Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
The financial crisis of 2008 has crippled most economies of the developed world in which insolvency spread out, liquidity dried out, credit crunched, joblessness soared up and so on. In principle, high levels of unemployment usually create a deflationary trend in the markets. Accordingly, in the United States and Europe, inflation rate declined when unemployment rates rose above the “natural rate of unemployment”.
Though Lebanon, then, was suffering from political instability, chronic high levels of unemployment and high inflationary prices, yet the effect of that global economic crisis was mild on the Lebanese economy. However, even years after the crisis, the market prices in Lebanon are in continuous increase irrespective of the rising levels of unemployment.
Actually, Lebanon’s market prices have been inflammatory and unreasonable for some time, thanks to the incompetence of the so-called General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL) and irresponsibility of Ministry of Commerce. The undeniable fact is that neither the government nor the CGTL made any tangible effort to prevent the continuous increase of prices.
This dual inefficacy has resulted in creating a common conception among business cartels that Lebanese consumers have no option but to stomach any price increase, as there is no reliable government or efficient labor unions to protect the interest of low-income classes.
By and large, the current economic downtrend coupled with the government incorrect regulations (three salary adjustments laws in 45 days) and Lebanon’s inequitable taxation plan have agitated the increase of prices much further and thus led to the shrinkage of consumer spending, especially among low-income and middle classes, which will create more pressure on the economy in the incoming years.
Along with this unheard-of chaotic management of wage increases, the government could not restrain the price increase of living essentials and indispensable services, such as foodstuff, fuel, schooling, medication, hospitalization, and many more. Actually, should the government has fulfilled its obligations to bring down the profit margins of private businesses, prices should have decreased, and hence the Lebanese citizens and the economy would have been in better economic conditions thereof.
The lack of government determination to uproot trade monopolization and corruption, and stonewall the current political patronization of its incompetent economic officials and irresponsible supervisory offices is worsening the downturn of Lebanon’s already ailing economy. It is the duty of the Lebanese authorities to deflate the current prices, control profit margins of private businesses, promote competition over monopolization, readjust its taxation policy, and prudently adjust the cost-of-living allowance so that to restart the economic growth process.
Economic experts emphasize that alongside the ratio of economic growth, inflation, and unemployment rate are the basic indexes of economic analysis of most modern economies. Yet, few Lebanese officials and economic analysts highlight the importance of combating inflation and unemployment in their public lectures and conferences on economic progress.
Fears of job loss and unemployment in Lebanon’s labor market are alarmingly high. This is, however, because government officials and economic magnates alike always necessitate the downsizing of the workforce in tandem with the injection of new blood in the veins of private and public sector—a disguised term for the dismissal of older employees—with their proposed reform and development plans.
Earlier downsizing experiences, like in 2001 when the shareholder (the Central Bank of Lebanon)(BDL) of Middle East Airline (MEA) downsized the airline in which 1,200 or so employees were dismissed from service, unveil that almost all those discharged employees continued to be jobless—logically, forever as most of them were around 50 years-old. In effect, this profit-maximizing process has destroyed the economic standings and social situations of at least four thousand citizens—let alone the future of their dependents.
Under the circumstances, the applicability of any downsizing design is null, unless the country has a well-established social safety net that provides unemployment benefits, retirement pension, comprehensive health care coverage, quality public education along with other free public services. Otherwise, the government and economic clubs are inflaming the bushy joblessness problem to become a raging inferno.
Job loss and long-term unemployment create instability and intensify insecurity even in developed countries like Spain and other European Union countries, for example. However, in a developing country, like Lebanon, similar joblessness problems, especially among the underprivileged, would bring catastrophic effects on the socioeconomic and political situations of the state.
To avoid that, the government should annul any redundancy designs from their reform plans to solve the issue of over-staffing before it creates and implements a sufficient unemployment program and retirement pension scheme. The government has to address with top priority the problem of youth unemployment, especially non-graduates, by reducing the outsized number of cheap foreign workers, for instance, so that Lebanese day laborers and wage earners can have adequate paying jobs to cover their living needs.
The authorities have to upgrade its investment and tax laws to encourage and facilitate foreign and national investments, joint ventures, start-ups, and small business through which the Lebanese youth, especially college graduates (more than 30,000 fresh college graduates each year), can capture good paying jobs in their homeland, instead of transforming them into expatriates and immigrants.
By all odds, the chronic presence of high levels of unemployment accompanied by high inflation rates is problematic enough to undermine any economy— let alone Lebanon’s economy. However, adding other problems, like inefficient governance, political instability, lawlessness, corruption, insecurity, inordinate monopolization, inferior public services, and the absence of real social security and healthcare services, to that dilemma will drive the country into poverty.
The Lebanese government has no choice but to find quick-fix remedies and long-term answers to the severe social and economic problems of this country.
Otherwise, only God knows what would happen in the next few years.