Preference Falsification and the Turkish Revolution

The Turkish protests have captured much of the news since it began. What started off as a peaceful protest to stop the demolition of Taksim’s Gezi Park for a new mall has turned into a widespread movement across 48 cities in Turkey[1]. Many of the protestors are calling for the end of an authoritarian regime that is impinging upon the basic freedoms that the                 populace holds in high regard. The protests initially started from 50 environmentalists on the 28th May 2013, to more than a thousand in a couple of days. The mobilization of the protests caught everyone – even scholars – by surprise[2]. What is it that constantly makes people surprised about widespread protests? Why do people never seem to predict revolutions? Two theories of revolutions, relative deprivation theory[3] and preference falsification[4], will be looked in detail in order to explain our inability to predict when a revolution or mass protest will commence.

Firstly, let us go through the events that led to this current predicament in Turkey. It all started with protests by 50 environmentalists against construction of a mall on Gezi Park as it is one of the few parks left in Istanbul. However, the police stormed in and rid the park of the protestors using tear gas and water cannons[5]. This act of brutality caught the population by surprise and the anger reached a vital point. Soon, what started off with 100 grew into a force of 1000 people[6]. All different political parties joined in, even the labour unions took two days off to aid the protestors[7]. A protest against the demolition of the Gezi Park soon led to calls for Erdogan to step down from power and this led to violent clashes between the police and the people. Till now, ‘over 4000 people have been hurt and over 900 arrested; three have died’[8].  The woman in red picture encapsulates what the protest is all about[9]:

Combo photo of Turkish riot policeman using tear gas against woman as people protest against destruction of trees in park in Istanbul

The Women in Red. This infamous picture showcases how a woman is blasted with tear gas.

What remains a shocking tale is how during the first few days of the protest CNN turkey showcased a documentary of penguins while the rest of the world was watching the people challenge government control[10]. Clearly, with all that has taken place, Prime Minister Erdogan was stunned by the huge protests because he earlier dismissed them as ‘extremists’ and ‘vandals’[11]. Erdogan even had to arrange for his trip to North Africa to be cut because this protest ‘was the first major challenge to his rule’[12]. Yet, there is an underlying meaning to all of this protest, let us explore what this is…

Many of the protestors have argued that their freedoms have been impinged upon. Over time Prime Minister Erdogan has become more autocratic in nature as he ‘has publicly criticized the content of some TV shows, made frequent statements opposing alcohol consumption, and spoken out against public displays of affection.’[13] There have been many cases of Erdogan limiting freedom of speech in the country as journalists who criticized the government have been arrested [14] while the Turkish Media Group was fined $2.5 billion for being too critical of the Erdogan government[15].  Clearly, frustration among the people has been brewing over time.  One only needs to look at the recent ‘The Economist’ front page to understand what the Turkish people may think of Erdogan:

The Economist - Erdogan

Hint: The Turkish people don’t seem to think that Erdogan is Democratic enough.

With all the surprise surrounding the protests let us unearth why it is that some protests can grow so large even turning into full-blown revolutions.

Relative Deprivation Theory

The main aspect of this theory comes from the paper by James Davies written in 1962[16]. His theory is very interesting and something many people may state to be the reason why many protests and revolutions occur. According to the Oxford dictionary a revolution is ‘a forcible overthrow of the government or social order, in favour of a new system.’[17] Turkey’s mass protests may never be called a revolution, but the theory can be used to explain why these protests grow so big in a short period of time.

Davies mentions that once the populace has a taste of the better life and continues to achieve this then they would be afraid of any reversal of fortunes. When people suddenly notice that the growth of prosperity is under threat they will try to their best to remove the impediment to their economic and social success – namely a revolution. According to Davies, ‘revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. The all-important effect on the minds of people in a particular society is to produce, during the former period, an expectation of continued ability to satisfy needs…and during the latter, a mental state of anxiety and frustration when manifest reality breaks away from anticipate reality.’[18] Davies’ need satisfaction theory is explained by Figure 1.

Need Satisfaction and Revolution - J. Davies

Figure 1: Need Satisfaction and Revolution.

The J-Curve explains how when an intolerable gap is reached between the people’s actual need satisfaction and their expected need satisfaction, then a revolution will unfold. How can this be applied to Turkey? We have to understand whether the people actually saw their needs being satisfied with economic and social growth.

