The Moorish Wanderer

The Case Against Monopolies

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics by Zouhair ABH on April 26, 2010
I speculated earlier on the need for a hypothetical government to nationalize private monopolies in order to crush any ‘financial coup d’état’, under the condition that theses trusts should be re-privatized in smaller bits, in order to get the competition going (I thought something of 4-5 years is a good reference) However, I failed to prove my point (rigorously I mean) And indeed, how do we assess the previous hypothesis? How do we prove that 

a). these companies enjoy private monopoly over some, not if all, vital consumption goods

b). these goods are quite important to Moroccan households, who are very price-sensitive to any changes.

Before that, I will just develop some basic microeconomics theory on Monopoly. The starting point is about how a company charges the ‘market price’, if it has any grip on it. We do assume that prices are exogenous to any market player; it seems that price-taking process, the core structure of market economics, is ignored by the companies, though they cling to the very idea of open markets. That’s a contradiction in terms, since a true market economy is not rent-providing, or even profit-providing in market equilibrium.
Coming back to pricing process: in an ideal world, the firm adapts itself to the market price by adjusting to its marginal cost (i.e; with reasonable extrapolation, the marginal productivity of its inputs). Second year economic students do know about that graph I believe:

As long as market price is above the marginal cost, the firm will produce till it reaches the optimal* quantity (which, in comparison to other market situation, is the highest) for a social equilibrium.

You know what? This has never existed, though many economic and financial models base their assumptions on a near-perfect market structure (after all, Hedge funds were once described as ‘market clearing mechanism’, enabling security pricing to be more efficient). Nonetheless, in a true market-competitive structure, a single company has a very small margin on prices and quantities, so they do take price market as a given or rather, in their majority, follow a ‘signal’ (another subject to be discussed in another post perhaps)
The Moroccan economic structure for the described goods is closer to what A. Marshall described as a rent economics. He had some interesting thoughts on the matter: “It has never been supposed that the monopolist in seeking his own advantage is naturally guided in that course which is most conducive to the well-being of society regarded as a whole, he himself being reckoned as of no more importance than any other member of it. The doctrine of Maximum Satisfaction has never been applied to the demand for and supply of monopolized commodities.” He then goes on: “The prime facie interest of the owner of a monopoly is clearly to adjust the supply to the demand, not in such a way that the price at which he can sell his commodity shall just cover its expenses of production, but in such a way as to afford him the greatest possible total net revenue.”

Clearly, the academic definition of a monopoly is quite revealing: there’s nothing beneficial for a society from a monopoly –save perhaps for the monopolist themselves-, in that sense that they capture the consumers’ surplus (the premium between the market price and their maximum reserve price), the captured surplus is therefore a rent, which is in turn spent as dividend –rather than investments as we are ld to believe in our ‘national’ economic model- to the wealthy.

There’s of course a fine line between a ‘Marshallian’ pure economics and the actual and factual economics we are dealing with. In facts, absolute/pure monopolies do not exist. However, in a more refined economic theory, duopoly and strong-form oligopolies do replicate the same pricing methods, but in a two-times model. I am of course referring to the Cournot/Stackelberg models, for which we need to understand the academics underlying before we can go further: indeed, aggressive moves on prices at a particular market does not necessarily mean competition (and therefore, outcomes to the benefit of consumers) since the tides could change to a much less price-friendly market structure. Basically, the Cournot model starts with the ‘best response’ strategy each company draws up against their competitors, they end up producing with monopoly quantities (because of their respective strategies) each firm enjoys a captured portion of total demand, but cannot charge it with the full marginal revenue, so they end up charging the pure competition market price, namely their marginal cost.

The general assumption is that all competitors enjoy similar cost structures, and subsequently, the same marginal cost (save for the fixed cost) otherwise; the one with the lowest cost takes it all. Despite its simplistic assumptions, the model could, for the available data, provide interesting insights on how particular markets are doing, and how some companies are taking advantage of it.

The Stackelberg model is even more accurate; the dynamic dimension is more important, and in our case, suits perfectly the edible-oil market: there’s a leader that has a first-move advantage, and can subsequently use an advantage it has –in it’s cost structure that would be discussed later on- to fix a certain amount of production that would, in the long run, simply oust any serious competitor, and leave little of market shares to the smaller followers.
Let us just have a look at two sets of the main consumption goods for a Moroccan household, Edible oil and Milk derivatives.

