Friday, January 14, 2011

A free market would have saved his life

Mohamed Bouazizi was described as an unemployed 26-year-old university graduate who lived in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. On December 17, 2010 he snapped. He grabbed a gun and sprayed a barrage of bullets on a gathering organized by his government representative--no, wait! That's not his story. Let's see... he snapped - bought a gun, went to his university, emptied a magazine in a classroom full of students and then turned the gun on himself... hm... doesn't sound right, either.

Maybe this is it: Mohamed snapped - he left his family and joined the Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. On December 17 he put on a suicide vest and walked into the crowded city center of Sidi Bouzid...

Mohamed Bouazizi is dead now.

Mohamed is indeed dead, but his story isn't either of these. Mohamed's story is different and, unfortunately, already forgotten. It goes like this:

Mohamed Bouazizi was 26-year-old university graduate. He grew up in a white stuccoed house, on a dirt road near the edge of Sidi Bouzid. [1] After finishing college he couldn't find a job in his field of study. But he was unemployed only in the sense that John Jacob Astor was unemployed when he was roaming the woods of Northern Michigan.

This Mohamed, not unlike John Jacob Astor, was a trader - he sold fruits and vegetables from a cart in his hometown. He took initiative, put his own capital at risk, exerted effort humbly (he was, after all, a college graduate selling produce on the street) to earn a meager living. Thus he supported his family. Mohamed provided fresh food to the people of his town and by competing with the other sellers he helped keep prices low for all consumers.

Just because nobody in Tunisia offered Mohamed Bouazizi a job, he did not jump on a boat to immigrate to Italy or France, as many of his countrymen did. Nor did he spend his days idly at the town's coffee shops or tea houses lamenting his plight. He didn't join Al Qaeda, much less strap on a suicide vest. He became an entrepreneur.

"Mohamed hoped most to buy his own van," said his sister, Samia Bouazizi, 19. "But he wanted it for work, not for himself." [1]

On December 17 the authorities approached Mohamed, told him he did not have the right to sell vegetables because he did not have a permit, and confiscated his inventory. Mohamed snapped - he got some gasoline, poured it over himself, and set himself ablaze in the main city street. He died from his burns two weeks later.

Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation has sparked nation-wide protests in Tunisia with police murdering dozens of protesters, and the unrest has forced the president Ben Ali to flee the country. The political turmoil is now the lead story.

But this simple fact remains: if Tunisian police had left alone Mohamed Bouazizi to sell his fruits and vegetables he isn't likely to have set himself on fire. Perhaps one day he would have earned and saved enough to buy a beat-up old van. With that old van he would have been able to bring more fruits and vegetables from farther away, providing greater variety, and possibly lower prices, to the people of Sidi Bouzid. He may have even made a little more money for himself and his family. Then maybe he could have bought a newer van, and then another. And as the little business grew, he may have needed to hire a couple of sales people to work his fruit stalls. And then he may have needed someone to keep track of the books, and hired a young Tunisian with an accounting degree, and then maybe somebody with a marketing, and then with operations degrees... And maybe then he would have hired an architect, and a builder, and borrowed money from a bank to build a refrigerated warehouse on the outskirts of town. The architect would have made some money, and so would have the builder, and the bank, and all of their employees... And so it goes.

Laissez-fiare, in plain English, means simply "let Mohamed sell his produce." That's the free market. If you think it sounds like a fantasy, read John Jacob Astor's story. For the alternative, read the news from Tunisia.


  1. Boooooooo. Big thumbs down.

  2. Amazing. Reading this reminds me why I enjoyed being thought by you, even if it was just for a day!

  3. Reminds me so much of what Haywood used to teach us! :)

  4. Cool story. History has shown that every rebellion (or perhaps uprising?) starts somewhat like this. Years of authoritarian government combined by incompetence and mismanagement lay the ground,
    abuse of power and mistreatment add the compost and then all it takes is a spark.
    However, the title is incorrect (if not misleading) and the event is misinterpreted to advocate "a free market" which does not even have a clear definition. The whole event is illustrated by the merits of the hard working individual in a decaying market who’s primary endemic is the fact that it’s not “free” (what’s free in life really?).
    In fact, someone reading the article might even conclude that other countries asking their vendors to pay for “vendors license" are incorrect in doing so and are authoritarian themselves.
    Oh wait, hmm …, but then that means the largest (by total value of traded goods) market in the planet
    which prohibits trading absolutely anything without some form of license, especially food for that matter,
    which has defined complicated (often too bureaucratic) procedures and controls exactly for that reason,
    which has strict quality controls on products and services with the sole intent to protect the consumer,
    and even comes up with control on production levels themselves which it imposes on farmers of member countries is wrong!!
    I could go on and on, but I since the article is old I will conclude with this,
    For the article to offer “at least one comprehensive why” it should:
    Triple check the sources and adapt the writing?
    “Mohamed Bouazizi was 26-year-old university graduate. He grew up in a white stuccoed house, on a dirt road near the edge of Sidi Bouzid. (link is dead so I can’t compare the source). After finishing college, he couldn't find a job in his field of study.”
    (Ok so now I’m curious, what was his diploma? He doesn’t have to change countries maybe he can change cities Google check the name, etc, etc, ok, time magazine looks ok … bla, bla …),9171,2044723,00.html
    “Bouazizi, 26, didn't have a college degree, having only reached what his mother says was the baccalaureate level, which is roughly equivalent to high school.”
    (wait … what?)
    research what would be the actual cost of a vendor’s license and compare it to the earnings of an illegal fruit trade cart and then try to estimate where would the money go even in a regime like Tunisia
    instead of praising the hardworking entrepreneur with soap opera descriptions, mention some more details on the event
    “… when a policewoman confiscated his unlicensed vegetable cart and its goods …” (bingo!!)
    “… it wasn't the first time it had happened …” (so Bouazizi knew he was illegal)
    “… Not satisfied with accepting the 10-dinar fine that Bouazizi tried to pay ($7, the equivalent of a good day's earnings) …”
    (btw a traffic ticket for doing 32 on a 20 costed me a bit less than a day’s salary)
    “… the policewoman allegedly slapped the scrawny young man, spat in his face and insulted his dead father …” (another bingo for tonight’s lucky players!!)
    “Humiliated and dejected, Bouazizi, the breadwinner for his family of eight went to the provincial headquarters, hoping to complain to local municipality officials, but they refused to see him.” (damn he’s on fire tonight!!)
    So it wasn’t free trade, the Tunisia situation is more complex than a citizen who became a martyr and will now be written for ever in history’s books as the one who sparked the flame of a “revolution” against an authoritarian regime that had to go anyway …
    Btw how did Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali come to power?