The Moorish Wanderer

Ramadanomics

Posted in Dismal Economics, Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on August 19, 2012

Last day of the fasting month. Can’t find anything spiritual about it, other than a sharp increase of overt religious behaviour. Incidentally:

عيد فطر سعيد للجميع

I was browsing through the New Statesman twitter feed (great newspaper by the way) when I stumbled upon a great article on Ramadan and its impact on productivity, GDP and other macroeconomic aggregates.

You see, one of the big ideas about Islam as a major monotheist religion, is its supposedly ready-made “الإسلام دين الفطرة، صالح لكل زمان ومكان” its fitness is timeless, omniscient and ubiquitous ; in economics, in particular, Islamic banking, with the big money it raises annually, seems to point to a revival of some Islamic Capitalism. I remain however much more sceptical, because the basic model (for academics anyway) in Arrow & Debreu provides a general setting for risk sharing and market completeness, which means all the trouble Hallal financial products go through to avoid paying interest end up useless: in technical terms, the stochastic discounting factor is still there. Enf of story. As for the supposedly eminent benefits of Ramadan, it seems our Moroccan society, through its behaviour during daylight and after sunset, points to an unhealthy cross-over between mass consumption keynesianism and an over-indulging economy. Hardly the stuff of austere Muslims.

Back to The New Statesman story, I wonder how Ramadan affects the national economy, not just market volatility. The trouble is, monthly – or even quarterly- GDP data is usually hard, if not impossible to find. We have to find a device to generate it; but for the time being, let us just focus on the immediately available daily data, the stock market, and then work our way up the economy to assess the ‘Ramadan effect’. Let us before just list some (obvious ?) assumptions about it:

– Sharp increase in household and public sector consumption and low productivity: variations in household consumption are understandable, the public sector on the other hand, has a different set of dynamics to it, since public servants are paid the same for fewer worked hours; finally, lower productivity can be observed everywhere.

– Contrary to the article on the Egyptian Stock Market, I posit market volatility decreases, simply because volume and price turnouts are low.

– Balance deficit is higher than usual: we would tend to import a lot more than usual during or before Ramadan.

MASI Stock Index tends to perform little growth during the Ramadan Month: annual growth is .03%, while it grows .05% in normal days.

Let us start with the stock market from the early 1990s (available data from the Casablanca Stock Exchange trace it as far back as 1992) with 5,140 days, including about 599 Ramadan days. We first observe daily trades tend to generate a modest profit in non-Radman days, up to .11%. On the other hand, Ramadan days observe either quasi-stable index value, or more often than not, small index decreases, as high as .03% in absolute value.

Overall, the differences in daily growth between Ramadan and Non Ramadan trades is statistically significant, and because of the sample size, it would be safe to validate the earlier assumption. On the other hand, we should state that respective standard deviations are not statistically different from one and another, which further buttress the claim not only the stock exchange does not do as well as normal day as during Ramadan, but more importantly, volatility does not increase – contrary to the findings of the New Statesman article on the Egyptian stock exchange. as far as the MASI goes, Ramadan is just a set of 30-odd slow days, with less money to make, and thus higher risk to run into losses.

What about the real economy? Though daily or monthly data is unavailable, we can use quarterly data to proceed with similar analysis: if the assumption holds, we should expect quarters including Ramadan to be significantly different from the remaining 3 others: differences need to be accounted for in GDP, Consumption and Government Expenditure (Inflation could be included as well).

(Note: Statistical results are either t-tested or sample-based variance comparison tests, and these can be found further down the post)

We consider hard data from 1989:I to 2011:IV to check these assumptions: because of the 11-days rule-of-thumb to match Christian and Islamic calendars, we assume Ramadan belongs to the quarter were most of its days are located; alternatively, we could also look at two quarters instead of one, but that would dilute an already blurry picture (it might also explain why the second graph does not provide equal distances between quarter)

Two observations can made:

1/ Inflation increases during or shortly after Ramadan:over the observed 92 quarters, Ramadan-linked inflation tends to be significantly higher than either aggregate or non-Ramadan-linked quarters. Quarterly inflation during Ramadan tends to increase 2.5 times that of normal days, and about twice as much as the aggregate CPI; furthermore, because Ramadan and Non-Ramadan inflation exhibit essentially the same levels of volatility, the Ramadan effect on CPI is undeniable: it contributes on average .77 percentage point to regular inflation. This is robust evidence for price increases during Ramadan. The second point deals with the source of this CPI-related inflation, in this case household and public sector consumption.