* Oil derivatives:

I’ve always wondered: how many firms are there in the Oil derivatives market in Morocco? Yes, we know Lesieur-Cristal, a notable subsidiary of the well-known SNI-ONA Holding, and according to their website (you’ve got to give them credit for that) they own the following products;

– in edible oil sub-sector : Huilor Graine d’Or Lesieur Plus Oméga 3 Lesieur FritureSafia Cristal Oméga 3 Cristal Friture Cristal Maïs Oléor

– in olive oil sub-sector : Jawhara Cristal Olive MabroukaSalamZitouna

That’s a lot of products, and anyhow, no competitor in the market is strong enough to field the same product portfolio, so it’s a lost cause for any challenger… (And, If I may, you sell oil if you want to, Lesieur’s not for leaving.. I know, my puns are terrible…) The Oil market is notorious for the fierce rows that sprung between the incumbent monopoly (i.e. Lesieur-Cristal) and any strong-hearted competitor trying to get in, most notoriously Savola; Unfortunately, our good friends the medias (the newspapers of course) consider it to be the very image of a healthy competition, or, in simple terms, a competition. Of course, I can understand that a journalist has a weak grasp of proper academic definitions (I mean, the Journalists’ school doesn’t graduate specialists) though I feel they are mixing market competition and Cournot-like competition. Let us for a moment assume their primary market is the consumers’ basket of goods (namely, 8.6% of the national average consumption as defined by the HCP) the Median told us that overall edible-oil market is roughly divided up between three main firms. It evolves around something like 80% of the Market for Lesieur, Savola & Huiles du Souss… I know, I couldn’t hold of proper data so I had to make some very extensible extrapolations). These companies have none but the price to attract the consumers. And seemingly the price range is wide enough (8 to 12 MAD/Lt) to create specific niches for each competitor;

However, these prices come to a cost, not really the marginal cost, but on the total –or sunk- costs: Lesieur-Cristal has a tremendous advantage, for their incumbent status allow them to keep fixed costs quite low; their balance sheet does show up a relatively low (their intangible fixed-asset ratio is around 71% for 2009 figures) and therefore, can afford to go further down their theoretical marginal cost. The Cournot model does assume the equilibrium price eventually settles at the lowest marginal cost. However, the main competitors are going in for a dumping, making the fixed cost –or, in Savola’s case, the entry cost- the ultimate efficiency criterion. Savola could cope with dumping, but certainly not for long, and I wouldn’t be surprised Savola would quit (which it did, eventually) All in all, Lesieur-Cristal is now in a near-monopoly situation, with a huge rent-situation, that is not invested –as we might hope- but rather spent in dividend-distribution policy. Because no substantial investment was made, they managed to increase the total distributed dividends to 187Million MAD, something like 44.68% over the year. Actually, they could have distributed twice the amount as they settled for an overall self-working capital of 300M MAD which can be virtually wholly distributed (save for the legal compulsory reserve), that’s a nice rent the Moroccan people are paying for… to give you an idea of what we might do with it, the 2009 Budget devoted a similar amount to the Wildlife & Forests departments (145 Million MAD investment allowance) or to the Families & Social affaires department (195 Million MAD) or even the jails and prisons office (264 Million MAD)

– Milk derivatives/eggs

Let us just focus on the Milk derivatives (it so happens egg-production is relatively out of line here) I can still remember the cooperative Jaouda struggling successfully against the other SNI/ONA-subsidy (come to thing of that, SNI/ONA are everywhere, quite disturbing !) How do we make up for this one? Is the market really ‘competitive’? First off, Jaouda (or shall we say, the Copag) is a cooperative, it works with a different economic paradigm (they do try to maximize their profit, but their cost structure has an additional term that changes that changes somewhat the classic optimization scheme, anyway, I think this article is quite interesting to read) the fact is, Copag is treating the local farmers with a win-win co-partnership, which allows for a steadier rate of profits, though at any rate Copag is posing a serious threat to Centrale Laitière.

Of course, they are taking away market share bits, but it does certainly not affect Centrale Laitière profits as we can draw up from their financial statements (2009): They managed to get 1Billion MAD in terms of cash result, which enabled them to distribute dividends for a total amount 461 Million MAD (2009). [Again, that could provide money for 5 regional departments for the Education ministry investment’ allowance] The idea of dismantling Central Laitière and selling it by bits to local cooperatives is, I believe the right move for a government to ensure a lower market price and a fairer distribution of wealth, instead of spending it all on dividends to the wealthy.I shall devote another piece on the oligopolistic structure of the Moroccan economy –or at least, for some of the essential goods- and the need for a genuine democratic government to crack down radically this intolerable rent-seeking economics. I would be quite interested to write something on the ‘grima’ system; it looks as though the whole economic structure moves in a bizarre and rather unhealthy paradigm, namely the permanent quest of comfortable and effortless rents, just like ‘grima’ seekers.