Since Erdogan first became Prime Minister in 2002, Turkey in has achieved great economic growth. The country’s economy has tripled in size in a span of ten years[19] and many in Washington were singing Turkey’s praises[20]. The graph below reinforces this fact[21].

Turkey GDP

Figure 2: Turkey GDP (Billions of US Dollars)

GDP per capita has also been rising over the past 10 years as Turkey’s people were getting wealthier and benefitting from the economic growth[22]. As of December 2011, the GDP per capita reached $5700, a near 36% increase from 2000.

Turkey GDP per capita

Figure 3: Turkey GDP per capita (US Dollars)

Using these measures we can see that the Turkish people were getting wealthier and we assume that the quality of life was improving for the population. According to Davies then there should be a sudden sharp reversal of fortunes that makes the actual need satisfaction diverge intolerably from the expected need satisfaction. Economically, the country seems to be doing very well and has weathered the financial storm of 2008[23]. Then, looking at the graphs above we can state that there wasn’t a shift in economic fortunes that could cause anxiety and precipitate a revolution.

Additionally, this hypothesis does not stand the test of time because every time there would be a recession in any country there would be a revolution. There must be more than just the declining of wages to cause people to incite mass protest. There have been at least 22 recessions in the US alone and we have yet to see major toppling of governments in other countries as well[24].

However, many people have stated that an autocratic regime is taking the helm and many are scared that this would stifle personal liberties[25]. If there is a sharp reversal in personal freedoms and democracy in the country then there could be a increase in mass protest. Yet, even though there is widespread disapproval of a government’s measures it does not have to cause a revolution. As I will explain later, people may be disgruntled with a government yet it takes more than just anger to cause widespread protests[26].

Thus, after analyzing Davies’ relative deprivation hypothesis we can conclude that it is not just a sharp reversal in economic and social fortunes that cause a revolution. We should look at Timur Kuran’s preference falsification theory.

Preference Falsification Theory

Professor Timur Kuran was puzzled by our inability to predict revolutions and he was deeply interested with the dissolution of the Soviet Union[27].  In order to explain why we will be surprised by the speed of mobilization of mass protests he came up with preference falsification.

Kuran starts off by indexing society by i. So, the person that i represents can either support or oppose the government. Each person will have a private and a public preference. The private preference is the person’s opinion of the government when he/she is behind closed doors. Public preference is the person’s opinion of the government to his friends and the rest of society. When there is a deviation in private and public preferences then the person is said to be exhibiting preference falsification[28].

The size of public opposition is expressed by S. When S is at 0 then there is unanimous support for the government and when it is at 100 then there is complete opposition towards the government. As Kuran states ‘A revolution, as a mass-supported seizure of political power, may be treated as an enormous jump in S.’[29]

Now, what makes a person join a revolution depends on two factors – the internal and external factors. The external factors of joining a revolution depend on the payoffs between punishments and personal rewards and this depends with S. Hence the larger the S the less likely that the person will be punished by the government.

The internal payoff will be the ‘psychological cost of preference falsification.’[30] There comes a point where the suppression of one’s desires and autonomy will be too costly to bear. The more the secrets the more costly it becomes for the person to keep hidden. Since a person is indexed by i then xi is the internal payoff for telling the truth and reclaiming your personal autonomy. Or another way to think about it is the cost of constantly lying.

So, we have determined that the public preference depends on xi and S. As the opposition size grows or as S grows, ‘the external cost of joining the opposition falls below his [the person’s] internal cost of preference falsification.’[31] This is a threshold where the person joins the revolution and it is called the revolutionary threshold. The threshold, represented by Ti, can be quantitatively measured from 0 to 100.

We can now analyze a threshold sequence:

A = {0, 20, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 100)

There are ten people each representing 10% of the population. So, T1 is now 0. This means that the first person already does not support the government at all while the T10 is at 100 is in full support of the government.

Imagine that someone had a horrible incident with the government and then his threshold moves down because he doesn’t favour the government anymore. This is what happens to the threshold sequence now:

A = {0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 100)

T2 preference has now moved to 10 from 20. Since T2 is 10 and S is 10, then the person joins the protest. Now, S becomes 20 as the new person joined in[32].  Since new equilibrium is not sustainable because S = 20, and T3 = 20 then the third person will join in. This makes S=30 and T4 = 30, so he joins in and this builds up from one another until you get 90% of the population joining in the mass protest immediately. This fast and stunning rise in support is called a revolutionary bandwagon[33].

