Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
In the late decades of the 20th century, many inspiring political, civil and economic theories came out of the modernized West. Mainly, the core of these concepts was that there are sociopolitical prerequisites for economic development.
However, in this country, there are many different points of view on economic development. The ongoing debate between government officials, politicians, and intellectuals is about the most effective catalyst for the development of Lebanon. Is it the cohesiveness of civil society, its capital markets, or the government?
Generally, the role of the state in the economy is still subject to controversy among most political scientists and economists. Many Lebanese politicians hold socialist views and believe the state should intervene in markets to the advantage of society as a whole, overriding individuals when necessary.
Conversely, some liberal politicians and government officials believe the role of government is just to legislate and monitor the economy to make it run better, and, when necessary, deal with unemployment, budget deficits, and other systemic problems.
Laying down the parameters of development, the United Nations Human Development Report of 2002 concludes that democratic governments have better foundations for political stability and higher levels of confidence necessary for a good business environment in which labor laws and human rights are protected. Yet UN reports say Lebanon should have a strong government that can guarantee civil rights and democracy.
However, with the rise of liberal views and neoliberalism in this country, some argue that the market, rather than the government, should determine the course of the country’s economic development. Actually, Western market economies depend on rational self-interest, specialization, privatization and competition, and that requires political pluralism.
Some top politicians and members of the economic elite want Lebanon to become a free market economy to work in partnership with the European Union. They disregard the fact that Lebanon’s political and economical structures are not yet capable of dealing with the terms of this partnership.
It is reasonable to suppose that this should not take place before Lebanese capital markets and industries are developed and the government can effectively support the economy.
Socially, modern civil societies, regardless of their social system, are usually based on the association of free individuals forming associations to attain certain benefits for the good of citizens. The function of these basic associations is to satisfy basic needs and defend civil rights.
At odds with these advanced societies, Lebanon does not employ its social capital for the benefit of the general public or for economic development. The country disregards the fact that its cultural and social capital could encourage good governance. Consequently, as trust and networks of civil engagement are weak or nonexistent, trade is low and the fault lines of family, kinship and religion make social development on a national level almost impossible to achieve. This is a result of the confused tangle of political and social networks that control and exploit Lebanese society.
Government in Lebanon is generally corrupt as most of its politicians and officials use state resources for their own advantage. Thus the country faces political instability, frequent government crises, lack of national loyalty, recession, poverty, frustration and immigration, instead of development.
The absence of competent government hinders Lebanon’s economic development. Without strong government institutions to lead the development process, significant progress is not likely to happen.
Lebanese government operates because of its collective obligation and duty to its citizens, not for the sake of maintaining power, or for the benefit of some economic and financial interest groups.
Lebanese government has to direct, facilitate, control and guarantee international and national efforts to promote economic development; otherwise, development will never come about.
The development of Lebanon is not just an economic matter of poverty reduction and financial growth or a stand-alone project. It is necessary to provide education, health care, environment and social welfare for the Lebanese. Economic development is just one of the means to promote and realize equality, freedom of choice and opinion, and to pursue independence and peace.
After all, a real development process means that Lebanese civil organizations, economic and financial groups, and the government serve the people together. This, however, requires a combination of non-corrupt government, non-sectarian civil institutions and efficient businesses that can create real growth, jobs and cultural bonds so that Lebanon can flourish.
Author’s Note: This article was also published in “The Daily Star” newspaper