed upper house equal legislative powers to the elected lower house. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Shiite Wifaq association controls the lower house, indicating the democratization provides an outlet for discontent that the rentier regime either no longer provides or did not need. The rentier regime in Bahrain is still much more pervasive than it was in Jordan, largely because it does not need to end immediately in order for the regime to survive. [...]
[...] Rentier and Semi-Rentier States Hazem Beblawi notes that in a true rentier state, somewhat unlike the world painted in “Welfare Cadillac,” the government is the main recipient of external rents, which it then distributes to the populace. According to this model, the citizens of the state are therefore less likely to demand political reform such as democratization because they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Few citizens of the state work toward producing the rent product; usually the rents come from exports of the state's natural resources. The oil states of the Gulf Cooperation Council—including Bahrain—are generally held up as examples of rentier states par excellence. [...]
[...] These events show that a rentier state is only a useful hermeneutic through which to view Arab states if they are thought of as temporary. A state relying on rents must either transition out of them or risk devastation when the rents are exhausted. One may judge the success of Arab states on how far ahead they perceive this, and how well they execute transition. Bahrain: Oil and Foresight If foresight is a mark of the success of an Arab state, then Bahrain is far ahead of the curve. [...]
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