It’s been a summer of unrest: riots in Turkey, Chile and Brazil, and a coup to support the protests in Egypt. There are also apparently daily riots scattered around China, although the Chinese are much better at suppressing this news than other countries.
Why is this so?
Non-economists will point to all sorts of causes. But to economists these are signs of countries that are getting rich enough that people have time to notice things that aren’t improving as fast as they’d like.
Think about it: there are rarely protests in the developed world (the top quintile of 40 or so rich countries), and there are rarely protests in the bottom quintile (think Haiti, Bolivia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Chad or Burkina Faso).
Here’s one thesis:
… The answer may be found in a book that the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington published in 1968, Political Order in Changing Societies. His thesis is that in societies experiencing rapid change, the public’s demand for public services grows at a faster clip than the government’s ability to satisfy it. His more general point is that institutions cannot develop at the pace required by the fast-growing expectations of a population recently empowered by prosperity, literacy, more information, and a newfound expectation—indeed hunger—to shape its own better future. In Huntington’s words, “The primary problem of politics is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social economic change.”
This is also exemplified in the American crisis of the summer: the fact that the NSA is eavesdropping on everyone’s digital communication.
The overriding, but understated, issue here is: OMFG, why would you bother? Cheap communication has led to a proliferation of … kitten videos. And yet our government has put together a surveillance apparatus worthy of the middle of the 20th century. It’s yet another example of “the lag in the development of political institutions behind social and economic change.”