Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I hate to repeat the obvious, but somehow in Lebanon, the obvious is not grasped by many. This is a bit of a "cheap" post, it is my reply to other bloggers from this post.

I chose to re-post separately, in light of internal and external incidents in the past 24 hours, to make my main point: we keep missing the BIG issues (SECURITY and CORRUPTION) and we (Lebanese) refuse to address them. Until we do, nothing will get solved. Here's the reprint, apologies again.

I don't want discuss the technical details of the VAT, which may or may not be a good thing in Lebanon.

Raja, of course the state needs revenues, but it can tax the economy 10% and it can tax it 50%. Also do not forget that corruption acts like a tax too. And people need to know, or be told, what the money is doing for them to feel responsible an involved.

I disagree when Steve says it's a good sign we are discussing details. We cannot shove things under the rug that is always a recipe for disaster.

Security is the number-one issue, and like it or not it is tied to: arms, Palestinians, Syria, Lahoud, Hezballah, etc.

It is a mistake, and bound to disappoint you and others to pretend that fixing a tax here, and getting a competent bureaucrat there will solve things.

Don't get me wrong, these things may need to be done, but they will remain very marginal and subject big setbacks if we do not address the BIGGER issues.

The Palestinian armed presence issue was ignored in the 60s, civil war ensued.

The Syrian relation issue was avoided in the 70-80s; a devastating occupation lasted 30 years.

Now, shhh again, let's talk taxes not security. The UN investigators will not provide security by themselves. 2 (or 3?) people got killed just from "joy" after Berri's election, HA (Hezballah) and Israel are shelling each other again in the south today.

Just as Paris XVI or money from the IMF or Saudi will not solve our economic problems in the long run. You just need a sound economic environment.

You can have a Nobel economist in every government job in Lebanon, and no good will come of it, as long as the environment is NOT SAFE (first physically=security, then legally=corruption, and then fiscally=taxes).

So I guess we disagree a bit on the order of priorities. Of the pols, as usual, will find it easier to avoid the big issues.

PS. Raja, you guessed right, I am a small-government guy. But please don't put words in my mouth. I'll look at the VAT and consider it, I do not know enough about it now. But to defend it because the Europeans have one is meaningless to me.

Friday, June 24, 2005

LEAVE THE ECONOMY ALONE (Warning: Idiot Bureaucrat Quotes)

In recent comments about the Lebanese scene, on blogs and elsewhere, many have argued for political change and reform in Lebanon. Often, near the top of the agenda is some demand for economic reform and plan.

Why would politicians and bureaucrats who have made a mess of EVERYTHING in Lebanon, and are now disappointing yet again, be trusted with the economy? Do we have to find out the hard way what many others have discovered, and are still discovering, that government intervention in the economy is a bad idea?

Today's Daily Star mentions a conference to eradicate poverty in Lebanon .
The usual suspects are there: UN and government bureaucrats, nice lunch and nice hotel to discuss POVERTY.

Niaamat Kanaan, representing Social Affairs Minister Mohammad Khalife, said the ministry had developed a project aimed at improving the living conditions of the poor. She said: "The objective of the project is to implement a targeted poverty alleviation program which entails making poverty alleviation a national priority by developing a national program for poverty reduction.

Got it? They have a plan to fight poverty that will include fighting poverty and put fighting poverty at the top of their priorities. WOW! Boy, are they against poverty.
She [Kanaan] added this project assumes a strengthening of the government's capacities to develop an integrated strategy for poverty reduction.

"Integrated" is good, it means I have an MBA, or maybe my friend has an MBA.
She [Kanaan still] also said it would help in implementing poverty reduction projects through enhancing the participation of members of civil society, and adopting monitoring tools for assessing change as well as enhancing the use of national statistics to identify who the poor are and what they most require.

Bureaucratese gibberish. Translation: we need the private sector. We have no data to know what's going on. And we don't know who the poor are or why. But we’re gonna fight poverty.

So Mrs. or Mr. Kanaan, and your most excellent Excellency her boss Social Affairs Minister Khalife, please, please, pretty please stay the hell away from the economy or anything for that matter. Just write reports and shelve them, get your pay, and go home.

I hope this little anecdote will cool the excitement for government plans for the economy. The government should just get SECURITY and the COURTS right, and stay out of the economy.