Much has changed in the Middle East over the last twenty years. Israel’s economy has shifted to more open and less socialist, and average income has increased. The Israeli government still controls much of the economy and subsidizes money-losing firms, but a vibrant tech sector is home for hundreds of innovative startups.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.08.53 PM

Christopher Schroeder’s Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East gives a glimpse of what to expect as venture capital first supports dozens, then hundreds, and soon thousands of Middle East entrepreneurs from the Palestinian territories to Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE, Egypt and countries now in turmoil.

Imagine the Middle East with millions carrying hand-held computers. That’s not some distant utopian tech future but today in the Middle East. For the over 75 million people in Turkey, nearly 90% have cell phones. Cell phones network friends and relatives, speed business communication, and allow access to news and information from the outside world.

The stories from Startup Rising paint an optimistic future for the Middle East. Israel already enjoys a dynamic tech sector, and now capital and expertise are surging into nearby Arab countries.

More on Startup Rising is available by “looking inside” on Amazon. Plus online videos with Christopher Schroeder, the author, tell his story. Here is link to a Google for Entrepreneurs video from December, 2013. About five minutes in, this Economist article is mentioned with its focus on “Startup Spring” in the Middle East. Excerpt from The Economist:

The story sounds like a common one from Silicon Valley or Silicon Roundabout, London’s start-up district. But Ms Taher tells it in a café in Amman. She is just one of several hundred entrepreneurs, many of them women (see article), who have started online firms in Jordan’s capital in recent years, making it one of the Middle East’s leading start-up hubs. Even more surprising, such clusters (“ecosystems” in the lingo) have been popping up all over a region that is better known for armed conflict and political strife. Whether in Beirut, Cairo, Dubai, Riyadh or even Gaza City, small technology firms are multiplying, creating a sort of “start-up spring”. (Link to source.)

In 2001, when Save the Children wanted to launch a version of Junior Achievement in Jordan, they asked Salti to be country director of what they called “INJAZ Jordan,” or Jordan Achievement. Holding her freshlScreen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.18.01 PMy minted MBA from Northwestern, Salti accepted, eager to return home and make an impact. She later would found a regional INJAZ office to spread the model across fourteen countries in the Middle East. 

INJAZ was one of the earliest “private public partnerships,” as they are commonly called today. Salti and her mother started with a USAID grant that matched contributions from local businesses, and chose schools in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. Their goal was to hold additional classes at the end of each day to not only supplement education, but also to focus on job-related skills and to push kids to think about entrepreneurship and develop their own ideas. Their first volunteers were friends and family, and they soon began to recruit local business leaders and their staffs to mentor and train local youth in after-school programs.

Junior Achievement in Jordan also teaches entrepreneurship to youScreen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.15.34 PMng people. Junior Achievement Middle East and North Africa on their JA website.

Instead of–or in addition to–advocating a two-state Israel/Palestine, U.S. policy could encourage technology entrepreneurs across the Middle East. The U.S. could promote reduced barriers to funding new enterprises and development and marketing their products.

Better policies would encourage employment and boost technology firms. Reforming broken or outdated U.S. policies helps promote prosperity in the Palestinian territories and across the Middle East.

Also an entrepreneurial success story: “Palestinians attempt to create their own start-up nation,” (Financial Times, May 1, 2016):

   Less than five years later, Yamsafer is one of the region’s largest hotel booking sites, according to its founder. It recently closed a $3.5m funding round in one of the biggest venture capital deals the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories have seen.

    Yamsafer employs 70 people in Ramallah, a place where too many young university graduates are chasing too few jobs. “The people we hire are more hungry than people you would have hired in Dubai, Jordan or elsewhere,”

Princeton study claimed U.S. governance is more an oligarchy now than a democracy  and offered this definition of an oligarchy:

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

For the Public Forum U.S./Israel two-state topic, residents of the Palestinian territories currently lack an option to consent to their governance. Without consent, how can governance of the Palestinian territories be legitimate? From the U.S. Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Opposition to Israeli policies unites Palestinians, but like other Middle East/North Africa countries and territories, tribal conflicts make democratic reform difficult. Would a future Palestinian state develop into a peaceful democracy, a seething tribal conflict, or something in-between?

7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict,” (Huffington Post, July 28, 2014), was written during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. The author is critical of both sides in the conflict, but concludes a two-state solution is needed. The author notes a “tribal” conflicts in that Jewish people support Israel and Muslims side with Palestinians.

