Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Housing problems and the headman of Masouleh

One immediately recalls the story about the headman of Masouleh [a small area in northern Iran] after listening to the speech of Amir Mansour Borghei, the head of Iran’s Planning and Management Organization, who explained the behind high inflation in the housing market. Mr. Borghei argued that state-owned banks should have monopoly over issuing housing loans, implying that private sector loans were responsible for driving housing prices up.

The headman of Masouleh is the man who asked his villagers to help him build a small entrance gate on the road adjacent to his house. The villagers thought to themselves, this poor headman, he had become weak and feeble from working hard all his life, and now desired a gate, so they accepted. After the gate was built, the headman ordered all other roads to be closed, so the villagers closed them. The villagers asked why other roads were being closed. The headman responded, what was the point of working so hard to build the gate, if you were not going to pass through it? The villagers said, but we have to walk farther if we must pass under your gate. The headman said, this road is better anyway. The villagers said, we have heavy loads to carry. The headman responded, you will get used to it. Soon after, the headman announced that whoever refused to pass under the gate would not receive anything from him. He also brought the village doctor and cleric to the house next door to his; whoever wanted to get married or get a death certificate, or had stomach pain, had to pass through the gate.

Soon things got so bad that if someone unknowingly used another road to feed his cattle, or to take a chicken to his ill neighbor, or to give wheat to another neighbor, the next day the headman would a report that so-and-so has done something wrong and such is his punishment. The villagers were confused at to what this was all about.

The end of the story of the headman of Masouleh is clear. People either destroyed the gate or removed the headman from his post. But the story that Mr. Borghei has created requires attention. He claims that loans issued by private banks are the reason behind inflation in the housing market. Mr. Borghei’s story makes one laugh. Even if we accept his claim that banks seek profit, then that is a good thing: a private sector that seeks profit is a good private sector. Everybody should seek profit. People are tired of hearing about justice and love and see the ones who talk about it make the most profit out of anyone. So let us seek profit. The government should just keep an eye on things in a society where everyone is seeking profit. Actually, it is better if the government sought profit in its international and regional relations as well.

With the high inflation in the housing market, even the 180 million rial [about 20 thousand US dollars] loans issued by the Maskan Bank are not of much use when it comes to purchasing a house, since this amount comprises only a small portion of the house’s price. The loans are thus good for a quick buy-and-sell to make profit, not for purchasing a house.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Time-out ,Iranian style

In some sports, a team’s coach can call for a time-out to temporarily stop the game. Even in sports that do not allow for time-outs, players and coaches revert to every possible trick to sometimes stop the game, usually when the game’s momentum seems to be going the wrong way, or when the fear of loss takes hold of players. In politics too, time-outs are sometimes necessary to slow down the flow of events and provide the chance for reorganizing and reinventing the plans of action. And this is exactly what the Iranian guards did by arresting fifteen British sailors in the midst of the Nowruz holidays [Nowruz marks the beginning of the new Iranian year].

In reality, all of the hopes that had been building up in the two months after the passage of Resolution 1373 were shattered by the unity of permanent and non-permanent Security Council members, which led to the passage of a second resolution against Iran. By creating a consensus, albeit a fragile one, the American diplomatic machine scored a victory for its side, while the Iranian diplomatic machine failed to create a rift in the Security Council, despite all of its promises and attempts.

The first step is to accept the clear defeat of the kind of foreign policy that came to the fore after the coming to power of the new administration in Iran. The series of U.N. resolutions and the reactions of others in the Muslim world, as well as in Europe and Asia, showed that Iran cannot advance its interests through such methods, and that the cost of following such policies are perhaps more than their advantages. Now, by accepting the reality, one can change the game-plan and maneuver diligently to continue the game from a different angel. Diplomacy is the art of making the impossible possible. Only those who believe in holy methods deprive themselves of the compromising and flexible nature of diplomacy.

In the opening days of spring, and in the midst of all of the hot action, the world’s media networks were busy reporting on and analyzing the arrest of British sailors in the Persian Gulf. This provided a breathing space for Iran’s foreign policy makers, as it forced the world’s major publications to focus on Tehran and its decisions, rather than on the Security Council and its resolutions. If it were not for the mistake of broadcasting the sailors’ confession on television – which occurred 3 times – one could have concluded that the world’s public opinion got nothing out of the sailor hostage crisis other than a show of Iran’s power and resolution.

Recalling the eight year long war with Iraq, the hostage crisis of the 1980s, and many more events, the world now knows that the Iranians are very skilled in creating special circumstances! But seldom do they capitalize on these. When the crises over capturing the British sailors began to continue, many became worried about whether the Iranian authorities had forgotten, once again, to use this time-out to their own benefit. But the release of these hostages of their captivity showed that, even if there are some who forget about the purpose of a time-out, there are many wise ones in the world who will remind them of it.