I must admit, when I first heard of the explosion in Lebanon that destroyed half the city and thousands of casualties, my mind directly thought “what a coincidence, a few weeks ago Lebanon made the news that it was in contact with Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq to seek financial aid due to their economy was on the verge of collapsing and high unemployment. And now all of the sudden they are in a position to seek international financial assistance due to a disaster. Is this really a coincidence?” The answer is of course we’ll never know.
This got me to thinking even further, how did Lebanon get to be such a dire state? growing up watching movies like Casablanca and even Spy Game starring Robert Redford awhile back, Lebanon was often called the Paris of the Middle East. So how did the Paris of the Middle East became the Caracas of the Middle East? Even if entrepreneurship was never a strong point of the Lebanese people and Lebanon was never blessed with an abundance of natural resources, still there are many ways the country could have advanced. Tourism for one could have been a big draw for Lebanon since the country is blessed with fantastic beaches and mountains for skiing (I mean hey, how much is Switzerland making in a year due to tourism and skiing right? Same goes for Canada and the entire economy of Whistler). With the centralized location of Lebanon in the Middle East, and their well renowned food, why aren’t they on the map for a culinary destination the way Singapore and Thailand are? As someone who has only read about Lebanon, I see great potential for businesses to bloom in areas that don’t require natural resources. Why aren’t we seeing Lebanon olives, beauty products (let’s not kid ourselves, Lebanese beauty is world renown!) or even Lebanese Baklava the way we see New Zealand dairy products nearly in every supermarket shelf around the world? There are so many things that the Lebanese people are naturally good at that it’s literally a sin not to share them with the world. I for one would love to know what Lebanese women put on their skin to have that Mediterranean glow.
On October 2019, the Lebanese government decided to implement new taxes on tobacco, petrol and voice calls via messaging services such as Whatsapp. In short, if you’re getting a call on Whatsapp, you’ll have to pay taxes on it. And how would this tax go about? is it a one time tax per call, is it a per minute tax, a per hour tax? a daily or monthly tax? Let’s get real and think of how does a “WhatsApp voice call” look like! That right there is pure creative genius example of governments that keep taxing citizens and business because it looked like the fastest way to get money to help the country’s economy. Why do governments do this? I really don’t understand, adding more taxes to citizens is the equivalent of a king taxing more of his already impoverished citizens, which as we know lead to many revolutions and became the downfall of many monarchies (hey Antoinette thanks for asking us to eat cake while increasing our taxes, oh and Romanovs, great job in commissioning those Faberge Eggs while the entire country was starving thanks again to your taxes!). So what happened when Lebanon wanted to impose more taxes? you guessed it, their famous Prime Minister Saad Hariri was forced to resign (if only he didn’t taxed WhatsApp, he’d still have a job! By the way, for those of you keeping track, this is the second time he resigned, the first one was during the whole Saudi debacle but that’s another story).
Taxing is never the answer to save a country’s economy. Rather than thinking short team, governments should be thinking big picture and long-term. Let’s look at countries that have heavily invested in the education of their citizens : Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Canada, New Zealand. These are some countries in which their governments say “In order for the people to be prosperous and for the country to be able to compete and thrive, our citizens must be educated so they don’t end up doing odd jobs and day laborers and in turn bring the country down! Let’s invest in education, ensure it’s free and our citizens will become entrepreneurs, create businesses, and we will have a strong workforce which will automatically improve the country’s economy”. And you know what, it worked! So why is it there are still quick fix governments like Lebanon and Turkey which believe that bail out money is the fastest way to get the economy going and chugging along instead of investing long term in education to ensure sustainable growth? Bail out money isn’t free money, yes i’m talking to you Turkey for receiving a relief of USD 15 Billion from Qatar. And yes, still talking about you Lebanon that despite many aids and bail outs, you just can’t get your act together. Aids and bail out money is basically a long term IoU that your children, your grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to keep working to pay off. Instead of helping citizens, bail out money is actually burdening generations to come.
I hate to state the obvious but the quote “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime” still holds true. Educate your citizens, make them be able to compete for jobs in fortune 500 companies overseas and send money back home, educate citizens in AI and tech and let them be startup founders. Here’s an idea, an app that can tell you which olive trees are ready to be harvested and transformed into face cream, which are ready to be eaten, which are ready to be turned into oil. Then create a co-op olive plantation managed by the local villagers. Have your famous beauties such as Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbe and all the celebrities that you have, which are renowned for their beauty to be co-owners, partners, and then your educated tech workforce can brand and market the hell out of it while the other half of your tech workforce can handle logistics, including fulfillment and world wide shipment. If Miranda Kerr’s Kara organics and Huda Beauty Cosmetics can be on the shelves of Sephora, why not Nancy Ajram’s face creams or Haifa Wehbe Olive Oil hair spa (these are not real products btw, in case you were actually looking for the products)? The difference is, instead of this being a private venture, make these businesses be government owned and backed. There are so many things that Lebanon has been blessed with. I for one am hopeful that the Lebanese people and government will realize that in order to transform the country, they must first transform their education system and mindset because as we all know, real change comes from within.