Across the Arab world though, deeper tribal and clan relationships play a major role. “Palestinian Tribes, Clans, and Notable Families,” (Center for Contemporary Conflict, 2008?) explains why clans are stronger when states are weaker:

The clan structure in Palestine is far more consequential than the Bedouin tribes, and has become even more important since the breakdown of the Palestinian Authority structures during the second uprising, or intifadat al-Aqsa, beginning in 2000. A clan, or hamula (plural: hama’il), will consist of at least several extended families (a’ila) claiming a shared ancestry, and linked through the father’s male line. …

Where states are strong and can reliably protect citizens, clans weaken; where states are weak, clans are strong. This has become the central reason why Palestinian clans have flourished both under Israeli occupation and under conditions of PA breakdown. …

The study also outlines the importance of “Notable Families”:

The third clan-like grouping in Palestine in the urban elite notable family, a social formation typical throughout the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the most well known and prominent Palestinian families come from this notable, or a’yan, social class: Husayni, Nashashibi, Dajani, Abd al-Hadi, Tuqan, Nabulsi, Khoury, Tamimi, Khatib, Ja’bari, Masri, Kan’an, Shaq’a, Barghouthi, Shawwa, Rayyes, and others. These are extended families that dominated Palestinian politics until the 1980s, and are still relatively prominent today.

For the March Public Forum topic, “Resolved: The United States should no longer pressure Israel to work toward a two-state solution,” all sides in any debate should be familiar with the role of tribes, clans and “notable families” as oligarchs across the Arab world.

Critics of U.S. politics can also point to notable American families: from the Rockefeller, Ford, and Kennedy families of the 1900s, to more recent families like the Waltons (of Walmart), Kochs (oil, chemicals), Mars (candy), Cargill-MacMillan (grain), Cox (media), and Johnson (cleaning products). Here is Forbes  2016 gallery of richest families). (More recent notable families in politics would include Bush and Clinton families, and now Obama and Trump families).

Most “oligarchic” families in the U.S. struggle to maintain wealth and power past a generation or two, and rarely are able to slow or  block upstart entrepreneurs from disrupting established business empires. Of all the successful tech entrepreneurs, few if any came from “ruling elite” families. The U.S. economy features a steady stream of self-made success stories, as suggested by the turnover in each year’s Forbes 400. From “How America’s Richest Self-Made Billionaires Built Huge Fortunes From Humble Beginnings“:

More than two-thirds of this year’s Forbes 400 are self-made billionaires. That’s 266 out of 400 who can say they built their fortunes from scratch. Among the self-made group are eight of the nation’s 10 richest, starting with the top three, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and legendary investor Warren Buffett.

Top-down political control is far greater across Middle Eastern countries where oligarchies hold political and economic control. Intermarried military, political, religious, and business elites make and enforce regulations that govern countries from Iran to Egypt. These elites take positions in government enterprises and bureaucracies and find similar positions for relatives. Efforts to remove oligarchies ruling in Libya and Syria led quickly to violence as tribal groups battled for regional and national political control.

Intermarried ruling clans have political implications as “notable families” are more tightly related than in western countries. “Health fears question Arab tradition of cousin marriages,” (Al Arabiya EnglishArt & Culture, April 4, 2915) notes:

In a report in the Middle East Journal of Family Medicine, Dr. Aida Al-Aqeel, pediatric geneticist and endocrinologist at Riyadh Military Hospital, wrote, “ In Saudi Arabia like other Middle Eastern countries, first cousin marriages account for 60 – 70% of all marriages, leading to uniquely common disorders which are either rare by Western standards or are unknown.

Apart from health issues, intermarriage within and among leading families makes for powerful oligarchic control. Entrepreneurs outside the ruling families find access to investment capital and government permits difficult, plus face heavy regulations (the initial source of Arab Spring protests).

The PBS program with Hernando de Soto, “Unlikely Heroes of the Arab Spring,” explains:

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 11.36.33 AM… this public television special presents, for the first time, the basic human and economic events that led to the Arab uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The program shows that “The Arab Spring” was less a political event than it was about the coming of the industrial revolution to a region where over 90% of the population lives and works outside the rule of law…

Amid provocative images of the Arab uprisings of 2010 and 2011, De Soto introduces the people and events that recently rocked the Arab world…  it was his similarity to the 180 million informal Arab entrepreneurs; many of them under 30 and computer literate. Over 100 of them followed Bouazizi in acts of self-immolation.

