February 2011 Monthly Feature

Tahrir (Liberation) Square and The lack of National Social Responsibility: Who’s next?

By Michael Hopkins[1]

1. Introduction

Despite the rapidly unfolding and welcome events in the Middle East, repressive Governments still hold much power.The past few years have not shown many great strides in the social responsibility of Nation States right across the world.Meanwhile there has been a shift in sentiment in the private sector as the social responsibility of corporations (CSR) has, drugstore at least, been taken reasonably seriously since just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.That event led to great enthusiasm and impetus to the main alternative, the market economy, which gave the private sector its head after the collapse of the advantages of totalitarianism and State control of the means of production.Social responsibility was needed since the unabashed pursuit of capitalism could (does and still can) easily have led to profit at any cost and the exploitation of the many.

2. China 1 Human Rights 0

But, corporations and business are not the sole holders of the march on social responsibility.It has been depressing to note that corporations, surprising to many, often seem to be better behaved than many, if not most, nation states and even many NGOs.

During the near collapse of western democracies during the great recession of 2007-09, the seeming success of totalitarian regimes such as China, suggested that libertarians had backed the wrong horse.To know that the world might continue, and indeed increase, the number of totalitarian despots with their lack of respect for human rights, and their ghoulish dependence on torture, imprisonment without trial, lack of freedom of the press – from Mugabe, to Ghadafai to Hu and so on – rocked the basic premise of many people who hold strong support for human rights and basic freedoms, and added to our collective depression.

Yes, we know our own democracies are far from perfect and, despite our protests, Blair and Bush waged an unconstitutional war in Iraq. Not only that, but totalitarian regimes have been tolerated by France (in Algeria and Tunisia), by the USA (across the Middle East and South America, and the support of Guantanamo Bay and the extraordinairy rendition of prisoners to the many horrible prisons that exist across the world, Presidential support for torture such as water-boarding etc), by Spain (in Spanish Sahara) etc. Indeed, the West has done little to spare the citizens of the Middle East from their sufferings.But, we can vote out our unpopular and corrupt leaders, we can speak freely (more or less), and have a relatively free press (constantly threatened by right wing owners of capital such as Rupert Murdoch).And, we have President Obama who is still a beacon to the vision of democracy and anti-corruption.

However we can never sit still and become smug since there are always severe impediments to progress.Despite early promise, Obama has not succeeded in overcoming his ‘democratic’ Republican opposition to the closing of Guantanamo Bay, has said little on gun control, etc.Yet, he can be voted out in 2012 if the majority think Guantanamo Bay closing is key.It is symbolic and depressing that the opposition will almost definitely not campaign on that!

3. Conceptual Basis of MHCi’s NSRI

Is there a way in which we can measure the social responsibility of Nation States[2]? The National Social Responsibility Index (NSRI) was developed by this author in 2007 with the aim to illustrate that, as well as corporations, we can also talk about the social responsibility of nation states.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about corporations treating their stakeholders in a socially responsible manner.Similarly, NSRI is about Nations States treating their key stakeholders in a socially responsible manner.The key stakeholders of any Nation State are their citizens and their trading partners.Consequently the NSRI is composed of whether citizens can participate in the decisions that affect them (a core component of basic needs that was argued by the author in the 1970s), are treated fairly and whether the State looks after their well-being.To measure these three aspects we have used measures of:

  1. the freedom of the country (participation)
  2. the extent of corruption (fair treatment)
  3. life expectancy at birth (well-being)

4. Results for 2010

Table 1 shows a selection of the rankings for 2010 where it can be seen that neither first (Sweden) nor last (Somalia) places changed over 2007 to 2010.Because we now have data since 2007, changes can be seen in the last column with the heading ‘increase/decrease’ to show how rankings have changed over the last three years.In fact it is easier to move more places (either up or down in the rankings) nearer the bottom of the list than the top simply because the top countries do not change very rapidly any of the three areas of concern for democracy, corruption nor life expectancy.Thus an upward movement of four places for New Zealand and Norway in the highly competitive top ten is worthy of note.As it happens both increased their life expectancy a little (less than a year), both improved their democracy ranking yet, curiously, both fell in the transparency ranking (albeit by only 0.01).

