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“The Economies of the Middle East” From boom to bust, and back”

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Joydeb Mukherjee
GMBA - Dec 06
As a part of the ongoing ‘Guest Lecture’ series, wherein some of the most prominent and respected names of the industry encompassing several domains, are invited to the campus to share their valuable experience, knowledge and vision with the students. On 17th of July, SPJCM Dubai was graced with the presence of Dr. Tarik Yousef, a noted economist of the modern times. Our speaker, Dr. Tarik Yousef is currently the Dean of the Dubai School of Government. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University and specializes in development economics and economic history with a particular focus on the Middle East. His research and policy experience includes working as an economist at the Middle East Department of the IMF, Visiting Professor in the Office of the Chief Economist in the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank and Senior Adviser for the Millennium Project at the United Nations.

Dr. Yousef enthralled the audience and captivated the students’ think tank as he took them through the evolution, the stagnation, the development (economic) and finally the growth policy in Arab countries in the last 30 years! He started of by detailing the scenario the Arab world witnessed during the 1950s and era following it, which boasted the transition from the closed protective mindsets of authoritarian government to a more liberal outlook which slowly became instrumental in putting the Middle East economy where it is today.
Post 1950s, the economy saw the emergence of a very specific development marvel, a model centered to redistribution, invention and massive deregulation, which was consolidated over a 30-40 year period. Some reasons for the spread-out growth model may be attributed to the consistent interventions in the form of coups and espionages. Strong dictators and military dictators at that emerged, providing a sense of safety that countered an external threat, which was again over exaggerated. Another factor, more than anything else which affected the ME, Saudi Arabia and the gulf, was OIL. The availability of oil wells in the 50s – 70s catalyzed he massive flow of funds, money that one didn’t have to work for. Hence the single monarchies ran the show and won the support by delivering free healthcare, free food, medical services, infrastructure, education and taking away taxation. As the countries became more prosperous, the political gurus thought the model is delivering and no need to open up a space. On the other hand, in exchange of welfare with the other nations, they had to give up their political rights and the dictators would become more powerful, legitimate in the eyes of the population. No right to vote, no political party but people seemed quite satisfied saying “I have a job, a career, a car, my kids go to school, and I don’t have anything to worry about”.
As goes the age old saying, all good things come to an end and nothing of the bonanza of the 70s n 80s could last. Please welcome ‘1997 – The East Asian Financial Crisis’. The Middle East went from a boom to a bust. They were doing really well till now, but post 1985 till the early 21st century they not only touched the lowest trench of all times in history, they even faired worse than all countries, except from Sub Saharan Africa. Reason – OIL PRICES! Suddenly all the welfare programs become very expensive! What was needed was a recalibration of the development model. The resistance to new liberal policies was coming from the fact that this model created a lot of vested interests associated.

Just like Nehru capitalized on the strength of personality and a wide acceptance of the intellect; he also clearly defined that the country needed ‘States’. The idea came from EU and NA to develop economic prosperity and the Arab world is a by product of this intellectual potential. The 1990s – the era of private sector development, trade liberalization, economic deregulation, this in turn gave way to a new phenomena – Globalization!
But nationals in UAE don’t think of the private sector as their first job. Not because they don’t want to work, not because they’ve been programmed but because they have created societies and education systems that did nothing but employed public sector workers for a very long time! Public sector offers job security, benefits and wage increments more competitive than the private sector for all UAE nationals and complemented to this, the degree they get is a perfect for a public sector job and only that! This isn’t a religion, but the way the societies have been created and engineered if one doesn’t have an open political system and allow people to voice concerns, practice constraints and if one doesn’t have such a political process, the reform process is going to be very difficult. Unfortunately many failed to embark on the reforms as because the existing political system didn’t help any space as they thought they would become illegitimate in the eyes of their population. THIS is the story of Dubai!!

Dr. Yousef also drew upon the shifts in economic thinking right from the neo classical era to Keynesian economics when he recited the famous quote of Keynes “In the long run we are all dead.” From where we have come right from the State Controlled era where even the prices of bread that we bought was determined by the state, to the free market economy where the forces of invisible hands interact to form a price-demand-supply mechanism. Finally Dr. Yousef mentioned that the way for the future would be Knowledge Economies. Knowledge driven societies would emerge as the new parlance and would lead the crowd further into the era of globalization. The move in that direction can be witnessed with Dubai placing a strong emphasis on education, a result of which is the Knowledge Village and the Academic City. Thus we ended with the opening question that was posted to us “Dubai, from boom to bust and back?” still unanswered as only time and the macro forces would be able to tell.

It was actually an honor to be a part of this seminar, especially when an issue of such immense gravity was dealt with an equally lucid clarity and an easy transparency, such that all of us could relate to it effortlessly. Dr. Yousef’s intellect, his vision and his critic captivated the audience for over an hour. Dr. Tarikh addressed the questions and the doubts, which the students came up with at the end of his session. Here are some concluding words from and food for thought, enough to keep us ticking for quite some time now…

“The ultimate lesson form the East Asian crisis is the knowledge that a crisis would happen. The real lesson was the speed with which the countries recovered and the path of sustained prosperity that they took. That is the challenge facing Dubai; in order for Dubai to keep propelling upwards, those with skilled degrees, with high value added talent, more voice and more stakes in the system will have to exist and sustain. The key to moving ahead is through research and development and nurturing advancements and innovations across all domains. The battle for talent in Asia is intense and skilled people are going to be in high demand Not only in this part of Asia, but everywhere. Give it more space.”


Kamlesh Acharya September 4, 2007 at 5:06 AM  

Really Good thought Joydeb...
Quite an informative article..
Just goes to show how insightful guest lectures deliver value to a b-school like ours.

Amazing thought process that was from the speaker... Loved it..

And keep posting such stuffs so we alums could benefit from the activities that continue to happen there...

Kamlesh Acharya

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