The political economy of Turkey
One does not need to be an economist to see that Turkey’s economy is currently on the decline. Indeed, one does not need to be an economist to comment on this decline. In fact, it is economists who need to understand and acknowledge the political reasons behind Turkey’s current economic difficulties.
We already know that the economy cannot be understood without reference to politics, and the economy cannot be explained away simply by economic factors. Modern history shows us that all theories based on economic reductionism fail to explain historical, social and political developments – let alone economic developments. Marxism and liberalism/neo-liberalism are prominent examples proving this.
Turkey’s current circumstances have started to negatively differentiate from other developing countries, suffering from the effects of global economic shifts and shortcomings in the government’s economic growth policies. Even the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has started to accept that the country is paying the price of regional political turbulence and the fight against terrorism.
However, the governing circles refuse to discuss economic difficulties with reference to politics. It is almost forbidden to discuss shortcomings in foreign policy and the Kurdish issue, despite the fact that their impact on the economy is very important. Both issues are considered matters of security and the national interest, to be taken for granted and not to be discussed.
What’s more, the country’s rulers tend to see current economic difficulties as an aspect of a greater plot against Turkey. Even if they agree that Ankara’s alienation from the West, its isolation from regional affairs and military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have a negative impact on the economy, these things are all seen as results of a Western plot against Turkey by ruling party circles. This being the case, there is little hope for a revision to the government’s policies in order to address political and economic problems.
As for opposition parties and circles, they seem almost jubilant about the economic crisis. They see it as an indication of the political failure of the ruling party, providing the only hope for the government’s weakening. This may be understood as a result of the desperation of opposition circles. It never occurs to them that economic crises promise only more instability and turbulence for countries where social tension and political polarization is already high. Perhaps because almost all space for democratic expression of political dissent has been suppressed, the opposition is left simply with the hope of further crises damaging the government - even if the price will be very high for the entire country.
It must not be forgotten that the deepening of crises never tames regimes already experiencing democratic deficits. On the contrary, in such environments those in power tend to foster political polarization to try to compensate for social resentments. Conspiratorialism, xenophobia, nationalist zeal, religious fanaticism and majoritarian populism are the best means to cover up economic and social difficulties, distracting from failed governance.
This all works like a vicious cycle. Rulers tend to revert to those means if they refuse the face up to realities and if they remain reluctant to acknowledge their failures and responsibilities; however, economic, social and international difficulties only intensify if rulers opt to further polarize their society and marginalize their country.
As the opposition is either reluctant or unable to refuse to play into the hands of this game, the vicious cycle is completed.