Keynesian month indeed: CPI inflation and Consumer-led growth are stronger during Ramadan (dark Blue for GDP, light blue 1989 base year CPI)

2/ Consumption-based GDP components do a lot better than overall output: Government expenditure tends to be a lot more volatile than (and grows at higher pace) GDP. Contrary to other aggregates, there is a pitfall to be aware of; government expenditure tends to increase at the end of the year (departmental budgets need to be fully used to get the next annual budget) but even with that bias, we observed government expenditure increases during the Ramadan month, although at a steadier pace, when compared to aggregate and non-Ramadan quarters.

As for Household Consumption, results are similar to those of GDP, with an additional effect: Consumption typically increases a couple of months before the Ramadan quarter, and is a lot more significant when both compared to aggregate and non-Ramadan household consumption. Though there is need to provide an adequate framework model to link them, we can at least assert Ramadan inflation is tightly linked to a higher than usual levels of consumption for both public and private agents.

I quipped early Ramadan it was a Keynesian month, turns out I was right on the Consumption and Price Level:

So there goes the statistical evidence Ramadan in Morocco is no spiritual month: productivity is low in the economy as a whole, consumption is high (aren’t we supposed to fast out of sympathy for the hungry?) and if anything, we are losing anything between 3.1% and 3.2% in annual productivity per effective worker. In the aggregate economy, Ramadan means productivity takes a (roughly) 28% to 40% dive. Well, the figure seems a little far-fetched, and computed on quarterly basis, but it would be fair if we posit the overly optimistic assumption of productivity as a linear combination of worked hours. Either way, the Moroccan economy is brought to a productivity near stand-still every quarter.

The last assumption has to do with the trade balance: over the past decade (2005-2010) in theory, monthly imports are supposed to be more or less uniformly distributed, i.e. Morocco receives about 8.3% of its annual import each month. We observe however this is not the case; in fact, we tend to import less than monthly average on Ramadan, but more than make up for it in the month before, up to 20% of annual imports are concentrated on two months (Ramadan and the month before).

Variance ratio test MASI
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Variable |     Obs        Mean    Std. Err.   Std. Dev.   [95% Conf. Interval]
---------+--------------------------------------------------------------------
g_rama~n |     437    .0003361    .0003469     .007251   -.0003456    .0010179
 g_non_r |    4702    .0004557    .0000995      .00682    .0002608    .0006507
---------+--------------------------------------------------------------------
combined |    5139    .0004456    .0000957     .006857     .000258    .0006331
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    ratio = sd(g_ramadan) / sd(g_non_r)                           f =   1.1304
Ho: ratio = 1                                   degrees of freedom = 436, 4701
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Ha: ratio < 1               Ha: ratio != 1                 Ha: ratio > 1
  Pr(F < f) = 0.9625         2*Pr(F > f) = 0.0751           Pr(F > f) = 0.0375

Variance ratio test IPC/CPI
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Variable |     Obs        Mean    Std. Err.   Std. Dev.   [95% Conf. Interval]
---------+--------------------------------------------------------------------
icv_nonr |      69    .0052085    .0012316    .0102307    .0027508    .0076661
icv_Ra~n |      23    .0129398    .0021269    .0102004    .0085289    .0173508
---------+--------------------------------------------------------------------
combined |      92    .0071413    .0011166    .0107097    .0049234    .0093592
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    ratio = sd(icv_nonr) / sd(icv_Ramadan)                        f =   1.0060
Ho: ratio = 1                                    degrees of freedom =   68, 22
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Ha: ratio < 1               Ha: ratio != 1                 Ha: ratio > 1
  Pr(F < f) = 0.4831         2*Pr(F < f) = 0.9662           Pr(F > f) = 0.5169

Human Rights Swatch & MBA Awards

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 6, 2010

Warning: This is an MBA-related post. the Maroc Blog Awards are up, and well, One has to turn on the charm and tone down a bit the nihilist frenzy. After all, some of our most prestigious jury members will be selecting the lucky blogs, and well, it always pays off when there’s a proper decorum going on. So, for the benefit of my vanity and indeed what can be perceived as an inherent lack of self-confidence and a desperate seeking of peer approval, I’m a devoting this piece to get into the good graces of the MBA’s patrons. I’ve almost forgotten: I would appreciate if you’d vote for me.

Tucker's endorsement: "Vote for the Moorish Fucker. I know he is fucking retarded, but if you don't vote for the twat, he will put his balaclava on, and he is going after every sad fuck who popped in, break their shin bone and stab them to fucking death."