A 2011 Freeman article, “The Roots of Egypt’s Revolt” reports on the history of Egypt’s oligarchic economic system (link to pdf handout). U.S. policy toward the Middle East has for decades helped maintain Egypt’s corrupt political and economic system. Consider: “United States has given the Egyptian government over $2.1 billion, including $1.3 billion in military aid, every year since 1980.” The Egyptian government is funded by tourism, the Suez Canal, and U.S. aid. That money flows to oligarchs who control the economy.

The ideal of citizens controlling a country through voting, critics argue, won’t solve America’s problems, won’t bring peace or prosperity to the Middle East, and won’t reduce terrorism around the world.

Voting can give people a say in their government. But constant elections and ever-changing constitutions add uncertainty and keep societies politicized.

The powers Constitutions give to governments are key, and each new government shouldn’t be able to draft its own constitution for majority vote. Egyptian President Morsi had his 2012 constitution approved, replacing a 2011 constitution passed after Mubarak was removed from power. Then in 2013 the Egyptian military suspended the 2012 constitution, ousted Morsi, and had a new new constitution passed in 2014. Constitutions that can be so easily altered and replaced do little to limit the size and scope of government power.

The U.S. purple-finger policy for Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Middle East pushes people to vote and by their vote be obligated to submit to those elected. This is dangerous for tribal and clan-based countries. Kenya has some 42 tribes and when political parties were made legal, soon has 42 political parties.

Beyond the challenges of democracy in general are deeper problems of pushing political change on other countries, each with their own history and cultures. U.S. and U.K. governments, military, and aid agencies have been active in Middle East countries for over a century. This Cato Institution Commentary from 2003 reflects on President Bush’s initiative to promote democracy in the Middle East:

    In his recent speech before the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush pledged that the United States would embark on a decades-long commitment to bring democracy to the Middle East. But democracy is not a gift President Bush can bestow on people in distant lands.
    Although the goal is laudable, the Bush administration will be disappointed with its effort to establish a stable liberal democracy in any Middle Eastern nation. That’s the verdict rendered by history, the contemporary reality of the region, and our own government experts.
    Today, the Middle East lacks the conditions, such as a democratic political history, high standards of living, and high literacy rates, which stimulated democratic change in, for example, central Europe and East Asia. Ironically, many Arab countries are ruled by authoritarian leaders who are more liberal than the citizenry they lead.

People should have a say in their governance, but not a say in how other people’s lives should be governed. Richard Pipes in Property and  Freedom  points out that governments were considered just when they enforced the laws already existing in society. Grotius and other legal scholars emphasized that society was not the state, and the state’s legitimate reach did not extend to private life, liberty and property. These views of just government were debated and advocates of aristocratic divine rule and absolute authority for English kings lost that debate.

The Dutch model of a commercial society self-governed with royalty of limited power came to England with William of Orange, replacing the French model James II had installed by force across the country. (Highly recommended summer reading:  1688: The First Modern Revolution.)

When the candidate from one ethnic group or tribe loses, so does the entire ethnic group or tribe. All of a sudden they lose subsidies and their protection from complex and detailed regulations. When their politicians are out of power, police and other government officials see their property and businesses as fair game for exploitation or expropriation. When we in America hear news from abroad of “ethnic unrest” or “tribal conflict” it is usually between those in political power and those out of power.

“Terrorists” and “revolutionaries” are mostly tribal and ethnic gangs battling rival groups in government. When the Irish ran Boston, Irish entrepreneurs had an advantage in business. During the Jim Crow era in the South, African-American entrepreneurs and businessmen had to get permits from white government officials to run or expand their businesses. (Echoes of Jim Crow laws still survive in local licensing regulations, like this one restricting hair-braiding in Utah.)

Economic freedom is the key to peace and prosperity in the Middle East. Democracy can as easily fuel conflict as contribute to stable governance. Voting should be for deciding who will run the government, but not for what the government will do once in power. Constitutional economics is all about limiting government authority so that voting doesn’t turn into a war of all against all, of each ethnic, tribal, and regional group against all others.

Across the Middle East, fast population growth crashed into closed economies where elites control jobs in government and connected businesses, while majorities struggle to make a living in the informal sector.  By “informal” we mean they work in enterprises without business permits. They live in houses their families may have lived in for generations, but they can’t get title for the land under their home.  Life is insecure because livelihood is insecure. Only elites in the oligarchy have access to the formal legal system.

