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The developmental state in pre-revolutionary Iran

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The oft-repeated maxim of Italian politics.
    2. Applying Johnson's idea of the non-democratic developmental state to pre-revolutionary Iran.
  2. Johnson and authoritarianism.
  3. Why Iran fits Johnson's definition of a development state .
  4. Iran development plans.
  5. Why the plans failed: how that relates to Johnson's thesis.
  6. Conclusion.

The oft-repeated maxim of Italian politics, that when Mussolini was in power, ?at least the trains ran on time,? while probably inaccurate, summarizes well the widely popular belief that authoritarianism serves for (sometimes brutal) efficiency in government. Indeed the opposite saying in the democratic United States??It would take an act of Congress??implies that the act in question is impossible. The idea of the inefficiency of democracy goes back far into history: indeed no democracy could have built a city for the ruling class from nothing, simply by command, as Peter the Great did in Russia. Some have even argued that the American founding fathers set up a democratic republic specifically because its inefficiency would keep the government out of the lives of the populace. Given this widespread, if understated, belief, it is unsurprising that this concept of the efficiency of authoritarianism found its way into academic theories of economic development.

[...] However, the Shah's involvement, however inept, provides further evidence that pre-revolutionary Iran was a developmental state along Johnson's thesis. It could be argued that such micro-management is evidence of a centrally planned system; however, as involved as he was he never attempted to curb the rate of private investment in any of the plans, a rate which grew as time progressed and at times it almost equaled the level of state investment. It is thus clear that the Iranian government at its upper echelons was interested in creating a capitalist state. [...]


[...] The last several of these enjoyed little to none of the mysterious ?legitimacy? to which Johnson refers?yet institutionally it existed as a developmental state in every other sense of his definition. Furthermore, it provides more empirical evidence of the link between authoritarianism and developmentalism that Johnson does not see. The case study of pre-revolutionary Iran proves half of Johnson's thesis regarding authoritarian regimes' ability to ?achieve mobilization artificially and temporarily? and also their likelihood misuse such mobilization.?[35] However, he is wrong to assume that states like Iran are not development states because of their non-success. [...]


[...] He assumes, especially in the section entitled ?Democracy and the Developmental State,? that a developmental state promotes the same policies toward the same goals as pre-revolutionary Iran did, but that it promotes them well. He makes no allowance for developmental states that do not perform well, which, given that he is making an exposition of a theory, might be understandable if he did not draw a dichotomy between developmental states and ?dictatorships of development.? Yet, the Iranian government under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah survived these reckless attempts at economic development for nearly forty years. [...]

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