Jordan since 1989 appears to be a typical academic political science tome, one dedicated to expounding obscure theoretical models of interest only within university walls. But the obligatory theoretical chapter is blessedly short—and surprisingly, the author presents his analytical point in plain English, and it actually is useful to understanding the story that follows. Knowles argues that since its creation in 1921, Jordan has always depended on gifts from abroad, but the source of those gifts increasingly shifted after 1989 from aid (distributed primarily by the state) to workers' remittances (distributed mostly by the private sector). He argues that related to this change has been a change in how the Jordanian state asserts its economic influence, shifting from direct control (such as ownership of companies such as the airline, telephone, and electricity companies) to indirect methods (such as regulation).
Knowles provides a wealth of information about foreign flows into Jordan and about the state's role in the economy, arguing that the two have been intimately linked. He shows the long history of aid dependence, climaxing during the oil boom in what Knowles describes as "dictator state, private sector dependency." Then came the 1985 oil price collapse and the related Jordanian economic crisis, culminating in what Knowles characterizes well as an economic collapse in 1989. He documents the slow climb upwards, with (using his terms) 1985-89 being the "rhetoric years," 1989-95, the "lost years," 1995-98, the "foundation years," and since 1998, "the action years." He emphasizes the role of donors, led by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, in the new policies.
Strikingly absent from this account is much discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict or of the splits in Jordanian society between Palestinians and East Bank Jordanians. Knowles tells a convincing and full story without much reference to these issues, suggesting that perhaps they are not so important to understanding what is often said to be Jordan's central challenge, namely, its weak economic base.