For one thing, human constants have to be considered. When Walter Bagehot, the founding editor of The Economist, reflected on the role of the “English Political Economy” shortly before his untimely passing in 1877, he emphasized first how this economic philosophy had brought unprecedented benefits to the people, writing: “The life of almost everyone in England – perhaps of everyone – is different and better in consequence of it.” His second comment, however, was that this English Political Economy was – in his day and age – an insular science, one that was neither greatly appreciated elsewhere, nor one that was broadly applied.
What Bagehot called the English Political Economy entailed a novel theory of free trade, which he classified as “more opposed to the action of government in all ways than most such theories,” and prone to not find favor among pro-state zealots (or our latter day populists). This was because, as the sharp-eyed editor observed dryly: “All governments like to interfere; it elevates their position to make out that they can cure the evils of mankind. And all zealots wish that they should interfere, for such zealots think that they can and may convert the rulers and manipulate the State control.”
The fact that financial zealotry, or in present journalese populism, has had a detrimental impact on public discourse in Lebanon over the past three years, cannot be denied. But it is more than detrimental to see that a destructive populist rant has invaded a publication affiliated with the World Bank Group.
An op-ed in the Lebanon Public Finance Review of August 2022, posing as a “Message to the Lebanese People” stood out from the remainder of the publication in terms of writing style and content. At a prominent place in the document and text, the op-ed posited deliberation, specifically meaning malicious intent, as something that existed from the roots of the crisis and something that is “important for them to know.”
A STRIKING WORD COMBINATION
Apart from the sloppy editing and unclear colloquial usage of the word “them” in the first paragraph of the “message” – a pattern that one often encounters when interviewing local intellectuals – a quick word use analysis shows that the word “deliberate” or “deliberately” was inserted eight times in the “message.” This is 40 percent of a total of 19 mentions in the approximately 110-page body text of the Lebanon Public Finance Review (not counting summary pages in Arabic and French where the word is cited once). In the first three analytical chapters of the body text (pages 28 to 63), the word deliberate is used once, however, with a positive connotation and not in conjunction with the term depression.
The word combination of deliberate and depression, which is used three times in the op-ed, reappears on page 65 of the Finance Review as a reference term to a Lebanon Economic Monitor issue that was published in 2020. The same usage of deliberate as reference to the earlier publication accounts for all but two appearances of the word deliberate. In these two mentions, it is argued that failures in services delivery by the Lebanese government was intentional under a corrupt scheme to benefit private interests.
One can indeed argue that many actions of state players in Lebanon over the years have been corrupt, it is not a revelation. One can also sympathize with the view, expressed in the Lebanese Economic Monitor of Fall 2020, that in the preceding months, “Lebanese authorities countered the assailment of compounded crises with deliberately inadequate policy responses.” However, when anonymous writers offer zero evidence for their claim of deliberation, by which they imply malicious intent of some actors from the very roots of post-conflict debt accumulation by various Lebanese Councils of Ministers, there is only spin doctoring and populist opinion mongering present.
The term deliberate appears in high frequency on a single op-ed page that differs sharply in style and content from the analytical focus and dispassionate language of the rest of the Lebanon Public Finance Review. The fact that “Message to the Lebanese People” is an op-ed that is not signed by any name, although clearly written from an angle of ideological proselytization, in addition to the usage of the imprecise and illogical term “Ponzi finance,” and a cover design that reminds this European of destructive ideological pamphlets of the 1920s and 30s, compounds into the impression of a (hopefully non-deliberate on the part of the World Bank) disgrace.