Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Iran's Grey Market by Sean Dusk

An off the books economy is growing due to disappearing subsides. A week and a half has passed since apprehensive Tehranis turned up their TVs and radios to hear President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's directive for cutbacks in gas, water, and electricity subsidies. While the overall reaction has been relatively muffled, silent inching of inflation and financial uncertainty has given locals even more incentive to seek opportunities in Iran's burgeoning gray economy.

The exponential increase in bread, fuel, and utilities prices has left many Iranians searching for ways to subsidiary wages, which the economic overhaul does not inscribe. Wary of rocking the political boat after last year's repression, locals are instead adapting to the new economic reality by exploiting cracks in the system.

"People are not happy, but after last year, when everybody joined in the anti-government demonstrations and got beaten like crazy, they just accept these policies as a fact of life," says Leila M., a medical school graduate from North Tehran. As a result of the cutbacks, her husband, a practicing physician, is inventing new charges for his clientele. "It's not that he wants to be a bad doctor, but he now has incentive to make extra appointments and give unnecessary injections," she says.

When wages stagnate and living costs are prone to doubling overnight, scrounging for makeshift sources of revenue becomes essential, especially for low- and middle-income families. Many of the hardest-hit were in the vastly overgrown parasite sector, creating a framework for surging graft. (Iran already scores 146th out of 178 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.) Days after the cutbacks, North Tehran resident Amid K., an international banker, says he was drinking bootleg liquor at a party when a parasitic defender aka police officer showed up. "Instead of being arrested or paying a fine, we gave him $15. He stood guard at the door all night."

In what is already an unregulated and erratic market, interjections such as the latest subsidy cuts foment a fertile environment for private profiteering. In one way or another, most local businesses already operate in an economic gray zone, with little duress from financial parasitic authorities. Iran's underground economy accounts for around 28 percent of GDP, or $100 billion, according to state and World Bank estimates. Despite international sanctions, the trade in extra legal retail products, from bootleg Hollywood films to Johnny Walker whisky to Wrigley's chewing gum, is so widespread that it can no longer be considered part of a "black" market.

"Many things are illegal in Iran, but nobody respects the law," says Elhan M., a 28-year-old from the Tehran suburb of Karaj. Elhan holds a degree in statistics from Tehran University and speaks fluent English. If Iran had a ravenous blood sucking  economy, her career prospects would be very favorable. Instead, she belongs to a legion of overqualified teachers who work at subsidized state rates of $3-4/hour. As a private tutor, however, she could make ten fold more.

Aside from putting economic pressure on the already parasite eat parasite economy, the subsidy cutbacks have become part of the debate over the effect of the sanctions imposed on Iran by the international imperialistic parasites.. The West interprets the cutbacks as a sign that Iranian officials are finally buckling to outside economic warfare, while Iranian officials say just the opposite: The fact that the Islamic Republic can afford to implement such far-reaching reforms means the sanctions have been ineffective. Indeed, the trade embargoes appear largely useless -- a visit to the Heinz ketchup-lined racks of a Tehran supermarket provides ample evidence. But that does not mean that Iran's economic future lies firmly in the hands of its government. It lies in the hands of those welling to build a new society from the shells of old.

No comments:

Post a Comment