Because the U.S intervention in Iraq wasn’t able to promote economic freedom there, and secure opportunities for everyday people to start business enterprises, Iraq continues to be a failed state. Megan McArdle’s Atlantic article reports on the lack of economic freedom in Iraq. McArdle’s blog post on the story is here.

Hernando de Soto led a research team to detail economic problems in Egypt, and writes about the findings in a 2011 WSJ article “Egypt’s Economic Apartheid More than 90% of Egyptians hold their property without legal title.” (google full title for access to article.) This short post in The Atlantic quotes from the article:

     The examples are legion. To open a small bakery, our investigators found, would take more than 500 days. To get legal title to a vacant piece of land would take more than 10 years of dealing with red tape. To do business in Egypt, an aspiring poor entrepreneur would have to deal with 56 government agencies and repetitive government inspections.
     All this helps explain why so many ordinary Egyptians have been “smoldering” for decades. Despite hard work and savings, they can do little to improve their lives.

On the upbeat side, here is success story: “Palestinians attempt to create their own start-up nation,” (Financial Times, May 1, 2016):

   Less than five years later, Yamsafer is one of the region’s largest hotel booking sites, according to its founder. It recently closed a $3.5m funding round in one of the biggest venture capital deals the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories have seen.
   Yamsafer employs 70 people in Ramallah, a place where too many young university graduates are chasing too few jobs. “The people we hire are more hungry than people you would have hired in Dubai, Jordan or elsewhere,”

Nation-states can be more trouble than they’re worth. For the Middle East, federalism, soft-partition, enclaves, and charter cities offer non-state paths to peace and prosperity.

The March Public Forum topic: “Resolved: The United States should no longer pressure Israel to work toward a two-state solution.”

Consider the most economically-free place in the world, Hong Kong, is not a state and was long a colonial charter city before handed over (or back) to communist China in 1997.

The Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World: 2016 Annual Report: 2016 (September 16, 2016), is relevant for both the China policy topic and the Israel/Palestine two-state topic. The reports top-rated countries:Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 4.07.10 PM

Hong Kong and Singapore, once again, occupy the top two positions. The other nations in the top 10 are New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Georgia, Ireland, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, and Australia and the United Kingdom, tied for 10th.

Small and independent formerly British colonial territories Hong Kong, Singapore, and United Arab Emirates (“Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain”), plus New Zealand, Canada, Australia make up the top ten. Also in the top ten is Switzerland, an association of mostly-independent and diverse cantons. (However, not all former British colonies are wealthy or economically free, and the success of many today should not be taken as a defense of British colonialism.)

What lessons for Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. can be found in these diverse economic success stories of charter cities, federal republics, and common law traditions?

The people of Hong Kong were poor in the 1950s, as were people living in Palestine. Through the 1950s, millions of impoverished refugees arrived in Hong Kong, escaping from communist China.

Across the Middle East as in Asia, World War II disrupted and impoverished millions. Hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from Palestine in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Then hundreds of thousands in long-established Jewish communities in Arab countries fled or were expelled.

Over the decades since 1950, Hong Kong residents have prospered, as have residents of Israel, but the economy of the Palestinian territories and its residents have not prospered.

Hong Kong’s charter with England protected international trade and investment, and taxes stayed low. Economic freedom and a great port enabled Hong Kong to grow rapidly prosperous. Could similar charter cities and economic freedom policies have enabled Palestinians and others in the Middle East to similarly prosper?

Turmoil and violence in Syria today turns on the Alawite minority’s long political and military control. Syrian could have been a much more prosperous place had the Alawites been able to keep their enclave independent from Syria. “Syria’s Ruling Alawite Sect” (New York Times, June 14, 2011). The article was written before the Syrian conflict erupted from Arab Spring protests, and as part of explaining Alawite history mentions:

During the French Mandate, there was even a short-lived Alawite “state” based in and around Latakia, created in 1922. As William L. Cleveland explained in his “History of the Modern Middle East,” the Alawite state was “administratively separate from Syria until 1942.”

EuropeMap1444Enclaves, charter cities, and other administrated territories have a long history across Europe as well. Just check out a map of Europe in 15th Century.

