13 January 2008

The New Wild West (It Isn't Out Here Anymore)

As a child, I learned how important it was to establish an enabling economy where the government provided incentives and an ethics-based regulatory environment, but left it to the inventiveness and energy of the private sector to expedite economic growth.
Not Mitt Romney speaking, rather Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Dubai gets a lot of things right, they are moderate, open to foreigners and foreign investment, and are very daring in the scope of their dreams.

In many ways Dubai is the new West, but just as there were excesses out here as we expanded, Dubai faces some serious challenges as they try and turn Dubai into a global city, financial capital, and tourist trap. They are building at an insane pace, and all that growth is being built by extremely cheap foreign labor, mostly imported from South Asia. They have a two-tiered society, with the local born Arabs living very rich and special lives, and thousands upon thousands of foreigners with little rights, little freedom. As long as they rotate in new foreigners on a regular basis, they might be able to forestall any social unrest created by this inequity, but it seems like if they also worked on defining "Dubai-ness" beyond belonging to an ethnic group and instead made it something you could become through hard work and determination, then they'd have a much better chance of building something that will last and prosper for centuries.

Letting the best and brightest of those workers they import become full fledge members of their society would have a huge long term positive impact and give everyone from the lowliest riveter to a better compensated IT worker that much more incentive to do a great job and feel personally invested in the success of Dubai.

They are imitating much of what made the United States great and prosperous, but the core of our prosperity is the prospect that being American is a state of mind rather than an ethnicity. Copy that, too, and you might build something really special out in the desert.

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