Basically, these firms that supposedly proud themselves to be leading the Moroccan growth are just following the same old scheme of rent-seeking, of course with much modern management techniques, but the fact of the matter remains what it is: Moroccan capitalism follows ‘grima’ scheme. It became so much of a norm that even the Cour des Comptes acknowledges the fact in many parts of their 2008 Report:

Il a été relevé que l’octroi de l’agrément ne repose pas sur des règles précises” or “En terme d’agréments octroyés, l’évolution du nombre des agréments octroyés permet de constater que […]1749 agréments ont été accordés en cinq ans, soit en moyenne 350 agréments par an. En dépit de l’amélioration constatée dans l’évolution annuelle du nombre des agréments d’une année à l’autre, il convient de souligner que les 4445 déclarations d’intention de création exprimées entre 2003 et 2007 se répartissent comme suit:

• 1829 déclarations seulement ont été suivies par des demandes d’autorisation, soit un taux de désistement inquiétant de près de 60% de la part des déclarants;

• 1749 agréments seulement ont été accordés, soit un taux d’agrément de 39%. Ce taux modeste trouve son explication, en partie, dans la lourdeur remarquable de la procédure […]

All in all, temporary nationalization is not the pristine and flawless strategy we might think of. It is only the governmental move to deal with private monopolies and oligopolies. The ‘grima-seeking’ mentality, on the other hand, cannot and will not be done away only by abolishing these rents: to abolish oligopolies means also to abolish the licenses-approval system as well.

Thou shall not bow thee economic plans

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics by Zouhair ABH on April 19, 2010

In essence, the left-leaning chum would be anti-monopoly (private monopoly of course). Why ? Because it makes people pay more for fewer goods, and it uses its dominant position to lock the market away and setup some kind of rent economy.

Does it sound odd? I mean, for a radical to advocate market competition instead of an old-fashion planned, centralized, state-owned economy. Of course, if you keep cluttering your mind about it, one can never get to the bottom of it anyway.

I think even the radicals are not sure about it. The fact is, they entirely focused their struggles on the political issues (including personal choices, free speech, religion, sexual orientation and other individual choices) that they lost more or less sight of the economy.

Save for those with some economics-reading background economics, as I underlined before, is a weakness.

Morocco had got only two opportunities when left-leaning governments were in power. A. Ibrahim in 1959 had to supervise building up the economy from little, pre-colonial shamble (and it does count, though it provided the land with some invaluable assets) and in 1998, when A. Youssoufi started the so-called ‘Alternance Consensuelle’, with a finance minister with so narrow a margin, that he had to get on with it and basically to implement right-wing policies. In facts, save for some nationalization and planned economy, radical left-wing economics has little to provide. I came across some cooperative theories that can be of use, but they are not widely considered suitable for manifestos, but I believe it to be something the new left should promote.

Not that I reject completely economic plans, but it seems to me the economy, like the society, is part of the collective and individual rights and liberties. Besides, centralized, soviet-like economic structures are contingent plans, and more likely to be (relatively) efficient when a country is either in autarky –with enough resources to stand its needs- at war or emerging from one (very much like former USSR in 1921-1928 and after 1945)

I fear I’m losing your attention. Let me just sum up real quick my own stand –with a simplistic description for the moment-: market economy is not fundamentally evil, and when properly monitored (meaning that the government has a neutral role of umpire), could deliver a good deal of wealth to society, and thus preventing income gaps, poverty and the social problems that ensue.

Of course, that’s just a utopia that might never be achieved. I should perhaps add that I still favor collective ownership, in the sense that employees should take over and be their respective own companies’ shareholders; the idea that communism or socialism means all productive units (businesses and firms as it were) should be state-owned is a distorted opinion –based on a historical experience that didn’t do justice to itself- of what ‘collective ownership’ means; Of course, I am not an expert in Marxist theory, but I seem to remember, that first, Marx didn’t advocate for state-owned economy (and in facts, his views on government are quite interesting to study) and second, he started, late in his life, to take interest in the mathematical background he needed to make the dialectic more ‘scientific-like’.

However, before such principles could be applied to the Moroccan context, there are so many roadblocks one has to do away with; the present system (what is considered to be the Makhzen) has its economic bastions too, and in the event of a constitutional reform, a democratic government, whatever its political stance, will face considerable resistance from occult economic lobbies.

