Interesting chart in the Economist today:

Interesting, too, this line from the Economist’s blurb accompanying the picture:

“[A] shortage of jobs for the young means that political instablity, in many Arabic countries, is likely to persist.”

Here’s why this is worrying: remember that among the biggest enablers of the ascent of fascism in Europe in the 1930s was economic disarray due to astronomical inflation and then worldwide recession. It usually takes a confluence of economic factors to cause societal distress, one or more of which isn’t a typical part of economic cycles — in Weimar Germany it was the cost of the war and war reparation payments, followed by the Great Depression — and this chart points to the makings of another potential confluence in Arab countries.

By contrast, in the US or Europe today you have an economic downturn, which looks awful and feels awful and is treated on the news and in opinion columns as if it’s different from all the other downturns. It’s not, of course, except perhaps in magnitude. But economies will recover. It’s a natural part of the cycle — we flew too high, now it’s time to bend and scrape. Again, the differentiating factor in Germany’s case was the additional repayment due the Allies combined with the monstrous debt of the four-year war itself which drove hyperinflation, all later piled on top of a worldwide economic crisis. That disrupted the cycle and caused a kind of slow-burn chain reaction, leading to economic turmoil, which led to social unrest. The added political kindling of the threat of Bolshevism (a dictatorship, dressed as a left-wing movement) opened the door for Fascism (equally dictatorial, but perceived as the right-wing enemy of a left-wing enemy and therefore a friend) to take root.

So, back to the Arab countries. For years they’ve had little economic cycle to disrupt, as rich Western countries and corrupt political leaders have kept the wealth (primarily from oil) for themselves. Put another way, the average person hasn’t that much to lose. Still, that inequity in itself is a basis for simmering discontent, if not periodic crisis, and so it lies in wait for an accelerant. When you add in this impending economic crisis of unemployment driven by an incredibly high birth date in Arab countries, you have all the makings of a bomb waiting to go off: persistent economic imbalance and hordes of disenfranchised youth in a region rife with religious fundamentalism and armed conflict. All it needs is one last spark to push it over the edge.

So what happens if that final factor occurs, if the match is lit? In Germany, under such circumstances, desperation led the people to vote themselves a tyrant, and their manufacturing capacity made them a war machine again.  Presumably the reaction in Arab countries would be different. It’s unlikely they would elect a party who would mobilize for widespread war, though that must be precisely the scenario Israel dreads. I’m far from informed on the topic, but my feeling is that there would be a dramatic surge in terrorism, as well as targeted attacks against western workers and corporations in Arab countries, compounding the economic problem and creating a downward spiral.

The Nazis were the result of multiple compounding factors, some controllable, or at least foreseeable, like economic depression and war reparations, and some not, like hyperinflation and Bolshevism. Back to the present day: the economic draining of Arab countries is easy to spot…it’s been going on for decades, so that’s factor #1.  The Economist has made this demographic shift  (which will inexorably lead to mass unemployment) plain to see…and there’s #2. So what’s the unforeseeable event going to be? What unpredictable economic catastrophe would be big enough to light the fuse?

Peak oil, anybody?

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