Utilizing this theory we can see how a revolution can grow at a massive pace in a short period of time.

When the protestors were sitting peacefully and protesting the building of the mall we can assume the revolutionary threshold shown below:

A = {0, 20, 20, 30, 40, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100)

The initial protestors can represent T1 which is at 0. After some time, the protestors were bombarded with tear gas and water cannons and this news spread to people across the country. Some of the others at the revolutionary threshold of T2 = 20, had a strong disapproval of this and the threshold fell to 10. These people joined in as well. As these people joined in the S increased to 20 and T3 joined in. This continued until it reached T6. By now S=50 and the protest stops garnering anymore support. 50% of the population is suddenly protesting and many of the people who joined in were people who had a strong disapproval of the government’s methods beforehand. So, they will voice their opinions of how the government was being autocratic long before.

 But, Turkey is a divided country which is why I have only indicated that 50% of the population have joined in. ‘More than 50% of the voting population chose him and his party at the last election.’[34] So, a mini bandwagon effect took place but there is still much to happen.

In the end, this theory seems to explain why so many people may join even though economic growth takes place. Additionally, Kuran’s theory also indicates that even though people are displeased with the government (we can assume that to be Ti < 50) it does not mean that there will be a revolution. Something has to develop or spark the revolution for people to join in. As Kuran states that a bandwagon effect may take place ‘but only if someone else foes first’[35]. This is why the relative deprivation theory seems to fail at explaining the fast mobilization of protest.

In the end, what Turkey is going may not be considered as a revolution but Erdogan has to be careful because this is sign that once you are elected you do not get power to do as you please. You either respect what the people say or eventually you will be under a lot of pressure and the country may come to a standstill. Erdogan should keep in mind that ‘when a presumably democratic government fails to respond to dissent or protest, it has become a dictatorship.’[36] Let’s see what the government’s future responses will be to the Turkish protests.

Bibliography

Amanpour, Christiane. “Turkey looks for ‘Legitimate Protests’” CNN. 12 June 2013. Web. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/11/world/europe/turkey-amanpour

Arsu, Sebnem & Tavernise, Sabrina. “Turkish Media Group is Fined $2.5 billion” The New York Times. 09 September 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/world/europe/10istanbul.html

Bilefski, Dan. “Changes Against Journalists Dim the Democratic Glow in Turkey” The New York Times. 04 January 2013.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/world/europe/turkeys-glow-dims-as-government-limits-free-speech.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Cook, Steven & Koplow, Michael. “How Democratic is Turkey” Foreign Policy. 03 June 2013. Web. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/02/how_democratic_is_turkey

Davies, James. Toward a Theory of Revolution. California Institute of Technology, 1962.

“Democrat or Sultan” The Economist. 08 June 2013. Web. http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21579004-recep-tayyip-erdogan-should-heed-turkeys-street-protesters-not-dismiss-them-democrat-or-sultan

Douglass James, Politics without Violence. Christian Century, June 28, 1968.

ECR Research, “A Table of US Recessions.” http://www.ecrresearch.com/world-economy/table-us-recessions

Hudson, Alexandra. “Turkey Protests: Woman In Red Becomes Symbol for Istanbul’s Female Demonstrators” Huffington Post. 03 June 2013. Web.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/woman-in-red-becomes-leit_n_3380755.html

Kuran, Timur. Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. Duke University, 1991.

Kuran, Timur. The East European Revolution of 1989: Is it Surprising that We Were Surprised?. working paper., 1991. .

Oxford Dictionaries Online. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/revolution?q=revolution.

Rabanea, Zeynep Zileli. “Why Turks are good at Protesting” Al Jazeera. 13 June 2013. Web. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/06/201361113388747184.html

Rodrik, Dani. “Turkey’s Protests Send a Strong Message, But Will Not Bring Democracy.” June 4, 2013. http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2013/06/turkeys-protests-send-a-strong-message-but-will-not-bring-democracy.html.

“Turkey protests continue despite apology” Al Jazeera. 06 June 2013. Web. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/20136551212442132.html

Uras, Umut. “What Inspires the Turkey’s Protest Movement.” Al Jazeera. 05 June 2013. Web.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/20136513414495277.html

Trading Economics, “Turkey GDP.” http://www.tradingeconomics.com/turkey/gdp.

