Human Capital: Book Review

human-capitalHuman capital: population economics in the Middle East. Edited by Ismail Sirageldin. London, New York: I. B. Tauris, in association with the Economic Research Forum for the Arab Countries, Iran and Turkey, 2002. Pp. ix, 345. ISBN: 1860647952.

The Middle East and North Africa region has gone through many changes since the 2002 publication of this book of conference papers. To possess a basic understanding of contemporary concerns in politics, economy, and human capital would take daily scrutiny of newspapers, blogs, and twitter, but then one would still not fully understand the climate of employment and prosperity of this very diverse population, which spans North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The book Human capital: population economics in the Middle East is a good place to start for someone who wants to understand the past, present, and future of employment in this region. “Human capital” is the British term for what Americans call “human resources.” Population economics is the application of economic analysis to the study of populations and demographics. For example, population economics might study a population either growing or declining and weigh the impact of that on the economy.

This book is divided into four parts, each of which contains three or four papers originally presented at the conference titled “Population Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa: Toward the Twenty-first Century” which was convened by The Economic Research Forum for the Arab Countries, Iran and Turkey in Cairo in November 1998.

Part I addresses demography and development issues. The concerns here are the foundation of all the various problems and assets of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Who has the resources? What is being done with the proceeds from immense new wealth? How can this wealth be sustained with renewable resources and economic growth?

Part II addresses the human capital concerns. Who is going to do the work that keeps MENA vibrant and safe? Dr. Anne Valia Goujon has some interesting contributions on a topic that I think about a lot, as an educator of students in the Arab world. In the essay titled “Population and Education Prospects in the Arab Region” she confirms what many educators feel: that education is key to build skills and knowledge, and foster economic prosperity. There is a delicate balance between non-interference in existing culture and pushing students to become leaders in the industries that are building the region. This was an optimistic yet realistic study of just how important it is to provide training to the people of the Arab world, so their jobs do not need to be filled by immigrants.

Dr. Ali Tasiran brings up an important issue in his paper titled “Economic Analysis of Fertility Dynamics in Turkey.” Although his research is specifically on Turkey, the concerns reach all over the world. In summary, the more poor single mothers there are, the poorer people are in general. It was brilliant to prove this through economics research and hard scientific facts; the evidence is there. If a society supports women equally with education, and meaningful, profitable employment, then this supports a sustainable society. Giving thought to the way a society cares for children is the responsibility of everyone who wants to have a productive economy, because they are the workers of the future.

Part III addresses labor markets. Who is doing the work? Where are the skilled workers coming from? Is it a problem for someone to be unemployed his or her entire life, even after completing a full course of education? All of these papers were produced from research that was done specifically studying the MENA region, but the questions are things that much of the world is also thinking about. Dr. Jalaleddin Jalali and Dr. Farzaneh Roudi-Fahmi contribute an essay titled “Globalization and Unemployment in MENA.” What I came away with is the realization that right now so many problems come from national economies that are unable to keep people employed and stable. This is quite obvious really, but the analysis really drives home the idea that the ability to participate in globalization is key to thriving economically. Having an educated and prosperous workforce will move countries forward, or lacking it will quickly leave them behind.

Part IV addresses migration and urbanization. People move from all over the world to reap the economic and professional opportunities that wait for them in the Gulf region, and other areas in MENA; sadly many people from MENA are also trying to leave and emigrate to Europe. There are only three papers in part IV of this book; now, there could be an entire book on the topic. Everyone is moving to cities and everyone is moving in general, to escape danger or to just find a better life in a new place. Dr. Nicholas Glytsos writes about how much money leaves a country when there are guest workers among the population, in his paper titled “A Macroeconomic Model of the Effects of Migrant Remittances in Mediterranean Countries.” Perhaps this is another gap in my prior knowledge, but reading about this I found that currently $70 billion goes from Indian workers in the United States back to India every year. I’m certain things have changed for Greece and all of MENA since this paper was published, but as someone who considers herself well informed, I learned quite a lot about key economic issues and feel prepared to learn even more about current economic issues, now that I have read these papers.

As everyone knows, there is currently a huge migration from places such as Syria that are experiencing war and other crises, so there is good reason to understand what was going on before in order to better understand what is happening now with population economics, and hopefully to solve some of the problems that we will face in the future.

If your library does not have a copy of this book already, it would make an excellent addition to a Middle East studies collection.

Melanie Wood
Zayed University, Dubai