The topic at hand is somewhat depressing. Perhaps the word is not adequate: hopeless would be more to the point. It certainly fits for those I am claiming to expose for what they are. Setting aside those with islamist -hardcore, not the PJD wets- sympathies, many of those shaping our intellectual future are definitely drawn to hopeless causes. Human Rights for one. Human Rights are the nihilists’ “Ligne Rouge“, as in the one thing all of the motley lot will not compromise upon, and could even go as far as state them as paramount to anything else. It belongs to a whole mystic of human rights as the cornerstone of democracy, the shield of human dignity. It is all honourable, and I do subscribe to this alacrity in defending the case; I really do. In facts my criticism is about the way it is carried out, not the struggle itself. So even if it does sound like a caustic criticism of its inanity, there is a need to defend human rights, and it should not distract attention from the fact that they remain at the heart of principles the organic intellectual in Morocco should not compromise upon; As far as I am concerned, there is just a miss in terms of the specific rights involved here, and the way the message is conveyed.

Truth of matter is, the common man does not give a flying monkey for abstract ideas of freedom of speech, religious belief and sexual orientation. Harsh truth, but some activists and advocates of the UN Universal Declaration of ’48 look and behave as though it is the cardinal thing to spend time and resources on. Human Rights activists include individual with outstanding academic and intellectual standards, the flower of the western bloc of our future leaders, and these are in the danger of becoming, when the time comes, disconnected leaders with superficial, pre-conceived ideas of how to manage a country they certainly cherish. Bright and public-service spirited indeed, but utterly at odds with the majority of their people.

One of MALI's ringleaders. Cute, but not really representative of the Moroccan youth

Let us take a look at the MALI group. Not because I want to target them -there are after all some nice dear ladies among them- but they offer the cheap opportunity for me to focus my criticism on something more or less organized. The most committed members are likely to be, in a couple of decades’ time, part of the governing elite. It is a quasi-law of nature that the Makhzen -or their surviving heir- institutions are very good at absorbing their former dissidents, and so, weakening any future would-be maverick careers. It is the case nowadays with the former left-wingers that explicitly acknowledged their yielding to the Royal power by publicly endorsing specific initiatives, making speeches on the need to emphasise “citizenship” values, and at times, stifling dissent they were in some three decades ago. If thing remain the same, it is very likely some of these heralds of individual liberties would rejoin the Makhzen side, and though they would keep to the libertarian tone, signalled loyalty to the monarchy become more and more obvious. By seemingly harmless twists of words, individuals like Khadija Rouissi still portray themselves like a left-wing figure, but subtle references do disabuse the ingenuous: as Ibn Kafka once stated, these can be labelled as “touche pas a ma bière et a mon commandeur des croyants“. Are the MALI people likely to go down the same road? If hardcore, committed and former political prisoners yielded after these years, what chances do young libertarians stand to stray from their initial claims. Some of them are from well-to-do backgrounds, and so there are limitations for/on their actions on Ramadan and the freedom to fast or not. This is not about individual liberties. Libertarian issues are not the ones common individuals care about. Their activism is not just about Ramdan, far from it. They tried -unsuccessfully- to stage a protest against sexual harassment, too.

Another noble and worthy cause, but hopeless because Moroccans, even of the female population do not consider the issue as part of their thrust for liberty (if they have had any). Even feminism is out of fashion, and some circles once progressive, view it as subversive. In times of economic hardship and a locked political spectrum, libertarian activism looks pointless. Not just on the fasting, but also on sexual harassment, sexual liberty and more broadly individual liberties. The way things are carried out, the background of the prominent advocates and the way messages are channelled are running high chances to end up being labelled “rich-spoiled-kids’-cause”. Unless they are assured of blitz-style political and moral superiority to state their claim, bottom line is, they are just damaging it. And it is a shame: I’d love to live in a country where individuals are not forced into submission because their preferences differ from those conventional in our society. Surely one way not to alienate support is to think of a different strategy other than constant confrontation and mindless provocation.

