Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Hustle

What you might not have heard about Iranians in the past few days, since the news has dealt mostly with the election and the endless speculations about its aftermath, is that a lot of us have gone mad. In case you are wondering why it is that the Mullahs continue to dominate this country after 25 years of their brutal and incompetent rule, this madness might offer you a working hypothesis.

For you see, tens of thousands have been lining up for hours everywhere you go in order to sign up for mobile phones. Everyone is getting in on the action. Entire industries have sprung up over night to cater to the crowd. Photo shops are making copies of the application forms and of the checks. Street vendors are selling stuff to those who wait in lines for hours. There are scuffles, arguments, and mutual banter.

Here is the deal: you fill out the registration form and hand over about half a million Toomans, and in a few months, you will be the proud owner of a mobile phone, or several dozens, or in the case of one prominent merchant, 5000. Our intrepid, entrepreneurial citizens have so far collectively coughed up about 300,000,000,000 (no joke, each $ is roughly 836 Toomans: do the math).

Authorities have been on T.V. for hours each night reassuring the citizens that in about two months or so, the price of phones will be around 150,000 T. But the crowd gets bigger. In addition, a Turkish Company has just won a bid to build Iran’s first privately owned network. The Turks plan on offering 3 million phones in the next 11 months. It isn’t as if this item is being censored. It is everywhere, and anyone curious enough will have access to it. But the crowd is not deterred. We come, line up, pay up and leave. So the obvious question: What’s the rush?

I have no answers. Neither do some others I speak with! We are all dumbfounded. Though I am willing to share a hunch of mine with you at no cost.

It hurts to admit it, but this is the Iranian Character in action: The frenzy before us is that perennial hustle in progress. Every one is looking for that unique opportunity-- the one he shouldn’t have missed the last time around-- that wave which carries those who catch it to the riches. That one, singular courageous gamble which permits some to get off the wheel. The rare opportunity which allows people to make a killing and then to retire. It is called doing the work of a life time in a single day. This is the mother of all hustles, and the not so secret longing of most Iranians.

So I ask some, what makes you think you can do this? Why? Whence the expectation?
Some tell me, look around you. Look at the Iranians in California. How did they get to be so rich? Has our aspiring monarch Reza II worked a single day in his life? They are the winners. What about Rafsanjani and sons? What about all those others who have struck gold? They too are the winners! Why should we miss the boat? If the rulers and their cronies can do it, why can’t I?

But all the signs are there that this is going to be a bust. And who will get the blame in a few months when the price of the mobile phones is at an all time low? Of course, we all know the answer: that omnipresent and vast conspiracy involving the British, the Europeans and America, who are in a secret collusion with the Regime to rob Iranians blind! The Powers that be are adamant about holding Iranians down! Now can’t you see the logic?

This mentality, this plague, I am beginning to think, is what lies at the root of our present predicament. This is what Oil and what Central Planning do to people’s minds. It distorts and deforms expectations. Everyone wants the easy way out. We all expect a direct line from the oil fields to our houses: our fair share, if you will.

We are entitled. They are cheating us! Everything should come about the moment we will it. And if it doesn’t, it has nothing to do with us! We are never responsible. That we have been complacent, incompetent, and unwilling to make the right decisions, unwilling to organize, to plan, to study the strategies and the tactics of our opponents, to do our homework, to do the legwork, to do the dirty work….these have, of course, nothing to do with why we ended up where we are. It is just our bad luck and it is just that certain conspiracy I tell you…The CONSPIRACY!

So, welcome my friends, to my beautiful Iran. The land of the midgets with the roar of the lion and the heart of a mouse.

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