The idea is that an ‘honest’ government (in the sense that they genuinely care about the public welfare) would be broken within weeks if they do not comply with what some powerful lobbies dictate as terms of appeasement. In that case, a hypothetical radical left-leaning government will have to deal with it in the most direct way, i.e. to nationalize –or any similar decision these institutions. If I may add something else, the nationalizations or such as they would be described, are not definitive, nor part of a move to control a monopoly and turn it to the state benefit, for these institutions will be privatized afterwards into small pieces, none of which could recover –at least for a certain time- the monopoly position they had, with all the perks and the rents that ensue.

It’s not a clever solution, I know, though it’s the intricate question of how democracy and economic power can cope with each other: the ruling majority has a popular mandate, but economic lobbies will block the government of the day because it may harm their interest (and believe me, the same applies to the unions, for they do not always act on behalf of the workers’ interest, let alone their own members’) Temporary nationalization is two-fold: first, to ensure a little cash security for the government –nationalizing is quite expensive, unless one is set not to compensate the previous owners and a bit extra to finance some project or whatever the government wants but cannot achieve (black ops or electoral bribing are not included)

How do we proceed? I am not a trained lawyer, though I think it might go like this: at an unspecified moment, the government seizes the targeted companies, and delivers the opening price for the shareholders on the stock exchange market. There is no need to stress on how crucial this move has to be in terms of secrecy and swiftness: an expectable government move will lead to a dramatic rise in the stock price, making the whole operation very difficult to carry on. That’s not the difficult part: actually, the hardships to follow are to ensure the staff loyalty, a sustainable profit margin and possible retaliation from other companies (especially foreign interest, because, let’s be honest, a couple of multinationals will be infuriated when the decision comes into effect)

I already hear some reservations: why take on large companies, aren’t the ‘national champions’ the key players of our global strategy? I refer to what seems to be the economic model adopted by the high spheres to ensure our economic development. It imitates, in a very amateurish way, the South Korean and Japanese models of large conglomerate of private monopolies on the national markets, and aggressive, rent-seeking entities in similar markets (Maroc Telecom in Mauretania for instance), the ultimate goal being a progressive accumulation of a rent that would be later on invested, and subsequently provide Morocco with the boost it need to develop itself. The strategy, however, has a major flaw: the rent is almost systematically paid as dividends to the shareholders. Ok, Châabi does invest in ‘social responsibility’ sectors –and those moves should be encouraged indeed but there’s a huge amount of profits that lies there, and it’s just divided up between a tiny yet powerful mob of upper-class people. I think the following figures could give you indeed an idea of how it goes down.

Millions MAD

ONA-SNI

IAM

Addoha

Attijari

Total Sales

18 277.9

30 339.0

6 011.96

11 927.7

Operating Profit

1 148.3

14 008.0

1 552.45

4826.69

Operating Margin %

6.3%

46.2%

25.8%

40.5%

Net Profit

1 863.6

9 779.0

1 023.79

3 940.84

(CDVM regular financial statements, 2009)

These figures show a high operating margin, too high for a good company. Its quite difficult to state that they sustain that high a level of profits, but if so, we can then reasonably assume that their profits are not the result of competition in their own sector, but rather the benefit of a rent or quasi-rent they get out their monopoly –or close to it- situation. Furthermore, these companies happen to be loaded with cash (I didn’t have a close look to their cash statements, but it seemed quite high) and distribute much of their profits as dividends. I won’t bring out of the wood some fancy econ theory, but I would like to discuss in length what the seemingly narrow margin ONA holding displays hides in terms of rent: the company has an indecent rent situation on consumer goods such as Sugar, Oil, Milk & Derivatives, Waters and so on… (Incidentally, ONA is to merge with SNI soon, so precious information will disappear, as the new entity will no longer be listed on Casablanca Stock Exchange, and therefore, will have no statutory obligation to display its financial statements… I hope they will list under the new entity, after all, it’s in their interest to display some financial transparency, foreign investors-wise)

Let us first enquire about what does the Moroccan household consumes, or rather, how do they affect their income.

The national statistics office produced a survey in 2001 in which 46% of the total average income (253.186 MAD yearly) is devoted to consumption goods.

In a nutshell, the consumption structure is as follows:

Why do we have to bore ourselves with these figures? Well, the idea is to prove that, because of the important percentage devoted to consumption, the average household is very sensitive to price changes, and therefore, any monopoly on these products is indeed a rent provider, and therefore, should be disbanded.

And apparently, it appears to be the case. The average Moroccan household are quite sensitive to any price changes (which were quite in an upward trend, it should be pointed out). Without dipping into fancy theories, the sole fact that nearly half the annual income is devoted to consumption (just to maintain bodily functions going on, roughly speaking) gives a pretty good idea about how consumption might change function of price changes.

