Sunday, I saw the movie, Letters to the President, which is one of the movies we are going to be showing at the 12-12 Studio /K event in Amsterdam. It was heartbreaking and entertaining and not at all what I expected. The blurb made me feel like I was going to see something vaguely supportive of Ahmadinejad’s policies, but that’s not the story I saw in the movie at all. It was a much more powerful critique of Ahmadinejad's economic policies because it allowed the story to unfold without taking sides.
After the movie Kamran spoke, I got into a bit of a tiff with someone who wanted to lecture me about the October Surprise and America’s responsibility for the Iran-Iraq war, and we met up with a friend who had just returned from Iran. She grew up in a village not so different from the villages Ahmadinejad traveled through during the course of the film. She told us what one of her cousins said, “This regime has turned us into beggars.” Our friend went on to explain, it makes them beg for a yearly subsidy of about $50 a year that no longer even covers the cost of two kilos of meat: that’s how much prices have increased in the past couple of years.
One of the other speakers, Nikita Shabazi, claimed that Ahmadinejad’s regime brought more people out of poverty than any other, which is why she would have voted for him had she been dragged kicking and screaming to the polling booth. She quoted The Brookings Institute as her source for this data. Here is what I find when I go the Brookings Institute for information:
Significantly, during the first two years of the Ahmadinejad Administration (2005-06) inequality worsened in both rural and urban areas, possibly because higher inflation hurt those below the median income level more than those above it. This is not so much an indication that Ahmadinejad was insincere in promising redistribution but how difficult it is to redistribute income without fundamental changes in the country’s distribution of earning power (wealth and human capital) and political power, which determines access to government transfers from oil rent.
The author goes on to show a steady decline in poverty, since its high in 1988. This is an achievement that can hardly be attributed to the Ahmadinejad presidency.
If you are in Amsterdam, please join us for the 12-12 event. Petr Lom will be there to discuss his movie, along with many others.