Blog

Thursday 04th March 2021
Explaining the Political Situation in Lebanon with Structural Demographic Theory

I am using the framework of SDT (Structural Demographic Theory) to explain the current political situation in Lebanon as well as refer to points in our history whenever we had instability in Lebanon. For eg. The Civil war and the October 2019 revolution and the subsequent unrest. 

What is Structural Demographic Theory

Structural Demographic Theory states that whenever there is instability in the society. The cause of the same is an over-production of Elites who jostle for the depleting state resources among themselves leading to an unstable Political Situation and in some cases even a revolution. 

What are the causes of Elite Overproduction?

When the population rises, wages decrease. This leads to the cheap availability of labour, which is a form of leverage. People with capital can then afford this cheap labour and now use this leverage to gather vast wealth. This leads to an increase in the number of Elites.

How does the unrest start?

When the number of elites competing for state resources increase, there is an increased pressure on the state to keep the elites satisfied with public contracts or positions of power in institutions. This depletes the state resources to an extent which in turn resorts to increasing the taxes. The tax increase becomes a sore point among the weaker population who refuse to accept the new tax and rebel. (For eg. The WhatsApp tax became the tipping point for the 2019 October revolution.) 

Eventually, there is a financial collapse as the state has been depleted by the squabbling elites.

 The SDT theory says these three factors eventually lead to a revolution. 

  1. Increased Population leads to a lowering of wages.
  2. This in turns leads to the overproduction of Elites because of the availability of cheap labour.
  3. The financial collapse of the state (due to demands by elites competing for state resources and the Government which is unable to increase its revenue with taxes.)

If you want to understand SDT in detail Peter Turchin's Ages of Discord is an excellent book.  

 

Signs of Elite Overproduction

The most obvious signs of Elite Overproduction are the number of PhDs. Education is now the most conspicuous form of social signalling. . It is a fact that the Universities are incentivised by funding bodies and prestige ranking's to produce as many PhDs as possible. 

In Lebanese society, we see the more overt form of status signalling. For example - Political Elites and their gun-totting bodyguards or the elites partying out at the best clubs on weekends no matter the cover charges. 

The old Intra-Elite Conflicts

The civil war is conveniently blamed on the outsider issue, though there were numerous internal issues of intra-elite conflict the War of the Mountain between Druze and Christian forces in 1982-83, and Michel Aoun’s war with Samir Ja’ja’’s Lebanese Forces in 1989 and finally the intra-Christian wars of 1988-90, Reference - www.sciencespo.fr

Quoting text from - www.sciencespo.fr

What is habitually referred to as the Lebanese Civil War was in fact a series of more or less related conflicts between shifting alliances of Lebanese groups and external actors, who from 1975 to 1990 destabilised the Lebanese state.

For those who stress internal factors such as the inability of the quota system to deal with the rising numbers of Shiites, and Maronite hegemony over the state more generally, emphasis on the Palestinian issue overwrites critiques of the Lebanese system, and can even be read as part of a “Christian” or conservative historical discourse that seeks to admonish either the Christian right or the sectarian system.  

The foundations of Intra-Elite Rivalry and Political Situation in Lebanon

The sectarian power-sharing agreement in 1943 between the various communities has the roots of intra-elite rivalry. The four communities and their political elites were always competing on who could get more share of the state resources. 

This system meant plundering the state and consequently, the state got into a stranglehold with the banking system. This is all well known to the public now. 

 

Political Situation in Lebanon

 

How to reduce Elite Overproduction to stabilise the Political Situation in Lebanon

In my earlier blogpost here, I have talked about the endemic inequality plaguing Lebanon. There are also various academic papers citing alarming inequality referred to in the same article. 

The main stats of Lebanon's inequality

The main results of the paper concluded that the richest 10% and 1% of adults accounted for 56% and 23% of the total national income. 

Wealth Tax to reduce Elite Overproduction

I have nothing more to add to the already existing discussion on curbing inequality. Thomas Pickety and Rutger Bregman point to The elephant in the room which is taxing the wealthy. Wealth Tax which is taxing again on assets purchased with taxed income is a debate many countries are grappling with. In Switzerland, it is welcomed by its people. 

 

Argument against SDT

Are we assuming that the current Political Situation in Lebanon is because of elite overproduction in Lebanon? I would like to assume so. But I decided to check out some contrarian views challenging the elite overproduction theory. 

Counter Argument that the Elite Overproduction leads to social unrest

Prof. Eric Kaufman who is an expert in political demography at Birkbeck College, the University of London in his article here admits that Elite overproduction as a demographic theory has a long and venerable history. But his observations in today's western societies don't prove inconclusively any link between the highly educated to the revolts. Also, he says the Populist right voter is invariably less educated than average. 

Policy Makers can use SDT to improve the Political Situation in Lebanon

The SDT theory is another tool for policymakers to think. We could have our policymakers use it to ensure that our policies don't incentivise intra-elite rivalry.   

I am welcoming more ideas on this topic and if you are keeping a tab on the what is Political Situation in Lebanon do sign up for my weekly newsletter

P.S - Here is an article on how elite overproduction could ruin the US

Related Blog