In essence, the profit margin these companies are making –for the consumption goods at least- are more part of a rent profit –sucked up from the consumers’ surplus.

In these conditions, a penalizing move against those companies is and has to be in the interest of the public. The good news is, cracking down on private monopolies can be a popular policy among small and middle-size businesses (as well as the final consumer). I will devoted another post to this issue, in more rigorous terms, that is.

The Independant Deterrent

Posted in Moroccan Politics & Economics, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on April 15, 2010

Now, I know that’s a bit unorthodox from a radical.

Save for “nationalistic” stuff, the largest weakness the Left post-1989 was Economics and economic policy. Perhaps that’s why social-democracy, which is more centrist policy-wise-, was pursued in Europe and under Clinton. I still retain some reservation on how those governments were pushed into devising policies that were not at the best public interest, just for the sake of deficit reduction and inflation-embattling. Not that I am against those, but the Center-left parties didn’t actually explore the whole range of policies (did they lack the guts, or is it because of their electorate primary target? Or was it far beyond their I can’t tell…)

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about is the role the Central Bank should play in the Moroccan economic structure, as well as on the Financial Markets. It is not, so to speak, a ‘bread and butter’ issue (although, when you think about it, it is, in a sense) but I think, it should take place in the great Constitutional Change Morocco is in a dire need for.

To put it simply, the Central Bank (Bank Al Maghrib) should enjoy a total independence from the government body –namely, the Finance Office and the Treasury as well-. In ideal facts, the Governor is answerable only to the Parliament, which sets up a public committee, just like the Fed and the US Congress.

It might look simple, but it is not. Why do we need the Central Bank to be free from any interference from the Government’s departments? Well basically, the idea is that, even though the majority coalition/party has a mandate from the people, they are bound to go for the ‘eye-candy’ policies (tax breaks, expanding investment) that are all targeted to some sub-populations, which does not always square with other important variables, such as interest rates, inflation, and ultimately, unemployment and economic growth. I am not saying governments are usually irresponsible (I am not referring to the Moroccan case only) but when unconstrained, they tend to make a mess out of the economy when they have a full mandate (I don’t mean necessarily an absolute majority, but the institutional tools to achieve their objectives). In essence, an independent Central Bank eliminates the cheapest way for a government to finance its programs, i.e. by artificially creating money, monetary inflation as it were. Of course, it also eliminates a precious tool (interest rates or Dirham devaluation) when difficult conjecture allows for or even obliges the governments to do so, though the central bankers are usually aware of such fluctuations, and quit frankly, it is part of their job to forecast, anticipate and jugulate these cycles.

Another detail that could perhaps be of interest to the financial markets: a Central Bank free of any interference from the Ministry led by an independent-minded governor is a strong positive signal that once a policy stated, the Bank will not derive from it, and subsequently, they would act upon it as a token. Before I start explaining why, amid the constitutional reform so badly needed, a credible Central Bank is a plus; According to Blinder (2000), “the concept of credibility has become a central concern of the scholarly literature on monetary policy […]credibility matters in theory, and it is certainly believed to matter in practice— although empirical evidence on this point is hard to come by because credibility is not easy to measure. The survey (Blinder gathered data from 84 Bankers members of the Bank Of International Settlements) started with a deliberate blurred definition of credibility, as it begun with the dictionary definition, i.e. the ability to have one’s statements accepted as factual or one’s professed motives accepted as the true ones. It seems the definitions Central Bankers fielded were heterogeneous, though not wholly contradictory; it evolved mainly around Long-term interest rates, as well as how anti-inflation policy is doing. In a more theoretical tone, Kyland & Prescott (1977), there’s a way in measuring credibility; it could be summed up in the following equations –that are assumed to hold true

1).

This is a modified version of the Phillips curve equation with inter-temporal expectations, π being the inflation rate, πe the expected inflation rate, u unemployment rate and z is a bundle of goods (supply commodities) [the rest are parameters relatively easy to compute with econometric techniques, plus a ‘noise’ error term ε]

Without going too much on detail, a credible bank is able to deliver a minimal difference between the expected and actual inflation rate. No Central Bank uses such target, but it is useful to see how good it does in dealing with inflation.

2). the second equation links unemployment rate deviation to interest rates r.

3. is a ‘trade-off’ function. L is the liquidity loss variable the Bank has to compensate (and under optimization rules, minimize); α measures the inflation aversion. The function is a tradeoff in the sense that the k parameter is the probability for the Banker to cheat and deliver an unexpected inflation -and therefore minimize the Liquidity loss artificially. The equations are all linked, with the bottom line being the Liquidity loss compensation. It underlines the important effects interest rates have on unemployment and inflation. The effects are intertemporal and involve a great deal of expectations and projections, all of which are function –to an extent- of the Central Bank’s credibility and commitment to keep inflation low, and so the long-term interest rates.