Political decentralization invites conflicts, but also open political competition where families and businesses can relocate to better governed territories. For an introduction to political decentralization, the Hanseatic League, and the potential of charter cities, see “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty,” (The Atlantic, July/August, 2010):

[Economist and entrepreneur] Paul Romer [is] trying to help the poorest countries grow rich—by convincing them to establish foreign-run “charter cities” within their borders. Romer’s idea is unconventional, even neo-colonial—the best analogy is Britain’s historic lease of Hong Kong. And against all odds, he just might make it happen.

Could the West Bank be a candidate for a charter city, perhaps administrated by an Arab country like Dubai or UAE?

In the Arab world, similar Hong Kong size countries have flourished without full statehood. Consider the colonial history of UAE, discussed in “The United Arab Emirates – A Product of British Imperialism?” (British Scholar Society, January 16, 2012)

Until 1971, the seven shaikhdoms that were to form the UAE had been known as Trucial States and been part of Great Britain’s informal empire in the Persian Gulf. British power in the area had been based on an interdependent system of military presence, formal treaty relations with the Trucial States, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as informal political influence on the local rulers.

——-
According to the Economic Freedom of the Arab World: 2016 Annual Report (Fraser Institute, December 3, 2016), Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the most economically free nations in the Arab world. From the Introduction:

Economic Freedom of the Arab World aims to provide a reliable and objective metric of economic policy throughout the Arab World. It measures the extent to which citizens of the nations of the Arab League are able to make their own economic decisions without limitations imposed by the government or by crony elites. The report provides sound empirical measurement of economic policy that can distinguish between phony reform that leaves economic and political power in the hands of crony elites, and real reform that creates new prosperity, entrepreneurship, and jobs, by opening business and work opportunities for everyone no matter whom they know.

Arab and Islamic societies have a rich trading tradition, one that celebrates markets open even to the humblest members of society. Economic freedom is consistent with that proud history and provides a path to a more prosperous and freer tomorrow. Economic freedom is simply the ability of individuals and families to take charge of their fate and make their own economic decisions—to sell or buy in the marketplace without discrimination, to open or close a business, to work for whom they wish or hire whom they wish, to receive investment or invest in others. As discussed later in this report, economic freedom has a proven fact-based record of improving the lives of people, liberating them from dependence, and leading to other freedoms and democracy. Unfortunately, many in the Arab world believe their nations have already gone through a period of free-market reform and that it hasn’t worked. This misconception deprives many of an economic alternative and vision for the future.

For Public Forum debaters considering past U.S. government pressure for a “two-state solution,” a focus on economic freedom provides an reform opportunity. It is true that Israel’s military control restricts freedom of movement and trade throughout the Palestinian territories, and Israeli officials and supporters insist this is to reduce possible terrorist attacks. But there are also major restrictions on doing business enforced by regulations and corruption of Palestinian officials.

Again, criticizing Palestinian officials is not to defend Israeli restrictions on economic freedom. But consider “Terrorists & Kleptocrats: How Corruption is Eating the Palestinians Alive,” (The Tower, June, 2014). (The Tower is Israel-based.)

By myopically focusing on “yes,” the U.S. is ensuring the Palestinian Authority will remain corrupt and therefore illegitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people. My experience confirms Schanzer’s argument. The PA is an incredibly corrupt organization. So is its dominant party, Fatah. Together they form a motley crew of elites seeking to maintain power and the attenuating trappings, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their power and position are not lost.

The 2016 Economic Freedom of the Arab World report rates the Palestinian Territories. Here is summary (page 23):

The Palestinian Territories overall score remained 7.3 and it stayed in 8th place. The Palestinian Territories maintained the same rank (5th) and score (7.7) in the size of government area. The territories’ score in rule of law declined to 5.7 from 6.2, coming in 13th, down from 10th last year. The Palestinian Territories had a score of 9.1 in sound money, up from 9.0, and ranked 11th, up from 12th. In the area of freedom to trade internationally, the Palestinian Territories scored 7.7, down from 7.8, with a rank of 8th, down from 6th. The rank in regulation remained the same as last year at 12th, with a score of 6.1, same as last year.

 

Comparing economic freedom in the PA to the freer and more prosperous UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain, the top three Arab countries, gives direction to reform proposals that the U.S. could encourage.

The report focuses on economic freedom’s role in increasing prosperity, creating jobs, and reducing poverty. …

Hong Kong and Palestine; what makes a country?” (REB Research Blog), offers some history of colonial Hong Kong and Palestine and a discussion of international agreements on what makes a county.

