Department of Economics and Management, University of Minnesota (Morris Campus)
Oil, Economic Polarization, and the Rentier StateThe 1979 Iranian revolution, and its variety of declared cause(s) that led to a sudden political eruption, is still the subject of much debate. The toppling of the ancien régime—particularly, given the regime’s intensified fragility toward the end, has not been uniformly appreciated across the existing social sciences. Yet the contention—and, at times, a hint of skepticism—by scholars, journalists, and former policy-makers gears toward differences on the critical question: What in the world could have led to the collapse the regime in such a “prosperous” time when the rentier state under the Shah had more money and more resources at its disposal than any other period in its history? The conventional theory of the rentier state is virtually silent on this point. Instead, the bulk of this literature centers on the lack of reliance upon a conventional system of tax collection, which purportedly leads to a lack of accountability on the part of these states.
Our point of contention in this paper lies in the very meaning, and thus verification, of oil rent as a social relation, which is embedded in the economy as a whole; and in how its subversive role (not just as government revenue) leads to deepening of social cleavages, deepens the class struggle, and creates further political resentment across the board within the rentier states. Since globalization of oil in the mid-1970s, the Iranian economy has been organically connected to the international economy (see Bina, Oil: A Time Machine, Linus Publications, 2011: http://www.linusbooks.com/more_details.php?id=284). Toward the end of the same decade, the world economy entered into a new epoch of post-Pax Americana globalization, characterized by the loss of American hegemony. While the dictatorial imprints upon such regimes have their origin in historical, social, and material circumstances (and forces) that shaped these countries, being entrenched in oil rent has made them vulnerable to further social and political upheaval that exacerbate class polarization. Therefore, neither speaking of oil as the source (i.e., the cause) of dictatorship, nor quarrels over the nonexistence of taxation (and thus lack of accountability), go beyond a tautological exercise.
Cyrus Bina is Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota (Morris Campus), USA. He was formerly a fellow and research associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University (1990-1995). Bina is a political economist and theorist of oil and energy with numerous scholarly publications in several fields of inquiry, including value theory and globalization. He has written widely, and spoken extensively on the radio and television (via satellite and otherwise) across the globe for more than 200 hours on the issues surrounding the Iranian economy and polity, evolutionary history of petroleum, nature of global polity vis-à-vis the posture of the post-hegemonic America, US foreign policy and US intervention in the Middle East and North Africa, and the worldwide financial and economic crisis of today. Bina is the author of The Economics of the Oil Crisis (1985) and Oil: A Time Machine – Journey Beyond Fanciful Economics and Frightful Politics (2011), and the co-editor of Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran (with H. Zangeneh, 1991), Beyond Survival: Wage Labor in the Late Twentieth Century (with C Davis and L. Clements, 1996), and Alternative Theories of Competition: Challenges to the Orthodoxy (with J. Moudud and P. Mason, 2012 forthcoming). Bina’s forthcoming books include Oil, War, and the Global Polity (Palgrave, 2012), and an editing a three-volume International Economics: An Encyclopedia of Global Trade, Capital, Labor, Technology, and Innovation (Greenwood, 2014). He is currently an editor of the Journal of Critical Studies in Business and Society.