Boom or Bust in Iran

Iran’s Ahmadinejad once called for a baby boom to double the country’s population to 120 million and ‘defeat’ the west. In the end, baby boom may just be a weapon to topple Iran’s theocracy.

I am not a subscriber to Carlyle’s Great Man theory. Socioeconomic factors–which coincidentally produced these great men–form and shape the great events. And sometimes we don’t even need a great men to helm the birth of a great event.

It is under this light that I view the ongoing struggle in Iran. It is not a battle amongst Khomeni or Moussavi or Ahmadinajed. It is a battle of ideas and concepts greater than these men. It is a battle between theocracy and its oppressed masses. It is a battle catalysted not by the Western media (as they alleged) but by an Iranian baby boom. Yes, you read it here first, a baby boom is going to topple the Iranian theocracy.

Baby Boom. It is a dangerous concept. A boomer is not born political but it usually matures into a highly political one. Consider the United States’ baby boom from the late 1940s to the early 60s. It led not only to social unrest of the 60s and the 70s but also to the stagflation and other economic problems of the 80s.

The youth are dreamers and idealizers. It was only logical that they were at the forefront of Woodstock and anti-Vietnam movements. When they reached an older age, an economy that couldn’t provide enough jobs for them went into a recession. This shockwave left by the post-WWII babyboom was not only felt in the United States but also reflected in the socioeconomic woes of many Western nations from the 60s to the 80s. The ’68 Student Revolts in Paris and labor unrests in England leading to Thatcher years were a few example of this babyboom.

But Iran today do not mirror post-WWII Europe and America. Its boom is similar to the Romanian one that happened artificially in 1960s. Always known from repressing women, Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceausescu implemented harsh antiabortion measures in 1967. After this infamous decree, the total number of births doubled immediately. From 1966 to 1976, Rumania produced nearly 40% more babies than might otherwise have been expected. In 1972, there were twice as many children in kindergarten as the year before. In 1989, twice as many 22-year-olds were flooding into the labor force. As Ceausescu was unable to create jobs in the late 1980s as rapidly as mothers created babies in the late 1960s, a disenchanted demographic was born. In a communist country where jobs were everything, this spelled the doom for Ceausescu’s regime.

The Islamic Revolution and its misogynist stance in Iran brought forth a similar pattern. The country’s population grew from 35 million in 1979 to 65 million. Population growth peaked at 3.2% in 1986. Now, in a nation where the legal marriage age is nine, and where Islamic doctrine calls for more babies, at least 45% of the population is under 20 and 60% under 30.  (Prophet Mohammed said two things opposing birth control: that he was proud of those who had a large number of children and that he hoped that the number of Muslims would outnumber all other faiths by Doomsday).

Some birth control measures were implemented in the late 80s and 90s, but very little was done to provide education and employment to these boomers. Now, it is too late. The boomers have arrived; in 2007, unemployment was nearly 12%; now it is 20%–a steep rise considering Iran’s economy was free from much ramblings in the financial sector last fall.

In a study conducted in 2000 by a reformist mullah called Mohammad Ali Zam noted that 73% of Iranians (86% of students) did not say their daily prayers. It was a surprising secular turn for a country which had embraced a religious revolt only a generation ago. With these numbers and this modernism in mind, it is not surprising that the most news of the Iranian revolt arrived to us through Twitter and Facebook.

Iran’s theocracy may be able to survive this wave of unrest, but it will not outlive the babyboomers. This is always had to govern a nation this frustrated–especially if the disenchanted are the impressionable youth. But as we anxiously await and observe this dramatic denouement in Iran, we must also gear up for further climaxes in the region.

Approximately 70 percent of Saudis, Iraqis and Afghans are under 30. The Middle East witnessed an enormous babyboom as the oil prices peaked in the 70s. Whereas the mullahs in Iran had succeeded in reining the population growth by the 90s, other countries failed. They now need lebensraum, education, employment and energy resources. As these commodities become scarcer, we face a daunting challenge. We must help them or would risk losing these youth population to radicalism. Hamas, and Hezbollah both won democratic elections thanks to their populist approach directed towards the youth. Should we prevent such outbursts of vox populi? Do we have moral imperative to soften their tone?

By the sheer force of its numbers, the boomers remodel societies as they passed through them. Their effects are unpredictable. In hoping for change, the boomers usually meet their self-fulfilled prophecies. We must hope so in Iran and we must ensure that their hopes and dreams are for the society’s remodeling rather than its shattering.


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