Trading Economics, “Turkey GDP per capita.” http://www.tradingeconomics.com/turkey/gdp-per-capita.

“Turkey Profile” BBC. 05 June 2013. Web.

Twigg, Krassimira & Williams, Nathan. “Turkish Voices back Erdogan against Protest” BBC. 13 June 2013. Web.

Westhead, Rick. “Turkey Protests: What the Unrest really is about” Toronto Star. 11 June 2013. Web. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/06/11/turkish_police_push_into_taksim_square_with_tear_gas_rubber_bullets.html


[1] Uras, Umut. “What Inspires the Turkey’s Protest Movement.” Al Jazeera. 05 June 2013. Web.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/20136513414495277.html

[2] Rodrik, Dani. “Turkey’s Protests Send a Strong Message, But Will Not Bring Democracy.” June 4, 2013. http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2013/06/turkeys-protests-send-a-strong-message-but-will-not-bring-democracy.html.

[3] Davies, James. Toward a Theory of Revolution. California Institute of Technology, 1962.

[4] Kuran, Timur. The East European Revolution of 1989: Is it Surprising that We Were Surprised?. working paper., 1991. .

Kuran, Timur. Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. Duke University, 1991. .

[5] Uras, Umut. “What Inspires the Turkey’s Protest Movement.” Al Jazeera. 05 June 2013. Web.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Turkey protests continue despite apology” Al Jazeera. 06 June 2013. Web. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/20136551212442132.html

[9] Hudson, Alexandra. “Turkey Protests: Woman In Red Becomes Symbol for Istanbul’s Female Demonstrators” Huffington Post. 03 June 2013. Web.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/woman-in-red-becomes-leit_n_3380755.html

[10] Rabanea, Zeynep Zileli. “Why Turks are good at Protesting” Al Jazeera. 13 June 2013. Web. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/06/201361113388747184.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] Amanpour, Christiane. “Turkey looks for ‘Legitimate Protests’” CNN. 12 June 2013. Web. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/11/world/europe/turkey-amanpour

[13] Uras, Umut. “What Inspires the Turkey’s Protest Movement.” Al Jazeera. 05 June 2013. Web.

For more information – Cook, Steven & Koplow, Michael. “How Democratic is Turkey” Foreign Policy. 03 June 2013. Web. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/02/how_democratic_is_turkey

[14] Bilefski, Dan. “Changes Against Journalists Dim the Democratic Glow in Turkey” The New York Times. 04 January 2013.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/world/europe/turkeys-glow-dims-as-government-limits-free-speech.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[15] Arsu, Sebnem & Tavernise, Sabrina. “Turkish Media Group is Fined $2.5 billion” The New York Times. 09 September 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/world/europe/10istanbul.html

[16] Davies, James. Toward a Theory of Revolution. California Institute of Technology, 1962.

[18] Davies, James. Toward a Theory of Revolution. California Institute of Technology, 1962. Pg. 6

[19]Cook, Steven & Koplow, Michael. “How Democratic is Turkey” Foreign Policy. 03 June 2013. Web. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/02/how_democratic_is_turkey

[20] ibid

[21] Trading Economics, “Turkey GDP.” http://www.tradingeconomics.com/turkey/gdp.

[22] Trading Economics, “Turkey GDP per capita.” http://www.tradingeconomics.com/turkey/gdp-per-capita.

[23] “Turkey Profile” BBC. 05 June 2013. Web.

[24] ECR Research, “A Table of US Recessions.” http://www.ecrresearch.com/world-economy/table-us-recessions

[25] Westhead, Rick. “Turkey Protests: What the Unrest really is about” Toronto Star. 11 June 2013. Web. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/06/11/turkish_police_push_into_taksim_square_with_tear_gas_rubber_bullets.html

[26] Kuran, Timur. Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. Duke University, 1991.  Pg. 21

[27] Ibid. 7-8

[28] Ibid. 17

[29] Ibid. 17

[30] Ibid. 18

[31] Ibid. 18

[32] Ibid.  19

[33] Ibid.  20

[34] Twigg, Krassimira & Williams, Nathan. “Turkish Voices back Erdogan against Protest” BBC. 13 June 2013. Web.

[35] Kuran, Timur. Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. Duke University, 1991.  Pg. 22

[36] James Douglass, Politics without Violence. Christian Century, June 28, 1968. P. 836

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