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Any opinions expressed here at Seeking Alpha by me are strictly my own personal views and ideas and should not be considered advice of any kind nor considered to be professional opinions. You should always seek advice from a qualified professional before embarking on any market trading or investing.
  • Roberts Rules...Not Robber Barons. 0 comments
    Mar 6, 2011 10:11 PM

    Every once in awhile we need to stand back from the smoke and the action of the day and attempt to really see the forest from the trees. Recent events in Africa and the Middle East now demand closer scrutiny and it is important that we do not lose sight of the real game that is unfolding.


    In blunt terms, one thing I do see is that we are now witnessing the e
    arly stages of the break-up of monopoly interests in the autocratic and dictator led nations of this region.


    For too long now, too few have controlled too much. This is affront to the citizens of those countries in turmoil. It has also resulted in a political environment that has engendered exclusivity amongst the few elites which has prevented business competition which normally flourish in open markets. This has in turn suppressed what might otherwise be more natural development and social growth in those nations. 


    Citizens there are finally demanding a greater role in participation of the growth in their economies and becoming partners in the success of their nations. Outside investors too, are naturally seeing the probability of business expansion improve as old regimes are swept aside. Local entrepreneurs
    which have always existed in large numbers will be emboldened to seek to carve out profitable niches for themselves without contending with corrupt off the books demands for money from bureaucrats and police. Times are changing quickly and there are vast opportunities that now present themselves as the people and their economies will soon be on the rise.


    There are strong hints of the blooming growth potential and first amongst these is the incredible demand we have witnessed for open access to shared media, cell phones and the internet. Millions of the poor in this region of the world are now connected. In many cases, the only real asset they own is a mobile phone. They are, as a result, all too aware of how life is being experienced everywhere else in the world too.


    In a time when millions of people in Africa and the Middle East are subsisting on the most meagre of incomes ranging from as little as a dollar or two daily is it any wonder they are angry at their leaders? Would you not be resentful too in this media enriched world to see others basking in easy wealth while your own pocket held only pennies or be angered while a tiny cadre of your own people jet-set around the world?


    Collectively, the Arab countries have become sick of watching as the rest of the world live in relative luxury while they starve at the sidelines. They want in on the action, to be full participants in the global economy and to take a greater share of the resources. Quite simply, they want the monopoly interests of the dictators, Kings and Sheiks to be divided more equally.


    What we are witnessing is nothing less that the unionization of the classes from all walks of life who are demanding that their basic interests be fairly represented, as they stand in unison against the tyranny of the few while shouting “enough is enough“. 


    But what does it really mean to the West when millions across the region all simultaneously demand a better deal? Should we feel threatened? Is this really an Islamic horde on the march as some media suggest? Is a new terror on the horizon? OK everyone,
    lets get a grip. None of your worst fears are going to materialize here. We should in fact be embracing the dramatic changes now underway in this hot region of the world.  We do not see balaclava draped lunatics with machetes and AK47’s attempting to storm their capitals while shouting anti-capitalist slogans. Instead there were scenes in Tahrir Square of mothers with their children in tow demanding better wages, an end to bread shortages and an opportunity to speak out freely against the governments that have held them in suppression for decades.


    As many others have already noted, do the current unfolding events in the Mid East not also remind you of the events that surrounded the fall of the Berlin Wall and the
    break up of the Soviet Union? They should.


    History does indeed repeat. It is now the turn of this crop of despots to step aside as more egalitarian demands emerge. This you see is really about money and the right to earn a fair living. And it is huge. In fact, I see this all shaping up to be one of the biggest opportunities for business expansion since the fall of the wall. Millions of willing customers may be in the formative stage of finally joining the global community more fully. I see Africa itself booming over the coming years.  While the folks there are not yet wealthy relative to us we should reflect on how desperately poor many in the old Soviet Union were prior to the break up there. Does this not feel more familiar now?


    That is why we need not fear these revolts. These popular uprisings are not made of the desires to bring on even more severe autocrats or worse yet, sectarianism. The protesters do not shout slogans at President Obama, burn American flags or threaten Western interests. Nor is there
    an interest in fundamentalist religious dictates as now exist in Tehran. Ironically enough, the West has barely registered in the ongoing revolutions except as an added source of complaint. Never were we so marginalized and irrelevant as these states are instead looking inward on themselves.


