Iran is dirt poor

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Iran is dirt poor, Edward Luttwak reminds us:

I recently saw Iran’s general poverty at first-hand driving through one of Iran’s supposedly more prosperous rural districts. In an improvised small market next to a truck stop, several grown men were selling livestock side by side, namely ducks. Each had a stock of three or four ducks, which looked like their total inventory for the day.

That is what happens in an economy whose gross domestic product computes at under $6,000 per capita: very low productivity, very low incomes. The 500,000 or so Iranians employed in the country’s supposedly modern automobile industry are not productive enough to make exportable cars: Pistachio nuts are the country’s leading export, after oil and petroleum products.


Much of the economy is owned by bonyads, Islamic foundations that pay modest pensions to war widows and such, and very large amounts to those who run them, mostly clerics and their kin. The largest, the Mostazafan Bonyad, with more than 200,000 employees in some 350 separate companies in everything from farming to tourism, is a very generous employer for its crowds of clerical managers.

That is why the crowds have been shouting insults at the clerics—not all are corrupt, but high-living clerics are common enough to take a big bite out of that theoretical $6,000 per capita.

But the largest cause of popular anger is undoubtedly the pasdaran, a.k.a the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), an altogether more costly lot than the several hundred aghazadeh or tens of thousands of high-living clerics.


  1. Ross says:

    Poor like the Venezuelans, sitting on some for now untapped natural resources due to political fuck ups?

  2. Jim says:

    Not so long ago Venezuela was the richest country per capita in Latin America and had been so for some time. Back in the early fifties Venezuela had, I believe, something like the fourth highest standard of living in the world. Of course at that time Europe was still recovering from WWII, but even so…

    The collapse of Venezuela without being involved in a war is one of the most remarkable developments in history with few precedents.

  3. Buckethead says:

    Something similar if not quite as severe happened in Argentina with Peron. In 1900, Argentina was one of the richest nations per capita.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Argentina has been described as the superpower that never was.

  5. Isegoria says:

    Perón gave a classic demonstration, in the name of socialism and nationalism, of how to wreck an economy.

  6. L. C. Rees says:

    “Judging by what seeps through and by conjecture, Buenos Aires will have a central government in which the military, as a result of its internal dissensions and external wars, will have the upper hand. Such a constitutional system will necessarily degenerate into an oligarchy or a monocracy, with a variety of restrictions the exact nature of which no one can now foresee. It would be unfortunate if this situation were to follow because the people there deserve a more glorious destiny.”

    — Simon Bolivar
    Kingston, Jamaica, September 6, 1815

  7. Graham says:

    That Bolivar letter is certainly illustrative of his mindset, and I have no idea who the gentleman of Jamaica was to whom he replied.

    If the latter were a member of the English upper class of Jamaica, which seems likely, curious that in 1815 the English were still so easily able to carry on their disdain for the Spanish, for the Spaniards’ oppression of the peoples of the Americas, etc., as though the English had not also colonized one of those continents. Sure, perhaps there were some differences in the means and institutions, and in the pattern of settlement, but these did not all favour the English. Also, an Englishman in Jamaica commenting on the oppression of the peoples of the Americas while profiting from the oppression of imported peoples of Africa into the Americas… Not that I object to these perfectly ordinary historical things as such, of course, but then I don’t object to the conquistadors either.

    Even the founders of the US had a certain sense of themselves as founding a new people, and a certain limited openness to the romance of the Indian, but I don’t think there is a tenable thesis that they wanted to found a new, hybrid people.

    In South America, that was actually possible and in some parts actually happened to one degree or another. So one can see where Bolivar might have been coming from. But still, one marvels at the level of calculated lack of self-awareness in his choice of identity in the Jamaica letter. A full-on Criollo aristocrat, pretty close if not wholly a full-blooded Spaniard [apparently with Basque and Canarian Spanish [so maybe some distant Berber] ancestry], a man of wholly Old World roots, probably needed to have a bit more sense when decrying the Spanish as the destroyers of his country. That and I don’t recall Venezuela or Colombia being centres of urban civilization before the Spanish, unlike some other areas.

  8. Isegoria says:

    It’s good to hear from you, L.C. Rees.

    It turns out I’ve only cited Bolivar once here, while in fact quoting pistolero Jeff Cooper:

    I can sympathize with Simon Bolivar, when on his death bed, he sighed, “I have plowed the sea.”

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