State, Development and Social Crises of Iran, 1992-2019

Document Type : Research Paper


Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran


There is a consensus among most development and modernization theorists about the specific consequences of economic growth and development programs. The concept of ‘crisis of development’ has been incorporated into the works of a score of contemporary theorists. Huntington argues that if the trends of modernization and economic growth are tied to the ‘shock therapy policy’, specific effects and consequences would be detected. Iran’s socio-economic development process shows that the unbalanced growth and development have led to the occurrence of social, political and security crises. The author attempts to examine the causes and consequences of Iran’s social crises and security challenges during the past three decades. One underlying assumption of this study is that government’s economic policymaking has a great impact on the processes of economic growth, inflation, the rise in expectations, income and social inequality. Furthermore, many social and political crises in general stem from the socio-economic policies of the  state.
The 1992-2019 social crises in Iran cannot be assumed to be solely related to the role of the international media or the actions of disenchanted social groups. Government structure has played a significant role in socio-economic policy-making which has in turn triggered Iran's political and social crises over the past three decades. Consequently, if the country's leaders were determined to fight social threats and crises, they should pay closer attention to the shortcomings of the nature of government structure which has been impeding economic growth and political modernization plans in Iran. The two research questions posed by the author in this case study of Iran are: 1- What is the relationship between government structure, the process of economic development, and the crises in the 1992-2019 time period  in Iran? 2- To what extent is the occurrence of socio-economic and security crises related to the growth-oriented nature of economic policy-making, and the lack of effective political and economic institutions which are able to balance conflicting policy outcomes and prevent the escalation of certain crises.
The research hypothesis claims that the nature of the country’s political structure and economic development policies of the government are related to the occurrence of Iran’s socio-economic crises. The independent variable is socio-economic and political characteristics of a state (i.e., being a rentier state, politically underdeveloped, and socially flawed due to the bureaucratic structure and civil society’s weakness in relation to the dominant elites), and the dependent variable is the occurrence of social and economic crises. If a country acquires characters of a state which is dependent on substantial external rent from the exports of natural resources such as oil, and its political system is regarded as an authoritarian type, then it is more likely to be crisis-prone. Since the central government is the chief social and economic policymaking institution in Iran, its role in forward-looking economic planning and social restructuring is important. However,  similar to other oil-rich states in the region, the government has a rentier nature which has led to the creation of a ‘limited access structure’. It is also true that a rentier state basically needs to employ the mechanisms of authoritarian actions. Authoritarianism in any developmental state is a function of a score of factors such as its cultural attributes, types of economic and political systems, its sources of power, and its relative status in the international system.
Using the theory of historical institutionalism, and the method of qualitative content analysis, the author evaluates Iran's economic development programs and explores the research findings of the relevant studies of economic policy in order to explain the consequences of Iran's economic policies. It can be argued that the causes of the occurrence of social crises in the country must be searched among external factors such as sanctions and the nature of the international economic system, but the results show that the ‘Limited Access Order’ has influenced Iran's socio-economic policies, and in turn the rise of its crises over the past decades. During 1992-2019, signs of challenging social and economic crises were observed in Iran; and the root causes of these crises can be found in the rentier state and limited access order. A considerable part of Iran’s economic and social policies has been influenced by the “limited access structure”, in which public policies are formulated and executed in such a way that profits are reaped by the governing elites and dominant oligarchy. Many of the social and economic crises of Iran from 1992 to 2019 were the consequences of the growth-driven and shock-centered economic policymaking, and insufficient attention paid to the need to reform the  limited access structure, which has been an obstacle to achieve the goals of balanced development. The manners in which the principal political institutions attempted to regulate a variety of economic and social policies such as the petrol price hike and the passage of the 2019 Budget Act show the inadequate and ineffective supervision of the three branches of the government on the country’s economic policymaking in many areas such as income redistribution and poverty-reduction programs. Therefore, if the country’s policymakers were determined to control the sources of destabilizing threats and prevent the occurrence of social crises, they should overcome the weaknesses in the implementation of economic growth and political modernization programs on the basis of the past experiences of Iran.


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