November 2015

This year in November the weather in Istanbul has been quite warm – unusually so. Whether it is due to the hotly debated climate change/global warming or it is simply because we are having a warmer November is beyond my pale. The political climate is certainly reaching the boiling point but that is not what I intend to show here, although I am very much tempted to do so. The United Nations Climate Change Conference started in  Paris, and some of the leaders have already made striking statements, indicating the imminence of taking serious measures such as the use of sustainable technology, energy efficiency and innovation. We will have to wait and see, however, if the participants can reach a binding and universal agreement on climate.

In a previous post, “Climatic Anomalies“, I had shown the increasing global temperatures. Given the anomalies that are reported and the Conference being held, I researched the average temperatures in Istanbul. According to the State Meteorological Office mean temperature in November between 1950 and 2014 was 7 degrees Celsius, mean maximum temperature 12.8 degrees and mean low 2.4 degrees Celsius.

Maximum, mean and minimum temperatures in Istanbul (November 2015)
Maximum, mean and minimum temperatures in Istanbul (November 2015)

This year, however, mean temperature has been 14.17 degrees Celsius, mean maximum temperature 17.13 and mean low temperature 11.27 degrees Celsius. The chart below shows the course of temperatures throughout the month of November.

Temperature fluctuations - November 2015
Temperature fluctuations – November 2015

Given that in many countries total carbon dioxide emissions and per capita emissions have increased in the last couple of decades, and in the face of empirical data, we seem to have good reasons to worry about global warming and its devastating consequences, as already stated by some of the conference participants.



What It Takes To Be an Outstanding Leader: Kemal Atatürk

Books on leadership abound in political science literature. However, I am not going to delve into those murky waters; instead, on this day of the 77th anniversary of his death, I will briefly explain, in appreciation for what he carved out of a devastated empire, why Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a truly remarkable leader and a statesman that has been revered by many politicians and statesmen in the world.

First of all, Mustafa Kemal was not  simply a well-trained officer, a successful commander or a politician, he was truly a man of vision, a man who could not only dissect the problems of  his age as skillfully as a master surgeon, but could also see far beyond his times and pinpoint the kinds of social and political problems his country could possibly face under certain conditions. In his case this was not only a matter of having some inborn talent, but something he quite obviously nurtured over his tumultuous and short life. His interest in social, political and scientific realms had almost no limits, making him an avid reader who kept reading, taking notes and pondering about world politics, about the ills of the decaying Ottoman Empire, and about the possibilities that the future might have in store for the Turkish nation he was trying to forge. How can one have vision unless one’s powers of imagination are nurtured with intellectual pursuits?

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Secondly, Mustafa Kemal was a man of calculation. He was no mere adventurer or fanatic that led his people to catastrophic ends. Unlike some others, he set realistic goals in his effort to serve his people, and thanks to his decisiveness and superior organizational skills, he succeeded in attaining them. This certainly requires rational thinking, a firm grasp of  world politics and also a solid understanding of history, all of which he did possess.

Last, but not least, he always knew at what point to stop. He knew what could be possible under the circumstances. He was not a daydreamer, a romantic adventurer or a utopian that acted on ill-considered ideas. Rational thought and calculation, in other words, science was his true guide as he came to express this to his nation in 1924.

Today many half-baked intellectuals look down upon Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, call him a benign dictator (inspired by their Anglo-American masters), and some even go as far as blatantly denigrating him, not realizing that had it not been for his anti-imperialist stance and politics bringing about the formation of a modern republic, they would have become mere colonial subjects within the imperial schemes of the age. However, this kind of attitude that feeds upon sheer ignorance only goes to indicate how great a mind he was that the nation he skillfully crafted under highly adverse conditions has had many achievements in 92 years.

In short, what needs to be done to indicate our gratitude for Atatürk’s heroic efforts for his land and people is to avoid cliches in commemorating him, and to emphasize his greatest professional, personality and moral characteristics without falling into banality.

Tough Road Ahead

Despite the increasing liberalization of its economy since the 1980s, presented as a reform by the ideologues of neoliberalism and by market fetishists alike, Turkish economy still suffers from serious structural problems, which continue to render the economy highly fragile.

As often stated, the manufacturing sector mostly produces commonplace (one might argue mediocre)  goods that have low value-added, not generating the wealth that would be expected in a thriving liberal economy. One of the problems that seems to continue over the last few decades is the stagnating level of value-added in the manufacturing sector in general. Another difficulty has been the low levels of savings that are well below the world average. Without adequate savings, economic growth will be difficult to achieve unless the gap is closed with foreign investment or borrowing. Interestingly, investment rates have also been lower than the world average, and the country has been unable to attract high levels of foreign investment (whether this is a good thing or not is beyond this purpose of this article) despite a lot of lip service.

A notable weakness in the economy is the fact that the exports have been dependent on the imports of capital and intermediary goods as well as raw materials.  In spite of a continual increase in exports and the emphasis placed by recent governments on bringing them to “record” levels, the manufacturing sector has not reached the technological efficiency or sophistication that would make the country more competitive.

Data: The World Bank
Data: The World Bank

The exports as a share of GDP were higher than the imports as a share of GDP only in 1988, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002 in the 55-year period ranging from 1960 to 2014. In relation with this, the high level of current account deficit continues to be a problem, even though the official rhetoric tends to disregard it.

Clearly, without a structural transformation, the Turkish economy will gradually lose ground, and the country eventually end up in the lower middle income bracket. Unless critical sectors are specified and strategically supported through a mixture of incentives, Turkey cannot avoid becoming peripheralized. As history shows, an underdeveloped economy without direction based on planning and a necessary level of protectionism cannot generate development.

The governing Justice and Development Party that has been in power since 2002 emerged with a clear victory in the elections of November 1, 2015 and faces a real challenge to overcome in the economic sphere.