This could of course provide a starting point of measuring how credible a Central Bank could be; In other terms: “a central bank’s pronouncements are credible only if it attains a higher level of expected utility by following through on its promises rather than reneging. In other words, duplicity is to be expected unless truthfulness is in the central bank’s self-interest. One way to induce the central bank to carry out its pledge to fight inflation is for the government to write an incentive-compatible contract for its central bank. The author proposed an additional term to the equation 4 (as a penalty in case they cheated for ‘cheap’ compensation) but there’s another way to get it right; Furthermore, a credible Banker is such that his determination to stabilize long-term interest rates –and therefore inflation- is beyond reproach. The other important parameter (as it appears in the paper) was about ‘independence, indeed, according to the finding, most Central Banks agreed strongly on this particular point, it ranked much better with respect to the next reason in line.

As for how it could be effectively measured, one could offer an estimation –thanks to econometrical techniques of the α and k parameters (though data is quite incomplete in this area, I promise I will venture some sketches about it)

Before I move on, I sense the question is looming: ‘surely the Central Bank’s main concern should be about jobs, while it focuses in a rather obsessive way, on inflation’. That’s true. But then again, its up to the Finance and Employment offices to carry on effective policies –not involving inflation of course-. Actually, high or ‘concentrated’ inflation damages the common people more than any other class of society. It is amazing how a leftist government –or a left-leaning politician- feels more inclined to squash unemployment than fight-off inflation, while both are equally dangerous (well not so much, but both are harmful) There is indeed a tradeoff between both variables, but it all boils down to the long-term thinking most politicians (in Morocco anyway) lack. On a related topic, an independent Central Bank tends to go ‘technocratic’ and sometimes, biaised towards business and supply-side lobbies (thanks to their monetarist stance I should say…) Anyway I will come back on the various safeguards that could prevent it to do so, and instead, serve the common good (and not only the financial markets). This whole introduction on theory is to prove a point: a credible Bank has to be independent –in order to achieve its commitment to embattle inflation


How are things in the real world, or shall we say, the Moroccan context?

The Central Bank (Bank Al Maghrib) has a long history, though with little if no power right from the start. A little bit of history perhaps: Bank Al Maghrib, formerly Bank Of Morocco, was instituted in June 1959 (A. Ibrahim Premiership and A. Bouabid as finance minister) by virtue of Dahir n° 1-59-233. In essence, the bank acts a great deal like a super-paymaster-enforcer for the finance minister, plus there’s the business of blurred relation between the Civil service (theoretically answerable to the government), the Bank and the Monarchy (that got hold of virtually everything). Of course, that’s 1959, many things changed since then.

The 2005 Dahir brought some new things (I can’t find it in the Government Secretary’s gazette, if anyone has got the link, thanks a lot), for instance, no Civil servant or private Bank representative could be member of the committee board and indeed, the Bank is from now on the guarantee of monetary stability as well as monitoring the markets. That’s a good start, but it fails to address the relationship with the government. The latter still appoints 2/3 of the board.

Another thing: the Governor is virtually answerable to anybody –only perhaps to the only empowering authority, i.e. the King-. The present state of BAM is quite interesting, as it’s a pure bureaucratic institution, theoretically close to the government but actually very autonomous. However, because only a Dahir gives or takes away its prerogatives, its independence is hindered by this opaque tie.

I’ve got this example to show that BAM is quite submissive, or rather, cannot prevent government actions, even when they are perceived to be harmful to the economy; In 2003, the Jettou government was in between two minds about devaluating the Dirham. The Bank, on the other hand, was adamant in its refusal (at the time, there was no real immediate benefit to do so, and in the long run, it makes the Balance of Payment deficit even worse.) Funnily enough, there was a time the Bank wasn’t even aware there was devaluation. The government caved in for a lobby, period.

There was another row late 2009, when the Governor A. Jouahri refused to consider another devaluation.

