Random thoughts on returning from French Africa

If you’re a human being who speaks French, you’re more likely to be African than European. La Francophonie’s demographic center of gravity is now somewhere around Bamako, Mali.

If you’re a human being who is literate in French — say, at a high school graduate level — you’re probably European. But not for much longer. Demographic growth plus the slow-but-steady rise of literacy rates in most of Africa means that by the next decade, most literate Francophones will be African too.
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Tweeted and Facebooked.

To keep up with the fast changing world of social media, in addition to our recently added Twitter feed, A Fistful of Euros now also has page on facebook, which allows you, our gentle readers, to become an outspoken “fan” of afoe, and discover freshly published afoe posts right in your facebook activity feed. Have a look. Just click on the links in this post, or on the twitter or facebook icon in the sidebar.

Japan Consumer Sentiment Rises, Even As Exports Slump – But Where, Oh Where, Is The Recovery?

Japan put in a pretty negative export performance in May. Even shipments to China show little sign of improvement, and the general impression is that hopes for a quick recovery in global demand are looking very premature.

On the other hand a 42 per cent year-on-year fall in imports in May left Japan with a trade surplus of Y299.8bn for the month – something that will help push gross domestic product back toward growth this quarter, but a trade surplus where imports fall faster than exports is not the same as a surplus where exports grow faster than imports, and certainly for the global economy it isn’t. Continue reading

Europe’s Economies Move Sideways In June

The eurozone economies moved sideways in June, with the flash reading on the composite purchasing managers index (which covers both industry and services) for the 16 nation euro area rising to 44.4, fractionally above the 44 registered in May. So we are just where we were before, contracting more slowly than in Q1, but still contracting, and the fiscal bullet is now almost spent.

Not without importance was that the reading came in significantly weaker than the consensus expectation for a sharp increase to 45.3. So the market *has* been getting ahead of itself.

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Is something stirring in Belarus?

It’s probably getting lost with so much other news but it’s been an interesting few weeks for Belarus.  For a country that always seemed just a WMD allegation from being another axis of evil country under George Bush, perhaps the experience of more constructive interrnational relations is a bit disorienting.  Yet here we have the IMF actually praising the country’s economic management and specifically its move to a more flexible exchange rate regime (hint hint Baltics?), a friendly reception for an EU delegation, and growing signs that Belarus is moving to a more contentious Ukraine style relationship with Russia, at least as far as Gazprom is concerned.  Although the Belarus row with Russia over gas can be settled for a lot less cash than Ukraine will need to do the same.   Now of course it could just be President Alexander Lukashenko’s realisation that the strategy of being a Moscow-allied strongman has run out of steam.  But for a country that even a year ago looked stuck in a geopolitical rut, it’s evidence that things can change.

I’d rather be wrong, so wrong

about Iran.

via Andrew Sullivan — who, for his work this past week, shall be forgiven much — comes Daniel Larison, fretting about regime collapse and separatist movements in Iran. Those strike me as deeply improbable. Iran is not a failed or even a particularly weak state; if the current incumbents are forced out of power, others will step in. And most of Iran’s minorities are, if not exactly content, uninterested in separatism.

Note that unlike most of its neighbors — Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey — Iran has never had a serious separatist threat. The largest minority, the Azeris, is very well integrated by regional standards; they fought and died in the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War at the same rate as ethnic Persians, and Supreme leader Khameini is half Azeri. The Bush administration spent several years fishing in the waters of ethnic separatism, without much effect that anyone has been able to see.

But I think it’s going to be moot, because I don’t think Iran’s regime is going down.

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Iran: Double down

Yesterday the Supreme Leader of Iran doubled down, declaring his support for President Ahmedinejad and telling the protestors it would be their own damn fault if anything happened. Today saw riots and more bloodshed.

Well: three days ago I said President Ahmedinejad would not lose. Today I’ll go a step further and add a couple more predictions.

1) The men with guns will stay loyal. This gets complicated, because there are a lot of different men with guns. There are the Teheran cops; the basiji, who are street thugs employed by the government; the Revolutionary Guards; the army.

But at the end of the day, only those last two matter. If the basiji break and run and the cops switch sides, but the army and the Guards stay obedient, the government still wins. It wins ugly, but it wins.

Note that Ahmedinejad is a veteran of the Republican Guards, while Khameini is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Note further that both have broad popular support — maybe not majority, but broad. Millions of Iranians think that Ahmadinejad is the white knight of the people, while millions more (not necessarily the same people, mind) think that Khameini has a special relationship with God. Note finally that while Ahmadinejad may be obnoxious, he’s nobody’s fool. The Supreme Leader’s speech would not have happened if either man was nervous about the armed forces.

2) There won’t be a civil war. (Or at least, there won’t be because of these protests.) A lot of people may get hurt and killed, and some protestors may take up weapons. But it won’t lead to anything but bloodshed and repression. You can’t have a civil war when one side has all the guns.

— I’m going out on a limb to say what won’t happen. But I’m not brave enough to even guess at what will happen. Who the hell knows? Iran is a very opaque country. In my last post I used various popular protests in other countries for comparison. But there really isn’t a good comparandum for this. The closest would be the protests of late-period Communism: East Germany, Romania, Tienanmen Square. But in East Germany, conflict was avoided because the Politburo deposed Honecker; here it’s as if the Politburo had confirmed him in office, while at least a third of the country still believed fervently in Communism. (That’s a thing to keep in mind in Iran: both sides have a big chunk of the general population firmly behind them.) In Romania, Ceausescu had drifted far out of touch with the nation, and his regime was violently loathed by almost everyone; neither of those things is true of Iran.

The closest comparison seems to be China. But even that’s not very close. The Tienanmen protestors lacked leadership and were relatively mild compared to the Iranians. And while they had plenty of support in Beijing, they didn’t have much in the rest of the country. So while the suppression of Tienanmen was brutal, it was also over quickly; once the government cracked down, it was all over in a couple of days. That might not be the case in Iran.

But, really, who the hell knows. I guess we’ll see.