What’s the lambasting for? Perhaps this irritable claim that civil society can achieve more without any political platform. The libertarians might not know about it, but they do act on behalf of some political agenda; inadvertently, they do act as a sort of a Guy Fawkes for the conservatives, to the Makhzen’s benefit. It is indeed a wicked game, for those believing in the Makhzen theory, that is. It now more or less an openly stated policy that Morocco should and eventually will move towards a more open-minded society. People like MALI could perhaps in a couple of years’ time, switch back and deliver some fulsome support for the regime’s projects. Beyond MALI, many libertarians do operate as franc-tireur, with an obvious apolitical stand, something that harms the cause more than it helps it. The other point was exactly that: the lack of political appeal, or the lack of political ambition, in the short term, beneficial for their cause. On the longer run -and indeed, a year is a short time in politics- it delivers a weak message of an agitate group of people. By focusing only on individual liberties without a structuring project that would conciliate these and the imperative of policy-making, it does look, and I am sorry to point it out, as a rebel phase of rich, spoiled kids.

On the other hand, I’d love to join if they need someone to shape up their claim into policies. I’m just saying.

Ramadan At The Gates

I don’t think this month is holy any more, nor does it still bear some genuine religious significance to the people. It is, I must point out, a subjective point of view. Indeed, Moroccans (at least those I saw in Casablanca or Rabat or today in Marrakesh) are ostensibly reading the Koran in public places. I noticed the mosques were never so full of faithful as they are this time of year. But on the whole, it does not feel like Moroccans get in touch with their spirituality. It does however look like more of a parade of spirituality, and it is going out of proportions. There is this stereotype I hold on my fellow citizens as being hypocritical, but surely it was nothing like that.

There is something I find quite strange, though: Every Ramadan, dissident voices claim their right to break it, and every time, the orthodox voices cry their shock and anger to that handful of Kuffar that have no respect for Islam or to anything this Umma holds dear to its heart. Some even get raving mad, fortunately only on Facebook walls or Hespress comments. Yet it remains so that Moroccan society is growing intolerant, or at least seems to be so. Last year MALI group tried a spectacular direct action but were prevented from doing so. Do we have some comprehensive explanation why some Moroccans feel very sensitive about this?

Let me just put it in simple terms: fasting Ramadan, just like praying are two rituals part of the five pillars of Islam. However, these pillars are ranked in order of precedence and it goes like this: 1. Faith, 2. Prayers, 3. Charity, 4. Ramadan, and last 5. Pilgrimage.

In other words, its is much much more serious breach of Muslim faith not to pray than not to fast Ramadan, and even more important to care about the needy than to fast during the holy month. Until now, I have never seen someone harassed by the crowd because they did not attend the Friday prayers, as far as I am concerned. There was this unfortunate occurrence when a particularly zealous member of my family tried to talk me into “mending my ways back”, but that was it (the person in question avoided me for the rest of the evening, and that was a relief).

Their reaction would have been quite different if I was not fasting, I can tell you that. While the last pillar (pilgrimage) is compulsory only to those able to go to Mecqua, Ramadan remains effectively the last pillar all Muslims should observe, and yet it is, according to some surveys I am going to discuss, the most important one.

The Moroccan Penal Code, Article 222, is quite clear about it: Muslim Moroccans are not prevented from not fasting Ramadan, they are forbidden to do so in public.

Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams

How could anyone -save for those of our fellow citizens with Jewish ascent- prove that they are not “notoriously known for their belonging to the Nuslim faith?” And what about a Moroccan that reverted their faith to Christianity? do they have to produce a baptism certificate? And what about the atheists or the non-believers? Do we need a paper stating our non-belief from Richard Dawkins? And why being so hypocritical about it? Why would the Moroccan judiciary punish anyone break-fasting in public, but turn the blind eye on those who do so but away from any public fuss? Doesn’t it encourage hypocrisy? or Doesn’t it simply give in to the fear of Fitna?

For Fitna here would be some Muslim fanatics taking on those they consider apostate. Article 222, just like Article 489 (on homosexuality), Article 490 (on illegal sex) and 496 (female adult with a tutor authority) reminds us that Morocco, for democratic and tolerant it boasts to be, remains handicapped with a reactionary set of laws as well as state of minds, and impaled in deep contradictions that cannot be explained but in sociological terms. I must point out that nowhere in the penal code an article punishes a Moroccan national for not going to the Mosque, or giving money to the poor, or even for lacking faith in Islam. Why do we focus on Ramadan, and not on the rest?

Let me be clear about it: I am a staunch supporter of secularism as a political solution for religious issues. The law of the land needs to be set up by men, and these held accountable to the nation. That also means that the His Majesty should not benefit from the extra-constitutional powers his status as “Commader of the Faithful” permits him. In other words, Islam, just like other religions, remains a private matter, thus effectively rendering the public sphere neutral to any spiritual lobby.