    This is not our battle. The outcomes there will be determined by residents of the nations who are standing on their own legs to oppose the interminable legacies of their corrupted leadership and their own people.


    This new group seeks greater inclusion, democratization and personal freedoms. This battle for equity was born in the bare cupboards of the kitchen itself. Whether you know it or not it is led in large part by women. They have simply had enough and are prepared to go into battle with their men to show the disgust they feel with regimes that are built around state control and endemic theft from their families at almost every level including the dinner table. 
     


    But it is more than this. Women’s rights have steadily eroded in most of these states in tandem with the loss of individual rights and personal freedoms. There is just no room for the variability of cultural life and personal social expression that we enjoy in the West with these one-man single faceted governments at the helm.


    Of course, for the autocrats, there is no real constituency to contend with anyway. No special interests. No need to curry favour with marginalized groups, to sponsor individualism and achievement (which is threatening) or to promote sexual rights and therefore no interest whatsoever in dealing with the alienation developing within families themselves.


    This is marginalization in one of its more cruel forms and so both sexual and social repression have grown over time and have left women with no real voice in the affairs of their own societies. Hell, most of us know how hard it is to concentrate on our own daily personal affairs, never mind the variables of running a country of millions with just a handful of cohorts. That is why force is the answer to most insoluble problems in these states and why police spring up as the alternative to social development and idealism. Islamic beliefs have not therefore shaped these societies deficiencies so much as the poverty found in political exclusion.


    Until now.
    Now change has arrived. And as you should already  know intuitively, that when women finally get involved at this level of the game, the outcome is pretty much already decided. The days of the Autocrats are numbered.


    There has not therefore been a better opportunity in years for corporatism and industry to begin to mobilize for the future. Growth led by more dollars in the pockets of individuals, by business investment and jobs, by greater access to the internet, to information, to education and therefore by its virtue, to the oyster of the world of possibilities that do not currently exist there is an inevitability.


    We can already see that the real investment action and some of the biggest future opportunities are found primarily in the rapidly developing African nations. No less than six of the
    worlds ten fastest growing economies are in Africa and while Egypt is not amongst the top ten it is certainly no slouch after having posted GDP gains exceeding 5% this past year. How much more could it achieve with a more open economy and true business transparency?


    And so, the major countries of the region is where the focus of capital will now be turning in seeking better returns and more growth as the more mature markets have been largely saturated already. Demographics are the key of course. Youth is the cornerstone. The majority of these nations and the many surrounding them possess very young populations and are a tremendous source of potential for future consumer demands if their economies can be freed to explore their full potential.


    These opportunities cannot be accessed while the old style monopolies overseen by one-man national rule remain in place. It is convenient that the strangle hold these rulers have had over the resources and business monopolies of their respective nations is now being broken up. These autocrats stand in the way of free markets and growth.


    And so what we are seeing may be nothing short of a kind of corporate takeover of the region that is being driven by the citizens themselves. It is unstoppable too. We have seen that one of the key demands of the enraged public are for a more equal share of their nation
    s wealth and entitlements. Is that too much to ask?


    The dictators have quickly caught on that the winds of change are not at their backs. Many are now taking aggressive steps to stem the revolutionary fervour by offering substantial incentives to their populations in order to maintain the status quo, keep the peace and quell the riots. Incentives that were unheard of only a few weeks ago are now offered in profusion. Cash, expanded freedoms, an end to emergency laws, public sector wage increases and political reform are all on the table. Too late though.


    While smaller in scope, what is taking place in North Africa today is no less dramatic than the events that led up to the end of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is people power at one of its finest moments where unarmed restive protesters are willing to stand up against 50
    caliber machine gun fire in fearlessness as we have just seen in Libya.


    We witnessed the same bravery in the protests across the countries of the old Soviet Union many years ago. Who might have seen then that the rise of Russia on the world stage from the ashes of near bankruptcy would bring on such tremendous resurgent growth that within a mere decade it would form part of the fastest growing bloc of countries on earth that we now affectionately call the BRIC? (Well, some people did see it actually). Catching that wave made fortunes for those willing to risk their money and invest despite what looked like a big gamble on the unknown at that time. 
     


