The Price of Wealth
Economics and Institutions in the Middle East
by Kiren Aziz Chaudhry
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. 330 pp. $45.00.
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Saudi Arabia is an opaque country for Western scholars, with social institutions and governmental policy impeding access to information. Its history is mainly written by drawing on accounts by foreigners in the country, an obviously unsatisfactory source. Chaudhry has changed that forever. Drawing on Saudi sources never before used by scholars, she has written a brief but definitive account on the connection between the Saudi state and economy. Her chapter on the period 1914-1973 is a tour de force for the archival material she musters. She shows, for instance, that in the 1920s, the Consultative Council regularly overturned the Saudi king's decrees on budgetary and commercial matters. The chapter on 1973-1990 is the best available analysis of the political economy of that period. An array of data on the distribution of income flesh out exactly how the oil riches affected different regions and groups.
The fascinating material on Saudi political economy makes up 112 pages of this 330 page book. Much of the rest is a good account of Yemen's political economy. The mix of the two countries' history in one volume is odd. Plus each history is recounted too quickly. Her source references show that Chaudhry could have spectacular full-length studies on each country, rather than a couple chapters that leave too much unsaid. And she would have been much better advised to makes a separate volume out of the three quite interesting chapters devoted to political science theorizing. She argues against those political scientists who theorize that governments "autonomous" from society can implement the long-range vision of technocrats over the short-term interests of dominant social groups. In the Saudi case, a government financially autonomous from society focused overwhelmingly on providing short-term benefits to the major social groups, at the expense of the country's long-term development needs.
Related Topics: Middle East politics, Saudi Arabia | Patrick Clawson | March 1998 MEQ
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