Wait for Regime Changes

Lately, we read of regime change in Iran: “As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.” The idea is to change, not simply the leadership, but the very form of government. That is what is meant by regime change.

Toppling regimes from the outside is a policy of impatience. In many cases, regimes topple or at least change noticeably with the passage of time and the work of forces internal to a country. We may think of this internal process of change as being natural. It occurs as new generations of people arise who have different ideas and values. We can understand it by applying standard Austrian analysis of the characteristics of states.

Regimes of government often change after revolutions as the fervor subsides and the realities of rule take hold. Since most all states, given time, tend toward power accumulation and invasion of property rights, disaffection tends to build up among the citizens. There surely may be external influences too, because no country is entirely isolated from others; but they are secondary. Why? In the Rothbard-Hoppe analysis, the most important underpinning of any state is the public opinion that supports a government and lends it its legitimacy. It is not external factors, except insofar as these affect the domestic public opinion. If, as time passes, a regime is either too oppressive or grows in oppressiveness, centralizing decisions that people prefer to make for themselves, public opinion will change. It will become more negative. Unrest will set in. The state will, of course, not be passive. It will take steps to mollify or suppress or alter public opinion. However, the attractions of wielding power and the monopoly that the state has in making laws must lead to a growth in citizen dissatisfaction. The advent of several (2 or 3) new generations is often time enough to pave the way for new and different conceptions of government to arise when the state is performing badly on behalf of its citizens. This reasoning suggests that, due to these natural forces of the state’s power accumulation and misuse combined with rising public dissatisfaction, one need only wait and regime change will occur without outside powers having to interfere.

This rather blunt prognosis needs to be shaded when a regime is adept and flexible enough to accommodate public opinion, in which case the regime’s life will be lengthened. Conversely, a blundering regime will shorten its own life.

The apparent impatience of at least some in the upper echelons of the U.S. government to topple the Iran regime stems from their own personal motivations and limited life spans. How long will a natural change in Iran’s regime or that of some other country take? If it’s 2 or 3 generations, and a generation is 20-25 years, the process takes 40 (2 x 20) to 75 (3 x 25) years.

The Iranian revolution was in 1979. An oppressive regime can last roughly 40-75 years, the time for new and restive blood to be produced, for the old ideology to wane and die out, and for new dissatisfactions to arise and grip people.

The Iranian case began in 1980, say. Add 40-75 years to give us 2020 to 2055. There are signs of restiveness in Iran. The U.S. doesn’t have to act criminally by imposing sanctions, a policy that invades property rights and has numerous negative ramifications. It can simply wait. If things get bad enough in Iran, the people will alter their government. However, those who have power and influence in Washington who are anxious to exercise power, or who possess inordinate fears, or who will benefit monetarily, or who want fame, or who wish to protect some ally, or who want revenge, or who like war, or who want to remake the world, or who think they are creating freedom, or who are just plain ignorant, or who can externalize the costs of their blunders upon taxpayers and the Iranian people — all these and those with other such motivations show impatience and want to apply force against the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran). Left to itself, the IRI will probably be around for another 2-37 years, which is too long for those who have these kinds of motivations to wait to satisfy themselves.

The theory of natural regime change presented here finds empirical support, even if it is imperfect. North Korea has gone 70 years, from its inception in 1948 to the present. It may now be changing from the inside. Cuba has lasted 58 years as communist, but it’s probably moderating now. The Chinese communists lasted in extreme form from 1949 to 1979 before changing dramatically. The American case lasted from 1787 to 1861, before a new form of government was instituted (that’s 74 years); the forms remained but the substance changed. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is an exception. The French Revolution went through phases very quickly. The Bourbon Restoration occurred in 1814, only 27 years after the revolution. Burma changed its government in 2010; its prior military rule had started in 1962, 48 years earlier. Before that was a period of civil war, 1945 to 1962. The Russian Revolution of 1917 morphed into Stalin’s rule, complete by 1930. That regime lasted about 60 years (1930-1990).

This is a crude way of forecasting, but one that has a theoretical basis. We do not attempt to cite all possible factors, like the economy, the sanctions pressures, or internal control factors like the Quds that keep people in line. We do not attempt to estimate the effect of social media that can mobilize people. It’s hardly worth evaluating all these factors because the uncertainties are too great. No variable maps cleanly into regime legitimacy and the tendency of people to take up arms against their current government.

The main point of the theory remains. Regimes have a tendency to grow more oppressive, leading to natural regime change at some point; and that point is hypothesized typically to take several generations, or 40-75 years.


9:21 am on May 19, 2018