Lebanon is going through the worst crisis in its history.
Even as the crisis was brewing, the usual proposals, out of touch with economic and social reality, kept popping up: move from the rentier economy to the productive economy, specialize in high value-added activities, rely on the high level of education of the Lebanese, wait for revenues from the offshore oil to be discovered, and so on. So many incantation statements of cultivated illusions. The critical and necessary question that needs to be asked, but that has not been asked by all those who pretend to be statesmen: what economy for Lebanon, and what State can lead to such an economy? This is not a technical nor a technocratic question, but an eminently political one.
Lebanon has had four models in the recent history, culminating with the economy of regulated looting and redistribution (1985 until yesterday), which has just collapsed. Actually, the collapse of the public finances and the banking system are consequences of the collapse of the political-economic system, in place since the mid-1980s and institutionalized in the early 1990s. So what economy does Lebanon need to be strong, and what political system is necessary for such an economy?
The book, An Economy and a State for Lebanon, presents various scenarios, various avenues for a small economy, such as Lebanon’s, to function in a productive manner. What is needed is political leadership with a wise and courageous vision, and with the freedom from sectarian handicaps to enact the necessary policies.
An economy is comprised of people (labour) first and resources, including capital, second. For both, holistic public action is required. The financial crisis, uncovered in 2019, did not happen accidentally. It is necessary to know its causes, at the very least, to avoid falling back into bankruptcy, and, also, to build a pathway forward. A careful examination and analysis of the public finances, away from accounting recipes, reveals how the role of public finances actually adapted to the needs of maintaining the political system itself. They are not separate from each other.
By its very nature, the Lebanese political economic system consumes resources: capital and this consumption is traceable though the accumulation of capital liabilities, and human beings traceable though the ever increasing stock of Lebanese emigrants. To refrain from consuming Lebanon’s resources and people, a new political economic system is needed.
What is critical, during this transition, is a political leadership with the wisdom to transform Lebanon’s economy and society and with the courage to be flexible in building a sustainable political and economic system. Flexibility is needed because of the changing domestic conditions (such as the population’s socio-political structure) and because of the changing regional conditions (such as the security and economic situation in Syria). The book formulates the strategic preference in a rational and tangible way by reviewing numerous critical aspects, including a discussion on which currency would be suitable for which project and the impacts of financial losses and of emigration.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the book is its critical discussion on alternatives, including courses of action and institutional actions, including the role of banks, Lebanon’s currency, and taxation. Furthermore, grounded policies are suggested for key sectors in the country in non-tradable basic services (health, education, housing, electricity, etc…). Clear pathways are presented, offering possibilities as to how the Lebanese can finally build a strong, productive economy. A strong economy can only be built when the citizens and residents of Lebanon are respected and not treated for export as commodities, and thus a cohesive, strong society is needed. Only a strong, courageous and free political leadership can initiate this pathway, and it can only happen in the context of a civil state.