    Once the dominoes began to fall the process was unstoppable, much like we are seeing today. The entire region awoke and began to open up to greater trade. All of the worries investors had then are similarly reflected in the concerns we also have today with the probability of discord arising less from pure politics than from the fears of religious fundamentalism taking hold. We should not worry though. Opportunity knocks and it is clear to me that this region of the globe will be amongst the biggest drivers of the world economy over the next decades.


    Who thought that the events that brought about the break-up of the Soviet Union would lead to a renaissance of business opportunity, the creation of thousands of new avenues of investment followed by a multitude of good quality jobs? Who could have conceived that the opening up of that waterlogged economy might also eventually yield millions upon millions of new consumers and provide so many new venues for both new and existing business’s as political freedoms were unleashed on their world.
     


    True democracy may not have been achieved in Russia or her old satellites over the past years but there can be no doubts about how globalization has impacted that part of the world. There are few who can doubt the positive
    impacts that was enabled as those nations were freed from the grips of totalitarian and indoctrinated regimes.


    Today of course, many of the flagship corporate interests of both the West and East are present in that region. You can enjoy a Starbucks coffee in Moscow within view of some of the famous Onion domes. Or perhaps chow down a Big Mac in Leningrad. For fun, get some KFC take-out in St Petersburg while shopping for all the most popular brands of Japanese electronics and Asian cell phones at malls across the country or maybe pick up a crisp copy of the Wall Street Journal & Financial Times in Red Square of all places. 
     


    Unthinkable just 20 years ago.


    But I am not suggesting that a profusion of American or European franchises are the answers to breaking up the closely held business cartels and exclusive interests in the Islamic world.
    Far from it. Nor am I suggesting that many of the familiar brands have not already begun to engage this region already. They are there of course and many of our iconic brands are well represented.


    What I am suggesting is more basic in nature. It is the view that greater access
    and  consumption is something that is desired in these countries. Anyone who thinks these people enjoy poverty or a lack of material necessity is totally mad.  


    There is a demand for more goods and greater variety too. Importantly though, what I believe is about to change is how the boardroom itself operates in these countries in the future, how control over companies is determined versus dictated and how a more transparent business environment will ultimately yield beneficial results for the people where it engages them directly in the downstream contracts to supply goods and services without the state micromanaging each aspect of the chain and drawing off the cream for itself.


    The products, the services, the emblems and trappings of wealth that will feed the fires of latent consumer demand as nascent freedom blooms in these countries are sourced and delivered from the four corners of the earth already. There will just be much more of it in the future. Egyptians naturally seek to participate in a more open economy.
    One that will reward their labour and ingenuity instead of depressing their entrepreneurialism.


    Freeing the predominantly Muslim nations to join the consumption societies of the West assures continued economic growth worldwide and in fact, this is the last of the major untapped regions available to the big players who are eager to engage the hungry populations there and offer the wares that are now very much in demand.


    We can easily see why the days of Mubarak needed to come to an end. His regime had co-opted the output of the populations and therefore acted as a drag on the economy while remaining shielded against the broad trend of globalization that might have brought more opportunity to his country. This you
    see, is really about business. And it is personal now.


    The uprisings are clearly a result of profound inequity in levels of income and opportunity that have been festering for many years now and that have been triggered by the recent and rapid escalation in food prices and inflationary pressures.


    In light of the break-up of the strangle-hold that Mr Mubarak and his government have long held on the economy is a signal to investors that positive changes are on the horizon. So put your fears on the back-burner and get ready for a whole new world. I have no doubts whatsoever that the economy of the storied nation of Egypt will rebound strongly in the months to come as peace returns to the streets and a new sense of optimism replaces the fear that has long held the country back.


    In the bigger picture, (the one with more forest and less trees), the entire Middle East region and
    North Africa now sit primed to both bloom and boom economically in the unfolding future. The profit opportunities may well be near spectacular as millions of freshly minted global consumers see wages rise and begin demanding more of what everyone else around the world already takes for granted.

    Roberts Rules will thrive where Robber Barons once ruled.

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