Table 1: Main Results      
Rank by NRI     Rank  
2010 Country NRI 2010 Increase/Decrease
      07 to 10  
1 Sweden 0.97 0  
2 New Zealand 0.97 4  
3 Denmark 0.96 0  
4 Norway 0.96 4  
5 Iceland 0.95 -3  
6 Australia 0.95 3  
7 Canada 0.95 3  
8 Finland 0.95 -4  
9 Switzerland 0.94 -2  
10 Netherlands 0.93 -5  
15 Germany 0.88 -2  
17 United Kingdom 0.86 -3  
19 United States 0.84 2  
21 France 0.83 -3  
22 Spain 0.82 -3  
37 Italy 0.73 -7  
38 Poland 0.72 8  
39 Greece 0.71 -3  
54 Brazil 0.64 -1  
68 Turkey 0.62 -2  
69 Jordan 0.61 10  
79 India 0.59 -6  
82 Indonesia 0.58 15  
96 Tunisia 0.54 0  
97 Morocco 0.54 6  
105 South Africa 0.52 -24  
107 China 0.51 1  
108 Saudi Arabia 0.51 13  
109 Iraq 0.51 64  
117 Egypt 0.48 -6  
125 Pakistan 0.45 3  
130 Russian Federation 0.44 -11  
170 Nigeria 0.29 -4  
173 Zimbabwe 0.26 6  
177 Angola 0.20 0  
178 Afghanistan 0.20 -2  
179 Somalia 0.18 1  

5. Results for the Middle East

After the events in both Tunisia and Egypt and, at time of writing, disturbances in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya and Iran, can the NRI be used to predict in some way future moves to increased National Social Responsibility as is now occurring in Egypt and Tunisia?

One way of examining this question is to look at the aforementioned countries and see what happened to their NRI over 2007 to 2010 before the momentous events of February 2011 took place.When we do that we see that Egypt fell six places from an already low 111 position to 117, Iran fell 24 places, Algeria increased by 4 to 122nd place, Tunisia didn’t move its 96th place nor did Libya at 128th position but both at lowly ranked, while Bahrain fell from 71st to 80th place and Yemen fell 8 places to 151stplace.Thus movement in the indicators alone would not have predicted Tunisia’s revolution while Egypt’s decline would have signaled a certain measure of dissatisfaction.But that Iran is in such a lowly position despite its high life expectancy and that its position actually went down 24 places shows the considerable problems there.

But, what our indicators do not measure is the extent of military repression.Almost, all our countries in the lower parts of the table are governed by ruthless dictators and their positions show that a stable form of Government is, unfortunately, strong when central control is exercised by sympathetic (to the strong men) armies and secret police.Until the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, few countries have escaped their shackles in contemporary times and since the fall of the Berlin Wall.What can be stated today is that a low position and a falling index is inherently unstable and even vicious dictators, today, will sleep less easily.

Concluding remarks

The predictive ability of our NSRI to gauge future revolutionary movements is reasonably impressive.Nonetheless, the astounding lack of national responsibility for a nation’s citizens is worsening in many cases.It might well be that the indicators used are too crude to give accurate information of future changes.Additions to the index might include the severity of military or police rule, a measure of inequality and the lack of jobs especially for the young.All these latter issues could have been observed in Egypt since a more severe military coupled with the similar characteristics of no democracy, high corruption, high unemployment, increasing inequality might well have saved Mubarak.Surprising too is that in Tunisia, Ben Ali a former secret policeman (trained by both the French Sûreté and the US CIA) did not (surprisingly) increase pressure through repressive levers that he, presumably, had under his control.

The indicator NRI is useful to judge the degree of national responsibility and shows that there is much work to do right across the world.On the other hand, it is not indicators that will provoke the next revolution and we must be thankful that human beings will simply not accept repression over long periods of times.China, Iran, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Morocco….Watch out!!!!

[This is a shorter version of the full article see: http://www.mhcinternational.com/images/stories/Tahrir%20Square.pdf ]

[1] www.mhcinternational.com

[2] Since I developed this index, I have seen that China has come up with their own National Responsibility Index (a combination of disarmament responsibility, poverty elimination responsibility, resource saving responsibility, environmental protection responsibility) – which can be discounted since China comes top!More seriously, despite it sfrivolous name of the ‘shoe thrower index’ ‘The Economist’ has come up with a similar index as ours solely for the Middle East and differs since not global, excludes well-being and has no earlier year data – more on this in our longer article see: http://www.mhcinternational.com/images/stories/Tahrir%20Square.pdf