That’s why the Bank has to keep its independence and all its prerogatives (among which to contribute or not to devaluation) off the government, because it is not credible in its commitments (as they change their minds fairly easily) Of course, in a real answerable and democratic government, such amateurism wouldn’t take place, and the Finance minister would be well advised to stick to their plans (if they have any, but then again, it’s always a pleasure to see a left-leaning finance minister advocating for privatization, a joke, really)

How do we solve this then? I don’t mind the Governor being appointed by royal Dahir (after all, it’s all the same in the UK, or any modern democratic monarchy) but there should be clarification on what it is meant by ‘with the advise of the Prime Minister or the Finance Minister (because, hey, an advise is not binding nor compulsory to follow, especially from an ectoplasm like A. Fassi, while a decision to sanction actually is, especially when it is someone lie A. Ibrahim)

Of course, there must be first a constitutional reform, so that the Bank would be of constitutional, rather than administrative legitimacy. The same bank, on the other hand, has to be answerable to Parliament, as the governor should give evidence to a public select committee (MPs, academics and members of government) and defend their decisions.

Again, I know this is a quite far-fetched policy for a left-wing radical, but I believe the economy has to be initially stabilized –through interest rates, unemployment and inflation- and then we can get on with our objective of cooperatives, public ownership and free information/innovation policies. Well, someone had to do the blue-sky thinking, shall we?

Beard & Veil

Much as I would love to take on the ‘moral defenders’, I cannot help but feel like like Markus Brickstocke ranting against Ann Windcombe: a mixture of readiness to engage the conservative freaks (I mean no disrespect) and a sentiment of sympathy towards the meek, the simple-minded and the fool…That’s no intellectual-left-leaning arrogance: it’s merely the expression of my anger over what I consider to be a scam the silent majority is implicitly following a self-fulfilling norm.

The Moroccan moral majority –so to speak- is quite plethoric –just like any public opinion in the world- but they do share, for the most part, some common features that are partly the result of an imposed ignorance. My attention has been drawn to the fact that I look up a bit too much contemporary or even ancient history to justify my own opinions, a method that is so obvious to me to understand the present world.

I still fail to understand, even after reading a bit about it, how the ‘public opinion’ quickly loses its memory, or, on the contrary, sticks to past facts, or what it was led to believe were past, definite facts.  And in the case of the Moroccan conservative majority, the main argument used against any ‘too modernist’ speech is: “that’s our identity”, an explicit reference to traditions, and ergo, to a subconscious history. Perhaps that’s why Moroccans cling to traditions but have difficulties coping with factual and –shall we say- scientific history.

I don’t think the vast majority of Moroccans are ‘ideologically’ committed to the “moral revolution” (even all the al Adl activists are not wholly convinced of the Khilafa myth) and as long as there is no credible measurement of how many people are ideologically committed and ready to speak out loudly against the present system, I consider the whole thing merely as the natural result of a vicious islamization policy against a larger opposition in the 70’s and 80’s, but also, the anticipated reaction to the confusion that followed a brutal liberalization, the geopolitical changes that affected the world after the Berlin Wall came down

The second term doesn’t specifically encompass the sole Moroccan society, various studies in post-industrialized countries showed a steady rise in conservative values. Some even argued that the ideals of social progress and harmony are perhaps, out of date.

The politically-committed islamists should be ruled out of the ‘traditional-values’ side, because their own political agenda is so much at odds with the present society that, if it wasn’t for their anti-western stand and the sneaky use of takya, could almost be part of the legal political spectrum (I am, of course, not referring to the PJD, that’s quite another matter.)

Now, let’s turn to the traditional/moral/bigots brigade: what can we make out of it? Before I start discussing their way of defining the ‘Moroccan Identity’ I wanted to venture an explanation why we, Moroccans, have so much trouble with history, as the majority of us was taught to cling to the past, because ‘it was much better then’ The traditions could be, with some extrapolation, construed as ‘Founding Myths’.

Timeline is quite out of touch here, as individuals, or rather, communities; tend to focus mainly on regenerating the ‘moment’, i.e. the founding myth time and again (no pun intended). In essence, there’s no time, or rather, any notion of time. Did you notice how people are usually longing for the pure Islamic period of Andalusia, the Arabic Peninsula, the invincible Islamic Umma etc…?

Few Islamic scholars stood up and contested this myth, save for Abdellah Ibrahim, a Sorbonne Graduate as well as an Ibn Youssef graduate Oulema, much like his colleague/classemate Yassine) And to be frank, this nostalgia for ‘spiritual uplift’ are partly the result of the policy I am ranting against (the one we are reaping its violent and intolerant fruits)

History, on the other hand, has a healthy obsession of recording, archiving and noting the facts. And as the baldy man once said: ’Facts are stubborn’.

See how little information one has on how many Muslims had a Harem or Jaryates… Do we have precise statistics and facts?  Of course not.

Do we subsequently derive from it that the ancient Muslim society was pure and perfect? Of Course not. So it remains what it is: a relative truth in a relative set of truths.

