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September 30, 2007

Democracy == Cheap Gas

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Let's be very clear on this: while the Burmese/Myanmarese junta is about as repressive as they come, this whole thing got started because the government tried to cut fuel subsidies.

September 30, 2007 | Permalink


Cheap shot.

In subsistence economies, reductions in fuel subsidies aren't about increasing the cost of riding around in your Hummer, they're about reducing your ability to cook your food, or heat your water or light your night hours.

Posted by: Meh | Sep 30, 2007 6:23:05 PM

Yes and no. While bring fuel prices to world market levels over a period of time is probably necessary, keep in mind that there are very very few private vehicles in Myanmar. Most people depend on buses and bus-type services for transportation (say - to and from work). When fuel prices jumped the bus companies received no additional subsidy or other assistance from the government - meaning that bus fares quadrupled overnight. When you are earning a dollar a day, a jump in bus fare from 10 cents to 40 cents is a serious problem.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Sep 30, 2007 6:23:11 PM

There are also a few other issues, such as municipal water in Yangon being reduced from 4 hours/day to 1 random hour/day over the last 5 years, electricity going from 4 hours/day to 0-1 hour day, the PRC hauling off large quantities of natural resources for minimal payment while dumping mercury in the Irrawaddy[1], etc.


[1] The Irrawaddy is the primary source of food - fish - for a good part of the population, and fish of course concentrate mercury.

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Sep 30, 2007 6:27:25 PM

They didn't TRY to cut fuel subsidies, they DID cut fuel subsidies- fuel immediately quintupled in price, with immediate knock-on increases in food prices.

In incompetently governed, politically repressive countries, social unrest is often tamped down by buying off urban populations with subsidies (at the expense of more remote rural areas, where social unrest is controlled by killing people).

There's no irony that the unrest was sparked by a rise in prices that is causing immense misery to already impoverished people. This is a common pattern.

Posted by: Bloix | Sep 30, 2007 7:52:09 PM

...and the Boston Tea Party was about import taxes, the Eureka Stockade about mining license fees, and the fall of Suharto precipitated by, yes, an increase in fuel and energy prices. Democratic movements aren't just about big ideas; they never have been.

Posted by: Lucy | Sep 30, 2007 8:35:47 PM

sometimes your posts remind me of just how young you are, ezra. What did you think your post meant? As your other posters have already pointed out repressive societies stay in power just as long as they can by any means they can. The in between repression and bribery lies a wealth (or a dearth) of things from murder to subsidy. When any one of these falls off---the government fails to ruthlessly surpress public uprisings or fails to maintain the customary low level of certainity in life there will be uprisings. You don't seem to have learned much basic history at whatever college you were attending.


Posted by: aimai | Sep 30, 2007 9:27:48 PM

oops, my bad, that was directed to Nicholas beaudrot and not ezra.


Posted by: aimai | Sep 30, 2007 9:28:27 PM

"When any one of these falls off---the government fails to ruthlessly surpress public uprisings or fails to maintain the customary low level of certainity in life there will be uprisings."

Oh, no, I'm not surprised. I'm just pointing out that it's not entirely some high-minded affair. Of course, as other commenters have pointed out, neither was the American Revolution, or really most forms of civil unrest, so such is life. I guess this makes the Tiananmen Square demonstrations one of the purer forms of pro-democracy efforts in the history of the world.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 30, 2007 10:14:00 PM

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