One of the most unexpected, and welcome, changes in economics and politics has been the rapid growth of the Internet and cell phone use. Particularly in poor and undeveloped countries. These areas have low literacy and poor communications. The Internet changed that in ways that are only slowly being appreciated. For example, the appearance of cheaper, and more powerful, cell phones over the last two decades created fundamental, unexpected and welcome changes. In large parts of Africa, South America and Asia the appearance of cell phone and Internet service was driven by economics. There was money to be made by local entrepreneurs who found that populations that had no phone service or access to banks and economic information were eager to get these things. A cell phone with Internet access gave the user access to the world and a bank account. The banks were local Internet-based operations. These two factors made life a lot easier and more prosperous. While this telephone and banking is taken for granted in the developed world, where it had over a century to spread and improve, most of the world had neither phones nor banks for everyone. These essential services appeared suddenly to over a billion people since 2000. Farmers, fishermen and merchants could operate more efficiently and profitably. Families could stay in touch with distant kin who had migrated and become more prosperous. Internet banking made it possible to handle money safely and effectively. Some changes were unexpected locally but known to historians and economists. That is the historical fact that better educated and more affluent populations have lower birth rates and seek better educational and economic opportunities. Suddenly a third of the world’s population that seemed stuck in a pre-literate, pre-industrial lifestyle found that there was a way out, and their main tool was something you could hold in your hand and have a conversation with.
The rapid growth of the Internet in the last two decades has produced a lot of changes that were unanticipated and slow to be understood. This is particularly true in the developing world. These are the nations that have the most poverty, instability and need for fundamental changes. The Internet proved to be the most important change because it provided a largely uneducated and uninformed population with access to each other and the rest of the world in ways no one ever imagined possible. While widespread and rapid Internet growth was first seen in the developed world by 2000, it took another decade for the developing world to start feeling the same proliferation of Internet users. For example, by 2000 about 30 percent of the population in developing countries had access to the Internet. It only took 13 years for the developing world to reach that level of use and the impact was seemingly immediate. Throughout developing areas in Africa and the Middle East population growth unexpectedly slowed and then declined. Women with better economic prospects and access to how this works elsewhere do not want a lot of children. People, in general, were no longer willing to put up with the corrupt and inefficient governments they had suffered under for thousands of years. In the developing world these changes were not widely noticed or understood, but where it was all happening the change was fundamental and making itself known to local rulers. The Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 were one example of this, but most of the changes were less newsworthy but much more lasting.
The lower population growth meant families had better economic opportunities. The Internet generation was less susceptible to the usual forms of government control. One very visible example of this is in the Middle East where the generation that grew up with all this change is more interested in economic improvement than in supporting revolution or radical causes like Islamic terrorism. This new generation sees through the lies and deceptions of their elders and quietly refuses to go along. This can be seen most starkly in the Palestinian Territories, where local leaders have been pushing war and terrorism for half a century. These leaders were confident that the high birthrate and constant supply of angry young unemployed men would keep their violent strategy going indefinitely. The Palestinian leaders were themselves becoming wealthy because of growing economic aid from the West and wealthy Arab oil states. But these nations had aid officials who were better informed about what the Palestinian people were thinking and doing than the Palestinian leaders were. The donors and intended recipients of all that aid were becoming aware of how much of the aid was disappearing as it passed through the control of Palestinian leaders. Suddenly both donors and intended recipients realized they were being scammed. Donors also realized that Palestinian leaders have been providing false information for decades. In order to get more aid money, Palestinian leaders inflated population statistics, often by more than a third. But Internet access to the recipients showed there were fewer people in need and that those that did need it were seeing little of the aid. So the aid got cut and the Palestinian leaders were told to either do it by the rules or be left to deal with their people who were no longer deceived.
Palestinian leaders are also noting that there are fewer young men willing to become terrorists and more Palestinians who were eager to have some new leadership. Palestinians are actively opposing the relentless Palestinian propaganda encouraging Palestinians to become “martyrs” by making suicidal (and usually ineffective) attacks on Israelis. There are open complaints about how much money goes to reward those who do attack Israelis and get caught and imprisoned. Palestinians resent that so much money is devoted to paying large sums to the families of terrorists who were killed. These payments have become public knowledge and that led directly to aid cuts. Palestinian leaders responded by cutting spending on medical care and basic services. At the same time, Palestinian leaders actively discourage any economic cooperation with Israelis even though more and more Palestinians make it clear they want to expand that cooperation. Worse more Palestinians openly call for peace, and subsequent prosperity, with their Israeli neighbors.
This has come as a big shock to Palestinian leaders who, like leaders in many Middle Eastern nations, live affluent lives while squeezing their subjects for as much money as possible by diverting aid to enrich themselves and support terrorism. The fact that Palestinian leaders live in luxury while the people they rule have less and less generates more and more resistance. These governing techniques had worked for thousands of years and now, suddenly, they don’t. Change is not unknown in the developing world but it usually comes slowly. That has all changed and more of the impact of all this will make its way into worldwide headlines. Unexpectedly and inexorably.