One thing though: Morocco is indeed a Muslim country, or, to be precise, a majority of Muslim people. The whole business of religion and its mix with politics in Morocco is so complicated, so self-centered that the standard battle cry of Attajdid or Nini is, if not simplistic, is just pushing for a dark political agenda. I mean come on, when was it Sharia-compliant for the sultan to display his enemies’ heads on the walls of the Imperial cities? Or to enslave tribes for his army? Or to be self-serving with bayt al mal (the Islamic treasury office) ?
Let us turn now to the so-called national identity: I know, it’s the favourite right-wing theme, almost fascist, one might think.

I would like to define my terms, as one could easily get confused; even in social sciences, the concept is rather an umbrella for many close yet different subjects: what’s national identity? Red Fez and White Djellaba (considered to be our national accoutrement) are, to me for good reasons, complete alien items: the Fez is Turkish, and the Djellaba Arabic. I indulge only to the Burnous to be part wholly Moroccan, if not North African.

Anyway; according to Cote & Levine (1987), “In the Social Identity Theory, a person has not one, “personal self”, but rather several selves that correspond to widening circles of group membership”. In other terms, Social Identity –a wider set that includes national identity- sort of absolves individuals, and rather glorifies the community or the bund, not very democratic, one could see.

In another paper, the authors boil down the behaviour pattern in terms of individual interaction with identity, to 5 main types, among which the ‘Guardian’. It ‘Possesses clear personal values and attitudes, but also a deep fear of change’ and a ‘Sense of personal identity is almost exhausted by sense of social identity’ Oddly enough –and I can speak only for the individuals I interacted with- most Moroccans identify themselves to ‘guardians of morality and identity’

My point is, this so called national identity the Looney brigade boasts about, is basically a fear of change, my point exactly. The national identity, to sum up, is a concept waved about every time these people feel threatened when their Weltschauung is obsolete, and subsequently tend to distort the reality so that it could match their ideology. Regular anti-festival outcry every summer always summons the depravity our young people are being appealed to.

In a quite different, yet related matter, Smith (1993) talks about: ”myths of national identity typically refer to territory or ancestry (or both) as the basis of political community, and these differences furnish important, if often neglected, sources of instability and conflict in many parts of the world. It is no accident that many of the most bitter […] conflicts derive from competing claims and conceptions of national identity” Something quite similar happens in Morocco, although not so violently; The dynamic opposition between rural and urban areas, between well-to-do families and upstart individuals, between the tribe and the nuclear family, between the makhzen and the ruled… all of them are distinct parts of our ‘identity’ and curiously enough, shunt.

It’s all political you see, as the self-promoted opinion leaders define what they perceive as ‘the right’ Moroccan identity, effectively ejecting their political rivals out of the game. As part of the ‘Umma’ ideal, the identity theme is always drawn in the religious field, a tactic well-proved in the struggle between the secularist left and the monarchy during the lead years.

Let us now turn to the facts. The only credible survey I can reasonably base my opinions is the one carried out for the 50 years independence anniversary, particularly, the ‘synthèse de l’enquête nationale sur les valeurs’ report is quite fair and balanced. They noted that ‘some are feeling nostalgic about a period of traditional values, and are feeling sorry for the present…’ Strangely enough, the report weighs in more the ‘traditional’ part more than the ‘islamic’ one. Indeed, the ideal groom should be ‘maâqul’ (devoted, committed, whatever have you) for 38% of the female sample, and financially stable (24%) a religious man, on the other hand, attracts only 13% of the sample.

The most interesting thing is about the youthful population. The report notes that: ‘[young people] are trying to demark themselves from the social norms, indeed, the young sample is more in favour of a nuclear family (60%), late marriage (58%) and dialogue in child education (64%)’; Well that’s good news !

One thing though: I am not considering the general set of value references as progressive or liberal. Far from it, but it just shows that the ‘Moroccan values’ don’t belong to anyone, and if anything, there’s a great leaning towards post-industrial society schemes. It looks as though Moroccans are perhaps more religious, but they care more about the ritual apparatus (Tozy) than the assumed spiritual underlying.

It just shows that values, rather than ‘identity’, values are part of a dynamic process and certainly not the sanctimonious speech that many take for granted. In essence, the transitory process the Moroccan society is getting through hopefully, -to a more tolerant and open-minded society- doesn’t suit many lobbies.

So, whenever you hear about ‘Our true values are conservatism and religious stringency’ or some such, ask yourself the question: ’says who?’ or even better ‘what political agenda behind this?’, being paranoid in Moroccan politics, is, as far as I am concerned, a habit one should take on…