Three scores of Turkey

Güven Sak

The Hürriyet Daily News (or “HDN,” as we call it) started life “three scores ago” as the Turkish Daily News on March 15, 1961. On this anniversary, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on how Turkey has changed in this time. Messy though it has been, I like to call this time the “grand transformation.” As this anniversary fits very nicely with my personal history, I see myself as a product of both the messiness and the grandness of it. Let me explain in five data points.

First of all, it has been a time of unusually rapid global change. Starting with the 1970s and then gaining speed in the 1980s, the landscape of global industrial production has changed. While the share of China in global industrial production has increased, the shares of the West, both the United States and Europe, have declined. Besides China, there are six other countries that have increased their share in global industrial production. Turkey is one of them. So if there are winners and losers in terms of grabbing a higher share of global industrial production, Turkey, together with China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Ireland, are winners. Only Turkey and Ireland are in Europe, the rest are in East Asia. Ireland and Turkey gained their independence in 1922 and 1923, respectively. This is the first point.

Second, the share of industrial products in Turkish exports was around 10 percent in the early 1980s. This changed to around 90 percent in the 1990s. The level of exports has changed drastically too. In the early 1960s, it was only around $3 billion; by the 1990s, it had reached $30 billion. Today, the level of exports has reached around $150 billion, 90 percent of which is made up by industrial products.

Third, Turkey’s transformation into an industrial country has changed its relationship with Arab countries too. At the outset, in the 1960s, Turkey had a trade deficit in its bilateral trade with Arab countries. Why? Because the Arab countries of the Gulf were selling oil, and Turkey did not have much to sell. Since the 1980s, the trade deficit has turned into a trade surplus as Turkey has become an industrial country. Currently, Israel and Turkey are the only real industrial countries in the Middle East.

The fourth point is that 60 years ago, just 32 percent of Turks were living in urban areas. Today, that has increased to 75.6 percent. It was the rapid internal migration and the ability of the country to generate jobs and accommodation for the newcomers to the city that has changed the way of life in Turkey. It’s the dynamic Turkish economy that shifted labor to high-productivity jobs in urban areas, creating industrial growth in the country.

In tandem with urbanization, the female fertility rate has declined from 6.30 in 1961 to 1.80 in 2019. Note that this is below the rate of replacement. Turkey’s economic transformation has meant that its female fertility rate has converged with EU levels in the last 60 years. Three scores ago, it all started right after a military coup in the country. Turkey opened up and liberalized its economy through price reforms in the 1980s, right after another military coup in 1980.

Then a political transformation process started in the early 2000s, coupled with the EU accession process. The Customs Union with the EU started in 1996 and transformed the country rapidly. All this happened during my lifetime. You know what is interesting? It is still continuing — and getting faster. We are now at the most crucial stage. We are adjusting to the post COVID-19 “green new deal” economic and political environment with high CDS risk premiums and achieving political transformation at the ballot box.

It is all so precious, yet all so intense to go through in one lifetime. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to live in a calm little country where nothing much happens. A place where people renovate buildings built centuries ago instead of building new ones, or where everyone lives in their small or medium-sized towns, rather than big cities. I shall never find out, and the Hürriyet Daily News won’t either. It is our privilege to witness the transformation of this country, and report it all to you, the global reader.

This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 15.03.2021

Originally published at https://www.tepav.org.tr.

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