I cannot however understand the sheer contradiction of it all: it is fine not to pray (I mean, people do not necessarily see it as a blatant lack of faith) it is legal -within the boundaries of the law- to drink alcohol (bars are public places as far as I know), but jamais au grand jamais, one should break Ramadan fasting, especially not in public. At the best it is frown upon, at the worse you get caught up by the police. In the land of contradictions, one stands beyond bemusement.

Let us take a leaf from the RDH 50 report. The one about society, families and youth, and especially about religious values as seen by the Moroccan youth. According to the survey, and it seems to be the general case, the youth are longing for a change, compared to the previous generation (namely their parents) either by refusing the norms (no prayers, no Ramadan) or by accepting the norms as they were, but in a different way, so that the inter-generation differences remain seen.

By doing so, the Moroccan youth do no “invent” as it were, atheism or agnosticism, nor the “new wave” religious observance. They simply move within the social context they are living in, and the choice is then made accordingly. There was a time (1961) when agnosticism and atheism had the upper hand:

seuls 5% des enquêtés estimaient que la religion tenait une place plus grande que dans la génération précédente. La majorité (80 %) affirmait l’étiolement de la religion. Parmi les constatations recueillies : « les jeunes se détachent de la religion », « il y a un sur mille qui pratique », « plus de 50 % ne font ni ramadan ni prière », « autrefois un musulman était renié par sa famille s’il épousait une chrétienne, aujourd’hui non », « la religion est l’opium du peuple », « les questions économiques sont plus importantes1 ». Doit-on conclure au recul de la religion chez les élèves marocains d’après l’indépendance? En tout cas, quel que soit le rapport des élèves à la religion, les questions prioritaires de leur époque étaient politiques, économiques et sociales. La question de la sécularisation progressive des sociétés, du recul de la religion, doit être nuancée. Les processus de changement ne sont ni linéaires ni irréversibles. Les recherches récentes sur le rapport des jeunes à la religion vont dans ce sens”.

I like the last sentence because it is the adequate and informed answer to any of those making speeches about the irreversable victory of Islam over the unfaithful.

That happened some 50 years before. What about now?

“Selon une enquête menée par M. Tozy au début des années 1980, seuls 8 % font la prière régulièrement, 26 % occasionnellement et 49 % ne la font pas. L’enquête de 1992 révèle que 54% des étudiants font la prière. Alors faut-il conclure à l’absence du religieux lorsque seuls 8 % des étudiants font régulièrement la prière et au retour du religieux lorsque la proportion des pratiquants « augmente »? Ni l’un ni l’autre. Nous avons dit que le retour du religieux (si cette expression a un sens) n’est pas un processus irréversible. S’agissant toujours de la pratique de la prière, l’enquête de 1996 enregistre une « diminution » de 10 points par rapport à celle de 1992”.  That is quite odd, as pointed out later on: “Tozy remarque l’incohérence, voire le caractère contradictoire des réponses : 85 % des enquêtés avaient un rapport ambigu à la religion. Ceci montre qu’il est difficile de partir d’un seul aspect de la religion (la prière, le port du voile etc.) et d’affirmer soit la sécularisation soit le retour du religieux.

These are the conclusions the report reached on religious values and Moroccan youth:

– The present situation is neither that of secularism or mass-islamization. All that comes up from the finds is ambivalence, ambiguity and contradiction in the choice of religious symbols as well as individual and collective behaviour towards Islamic rituals. (including therefore Ramadan)

– The religious references are more and more of exogenous  nature. family no longer provides them, and the Youth are looking for them elsewhere (Satellite TV, Internet, University, etc….) thus proving a much more heterogeneous choice in terms of  “religious apparatus”

What about Ramadan then? It may be related to the kind of relationship we have with food and the ritual of eating.  The HCP studies still point out that Moroccans are still devoting an important part of their income on food and edible material.  Basically, Ramadan is considered to be the most visible aspect of religion one can display, and some sort of unhealthy consensus has been created on that.

It seems Ramadan created itself into a taboo, and those who dare challenge it must be punished, following this newly esablished norm. I consider it to be new because the non-faster were more visible say, 30 years ago than they are now. Can the Moroccan society live with a fraction of its population deviant from that norm? of course it can, it has proven to be easily adaptive. What lacks is the basic condition of an open debate, for a taboo is not subject of such talks, and it seems to me, the blame is on both sides.

Oh, and Ramadan Mabruk. May we all put on a bit of weight in the name of Allah.