Economic Conditions: A History of Middle East Economies in the Twentieth Century

By Looney, Robert | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Economic Conditions: A History of Middle East Economies in the Twentieth Century


Looney, Robert, The Middle East Journal


A History of Middle East Economies in

the Twentieth Century, by Roger Owen and

Sevket Pamuk. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer

sity Press, 1999. $60 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Owen and Pamuk's book is a valuable addition to the growing literature documenting the economic evolution of the leading states in the Middle East. The study is divided into two main parts: Part One covers the period from 1918 to 1945, while Part Two focuses on the years 1946-1990. A brief epilogue covers the 1990s and beyond. The first part pays special attention to the economies of Turkey, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as those under the control of the British and French mandatory authorities. The second part covers the development of these economies as well as those of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The epilogue examines the current performance of the region's economies and speculates about the future.

The study addresses several general questions: what makes an economy grow? Why do some economies grow faster than others? What is the role of the state in the economy? And how does economic growth affect different social groups in terms of income and welfare. The authors note that these are, and will always remain, open questions to which any number of answers can be given. In this sense, Owen and Pamuk view their task as largely one of highlighting areas of controversy and attempting whenever possible to explain actual historical outcomes, rather than of critically evaluating the development paths not taken.

Methodologically, the authors take a very logical and effective approach, using as their basic unit of analysis the individual national economies as these began to coalesce in most of the region just after the First World War. They look at these economies in terms of the growth of both national and per capita income, and of the changing relationship between the three major sectors: agriculture, industry and services.

The authors believe that economic progress is best captured by the use of this three-sector model pioneered by Simon Kuznets, paying particular attention to the agricultural and industrial sectors, whose growth-through providing raw material, markets, capital, and foreign exchange-is mutually reinforcing. In this regard, Owen and Pamuk see economic growth in the non-European world during the 20th century as, essentially, a threestage process that begins with the increased export of primary products, then turns towards a more enclosed system based on the policy of nurturing local manufacturing (i.

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