This is the second in a series of five thematic Lebanon-related posts, based on a conversation between the author and a Lebanese citizen who preferred to remain anonymous. The first post – on politics and elections – can be found here.
Eye on the East (EOTE): So where were we?
Lebanese Citizen (LC): I had started talking about garbage and the economy, but you stopped me because you wanted to grab a drink.
EOTE: That’s right.
LC: So what do you want me to talk about first, our ongoing garbage crisis or the economy?
EOTE: Aren’t they really one and the same thing?
LC: You dare compare our economy to trash?
EOTE: No, no, I don’t mean trash. I mean garbage.
LC: What’s the difference?
EOTE: Well, to start with garbage isn’t all bad, you can reuse some, recycle some, and some you can even use to produce something as essential as energy.
LC: I think I know what you’re trying to say, but I can actually say it without your non-creative and complicated metaphors. Our economy is in bad shape, all reliable indicators can prove that. However, not everything nor everyone is doing that bad, things can be improved and there’s hope that solutions not only exist but can be implemented with the necessary will and interest to improve people’s lives.
EOTE: Yes, that’s it.
LC: Let me ask you a question, remember we were talking about the concept of ‘consensual democracy’ and how people believe it’s the secret to Lebanon’s political success, when I believe it’s the one thing that stands in the way of political reform? Well, I think the same of this so-called myth of Lebanon’s economic ‘resilience’. Consensual democracy is to politics what resilience is to the economy…a mirage standing in the way of genuine reform. Resilience is a poisonous myth that gives the impression that everything is well when it isn’t. This so-called resilience gives the impression that we are countering one challenge (internal or external) after the other with sound policies and solid economic and financial foundations and institutions already in place. In reality, we manage to avoid major economic crisis through either regional and/or international mediation or assistance, or through internal political and financial arrangements, so complicated they either bury our other problems or replace them with others that are slightly more manageable and appear less frightening. The Lebanese are masters at that. We’re resilient because we are good at surviving, not because we are equipped to weather the storm.
EOTE: Does this explain why Lebanon is flirting with a potential crisis, or at least this is the sentiment that many people have?
LC: Partly, yes, financial and economic indicators across the board aren’t reassuring.
EOTE: But what about the average George or Mohammad, they don’t care about resilience, indicators, or Lebanon’s ranking in some random meaningless financial index.
LC: You’re absolutely right, but the problem is that their lives are the economy, and the economy is their lives.
The economy is everything: the jobs that people want, the decent lives that will keep them out of poverty, keep them away from all forms of extremism and stop them from putting their children to work for money. The economy and their economic situation will affect the education people can provide to their children and the quality of healthcare they can afford. It will affect their ability to contribute to society and to innovate to further develop their communities. A healthy and growing economy ensures political and social stability and the well-being that every human being has a right to. A stable economy – a balance between a public sector providing solid and equitable services and foundations for its citizens and a private sector using that to provide the platform for unlimited creativity and innovation at nobody’s expense – is what will either provide citizens a decent life with everything they need or push them into the hands of warlords and corrupt politicians that will provide this instead, in exchange for their loyalty and unquestioned support.
EOTE: Of everything you mentioned, very little is guaranteed to the average citizen today.
LC: True. A decent life is not very common anymore, unemployment and poverty are going up, a good education is becoming a luxury, affordable healthcare is an oxymoron, many people couldn’t live without the support of multiple jobs, help from their families, their relatives abroad, or sometimes by breaking the law. Genuinely fixing the state of the economy isn’t an impossibility, but nobody seems to have the will nor interest to do it. And you know what, it would also help to combat corruption, which affects every single aspect of our lives, whether in the private or public sector, whether money is actually involved or not. Corruption is eating this country alive in ways few people care to admit.
EOTE: Ah, corruption. Everybody seems to be talking about corruption these days. Anti-corruption of course, not corruption. Well, and that too obviously.
LC: Corruption, my friend, is endemic, rampant, rooted, so rooted that I think if we try pulling its roots out, the country would come off the face of the earth. But maybe that’s a good thing, so we can start building this place all over again.
EOTE: That’s a good thing.
LC: It is. That’s probably why not many people are serious about it, because they benefit from it. As for the rest of the population, they’re probably nonchalant, because they’ve become so used to the system as is, that they can’t imagine it otherwise.
EOTE: Fighting corruption isn’t going to work now is it?
LC: It may, because everyone wants to fight the other’s corruption but not their own. So when you come and think of it, maybe it will, if everyone is fighting everyone’s corruption. But if everyone realizes this may lead to the end of corruption across the board, they may stop fighting because they know they’ll all loose.
EOTE: So the economy isn’t doing well, right?
LC: Not really, but we are resilient and we will survive, somehow, someway…. I hope.