Everyone is aware that we are in a global world, but awareness of globalization’s causes and consequences is not universal. In my humble understanding, globalization shows that the notion of economic independence has become obsolete and that “consuzenship” (a combination of citizenship and consumerism) has replaced the old concept of citizenship.
Nowadays, people are driven by the pursuit of happiness to move to wherever in the world they can to fulfill their needs. This is the real cause of migration from South America to North America, and from Africa or Afghanistan to Europe, and ultimately from Syria to Lebanon—regardless of economic, political, or security motivations. People are moving from citizenship to the more attractive concept of consuzenship, where individuals search for the best state services on offer—provided they can find a way to migrate to new havens.
Onwards and upwards
The Lebanese who migrate to the developed world do so because they are unhappy with their lot. The original and primary mission of governments in all countries, especially in emerging ones, is to bring prosperity and happiness to their citizens. A few developing countries do so by benchmarking with successful countries and trying to close the gap between their standard of living and that of a similar country in the developed world.
The demise of distance and time have had consequences not only for trade, but also the individual—due to the widespread use of technology, such as the internet and smartphones, linking global citizens. This is where I consider globalization the most effective and visible.
Globalization has a tremendous impact on politics and the economy. The very existence of small countries, such as Lebanon, is at stake. How can small economies survive in a global economy where education, infrastructure, technology, markets, defense, laws, regulations—and all other government services—require both a far-sighted vision and capital that lies beyond their reach? We should acknowledge that Lebanon is only a tiny piece in the global puzzle, and thus needs to reshape itself to fit in to the regional and international map, one way or another.
The main question is how to put Lebanon on the highest possible orbit. We do this by starting with our values. In the process of nation-building, our values are the critical pillars on which a nation is founded.
Unfortunately, following the 1975-1990 civil war and the subsequent Syrian occupation, our values retrograded from the ones that we previously shared with the successful countries of the free world to the ones we currently share with failed states. In order to remedy this situation, Lebanon needs a different breed of leaders and a new mode of political governance, one where authority and responsibility coincide. In Lebanon today, authority is shared by many, and consequently no one is held responsible. This produces an unaccountable government—when one is even formed—and leads to increased waste and corruption. Corruption has become deeply embedded in our cultural landscape.
A new breed of leaders should anchor the country to core humanitarian values—values that have been shaped over time by humanity’s greatest philosophers and brightest minds. These values should be at the heart of citizenry from day one, disseminated starting from early childhood all the way through university. I am fully aware it would take time and tremendous effort to reconstruct our values system, but it is the only way to put our next generations on the right track. Do or die.
Having said that, the economy could enjoy an extremely favorable and enabling environment, which would allow us to rethink a new inclusive economic model. A “new political economy,” for which I advocate in my book “Un Projet Une Nation,” means building a society where growth is complemented by inclusion, and where inequality decreases not from unfair compulsory policies that make capital flee, but by a fair taxation and harmonious and balanced growth. I am advocating for an intelligent economy with equal opportunities, not one of unaccountable welfare. Everyone should be responsible and play their part in the growth of this future project.
The aim of all this is to avoid Lebanon becoming a dispensable country, and instead make it one with a message and clear mission that promotes the values of freedom, tolerance, and responsibility toward humankind. Are we capable of leading the charge and becoming the example for countries in our region and elsewhere? This is the issue that any new leadership must address.
Lebanon also has a unique opportunity to be a leading country in building bridges between Christianity and Islam. Our country has the practiced experience and the people to advocate for this noble goal. Let us make it a political priority on our national agenda.
We also need to reengineer the whole political and economic system, starting by defining the mission and role of the new state. What is a state for? It is supposed to free its people from their many chains, not imprison them in outdated and unfair laws. After building a consensus for change, we will need to run national workshops on all issues that have an impact on citizens’ daily life—such as the fiscal code, the budget process, labor law, pension funds, etc.—in order to transform Lebanon into a modern country that meets the needs of its people. The world is moving faster than our parliamentarians can legislate—much faster than many minds can even imagine—and this will only accelerate.
We must reform with the goal of decreasing inequalities, raising living standards, and above all, serving humankind. Our education system should promote critical thinking from an early age and seek to build an individual who is responsible to their fellow citizens and their environment, and tolerant toward all human beings regardless of their nationality, religion, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Our economy should seek within the near future to become less reliant on exports to Arab countries, as part of our move toward greater political and economic independence. Having a single land border for exports via Syria makes us very dependant politically, and consequently economically, on the Syrian regime. Instead, we should target value-added services in the knowledge economy, which will be exportable not just across our borders but worldwide via information superhighways.
In the next quarter of a century, we should pursue and target an endogenous growth rate above the hurdle rate of 6 percent in order to overcome the dark outlook of our current path. It is possible, provided we accept that we must reform our system entirely as though starting from scratch.
We should take an active role in the fourth industrial revolution and start building our capacity for the fifth one—we should always anticipate beyond the next big thing, not get bogged down in the past and present. Governing is about planning for the future while mitigating risks and preparing for inevitable uncertainties. Let us focus on what makes us indispensable for the region and the world. We need to think outside our obsolete box, move past our out-of-date beliefs, and look forward toward the future of the future. This is a quantum leap we must accomplish, a leap primarily in our minds: We need to create a new way of forward-thinking and a new culture for Lebanon.
This vision is necessary for the future of our country, not least for those we are already leaving behind.
I have in mind the extreme poverty in Akkar and the northern Bekaa Valley, and in many other places within Lebanon. I feel the burden of not having provided an alternative, leaving many fellow citizens forced to turn to illicit activities in order to live a decent life. We are paying the price for our collective shortsightedness and our inability to share prosperity.
I have in mind all the violence against our children and our wives. I have in mind our youth who migrate far from their families in search of jobs.
I have in mind all the workers and entrepreneurs, all the unemployed, the disabled, the old, and the young, from all regions of Lebanon, all ages, all religions, and all faiths, who suffer from indecency in their daily life.
It is time to enter into our age of enlightenment.
This is not the dream of a member of the intellectual elite of this country. It is the fight that started many years ago, and that will never stop, not so long as there is still hope to advance the values of liberty, humanism, and dignity, and to defeat the vices of violence, ignorance, and poverty.