Ending the Cuba trade embargo would shift sugar production back to Cuba and away from ecologically fragile lands in the U.S. “Protect the Everglades, not sugar farmers,” (Florida Sun Sentinel, Feb 16, 2017) argues:

Unfortunately, the most important state agency involved with Everglades restoration remains committed to the interests of sugar farmers instead of the environment.

At Wednesday’s hearing, South Florida Water Management Executive Director Peter Antonacci restated the district’s opposition to Negron’s proposal. Antonacci told senators that buying the land actually could hurt restoration efforts.

Why does the water management district oppose the idea? Because U.S. Sugar opposes the idea, and U.S. Sugar has donated $425,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s political action committee since the 2014 election cycle. The company owns only a portion of one of the two parcels, but U.S. Sugar doesn’t want any more farmland out of production.

Sugar production causes political and pollution problems. Since the Cuban embargo blocked sugar imports, acreage around the Florida everglades put into sugar production increased four-fold.

U.S. sugar prices are far higher than market prices because of federal sugar quotas, raising costs for American consumers and reducing competitiveness of U.S. candy and chocolate companies.

In “Protectionist sugar policy cost Americans $3 billion in 2012,” AEI’s Mark Perry looks at costs and consequences of sugar trade restriction:

…American consumers and US sugar-using businesses, who have been forced to pay more than twice the world price of sugar on average since 1982 (29.1 cents for domestic sugar vs. 14.4 cents for world sugar…

See also Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Sugar Soars Above World Prices: Candy Makers Prepare Price Increases,” (WSJ, Dec 7 2014).

Apart from money costs to consumers are environmental costs from water diverted from and pollution seeping from sugar acreage into the Everglades ecosystem. According to colorful Grist article “Is sugar production still wrecking the Everglades?” (Grist, Jan 4, 2016).

As happens in so many places where agriculture butts up against nature, excess phosphorus in run-off contributes to algal blooms and otherwise mucks up the area’s ecological balance — in this case, feeding weedy plants like cattails and choking out native species like sawgrass. This kind of nutrient pollution can be traced back to several human sources, but a recent analysis by the nonprofit Everglades Foundation found that 76 percent of the phosphorus problem there comes from agriculture — and in that neck of the woods, that primarily means sugarcane.

The Everglades Foundation report (March, 2012) notes:

New Study: Agriculture Industry contributes 76% of the pollution in the Everglades, pays only 24% of the clean-up costs.

The EPA is suing the state of Florida for not reducing nutrient flows into Florida waters. Nutrient runoff into Florida waters is caused in part by four hundred thousands acres of sugar plantations in south Florida producing some thirteen million tons of sugar in 2011 (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, May 2012).

Reducing pollution from Florida sugar plantations seems costly, as does reducing sugar production. But actually it is sugar production in Florida itself that is costly for American taxpayers and consumers. Turns out much less Florida sugar would be produced without diverse Federal sugar subsidies and import restrictions.

This March 13, 2013 WSJ article, “Big Sugar is Set for a Sweet Bailout” explains the latest chapter in the decades-long interventionist dynamics of the sugar industry (may be paywalled).

Interventionist dynamics means the ongoing political and economic consequences of government intervention in the economy. Government programs to support sugar producers may be designed to be modest efforts but they soon cause sugar production to go up, which pushes sugar prices lower, which hurts producers. So government looks to further legislation to fix the overproduction problem, but that causes later problems inspiring further legislation. Over the years layer upon layer of legislation makes sugar production ever more complex and convoluted, and tends to benefit established sugar producers while costing consumers and taxpayers millions or billions of dollars.

Some history of US/Cuba sugar can be found in “U.S Sugar Subsidies and the Caribbean’s Sugar Economies,” (Council on Hemispheric Affairs, July 31, 2013):

The U.S. government heavily subsidizes its sugar sector, imposes quotas on sugar imports, and then hectors developing countries on the wisdom of cutting back on their own subsidies. These measures protect private U.S. sugar producers from foreign competition, allowing them to seek unreasonably high prices in the U.S. market. U.S. consumers are likely to lose from these policies, as they end up paying higher prices at U.S. supermarkets, and, moreover, Caribbean sugar prices also have been adversely affected by U.S. protectionism in the sugar industry.

The article continues with some history:

The United States now has an absolute trade embargo with Cuba after U.S.-owned sugar companies in Cuba were nationalized in 1961. Before the revolution, 69.1 percent of Cuban trade overall and 54.8 percent of its sugar trade was with the United States. [2] The revolutionary government nationalized the sugar industry, a move that was seen as against free market principles. Yet Washington violates similar principles by keeping its sugar policy narrowly in place. Such double standards that block sugar imports from struggling Caribbean markets will continue to impair and distort U.S.-Caribbean relations.

However, opposing the Cuban government’s seizure of privately-owned sugar acreage and then blocking imports of sugar from seized acreage isn’t a “double standard.”

If the Canadian government seized a Ford engine plant in Windsor, Ontario, and then tried to continue exporting engines made there to the U.S., Ford motor company would file suit for return of their plant and for damages. And the U.S. government would support Ford (or maybe send in troops).

But revolutions happen around the world, and when the bullets stop flying and dust settles, lawyers and title insurance companies begin the work of negotiating and litigating to determine compensation and the return or property to owners.

The challenge of the Cuban revolution has been tied up in Cold War politics, and Florida politics. (See: “Why has the US embargo against Cuba lasted so long?” (The Telegraph, Dec 18, 2014) Cubans who fled Castro and prospered in the U.S. know the damage caused by the revolution then, and know from friends and relatives still in Cuba, the ongoing suffering and repression. Many believe opening trade for sugar imported from Cuban government lands would provide income to the communist government, helping sustain the ongoing repression of political dissidents and everyday Cubans.

For half a century the U.S. federal government blocked economic engagement with Cuba, forbidding trade and travel. Ending these restrictions would open the door for curious Americans to visit Cuba more easily, bringing goods and ideas to and from the long-suffering people of Cuba.

Balseros (DVD available on Netflix) offers a captivating look at life in Cuba as the economy’s  downward spiral continued after the fall of the Soviet Union. The USSR had long subsidized communism in Cuba. This from an online review of Balseros:

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 5.34.49 AM…works like Joe Morris Doss’s recently published Let the Bastards Go: From Cuba to Freedom on God’s Mercy and Carlos Bosch and José María Doménech’s new documentary Balseros (Cuban Rafters) are much grander humanist statements because they give a particularly human face to the horror of two separate Cuban refugee debacles.

Balseros begins with a shot of a woman boarding a ferry in Cuba. An officer passes a hand-held metal detector over her body. “I only have sadness in my heart,” she says, a statement that lingers in the mind way past this devastating film’s final credits. But there are those who still cling to Castro despite the fact that he has left his people with nothing but the cold metal of resentment in their hearts. Bosch and Doménech focus on the struggles of seven rafters: Guillermo Armas, Rafael Cano, Méricys González, Oscar Del Valle, Míriam Hernández, Juan Carlos, and Misclaida. All of them struggle with leaving their families behind or reuniting with family members who left before them. One woman must whore herself to afford the inner tubes and canvas that will build the raft that may or may not succumb under the unpredictable force of the waters between Cuba and Florida.

The U.S. trade and travel blockade has long prevented both gains from trade but also knowledge and ideas crossing borders.

A friend who grew up in communist Hungary tells of all the propoganda she heard as a child of poverty and disorder in capitalist countries. But when she met tourists from the west, she notice they were wearing expensive clothing.

There is no reason Cubans in Cuba should be poorer than Cubans in Miami. Just as Chinese escaping communism by boat to Hong Kong quickly prospered, Cubans rafting to Florida prospered as well.

The Cuban government has long blamed Cuba’s economic problems on the US trade embargo. By removing that excuse, the US would open trade relations that would engage more Cubans and Americans in commercial relationships.

The Cuban government apparently believed it had an agreement with the Reagan Administration to accept Cubans wishing to depart Cuba. Later U.S. Administrations continued to block Cuban immigration due to anti-immigration pressure from conservatives and unions.

The problem for Castro was that Cubans were fed up with shortages and were willing hijack ships to escape. One group hijacked a ferry and headed to Florida, but ran out of fuel.

Castro announced in 1994 that anyone wanting to, could depart Cuba. Quickly thousands began building rafts from whatever materials they could find to try to cross the “Sea of Death.” U.S. policy though was to prevent relatives in the U.S. from assisting, and to intern Cubans wishing social and economic freedom in the U.S..

U.S. policy still restricts Cubans wanting to come to the U.S., even when relatives are willing to support them as they look for work.

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