Safety, security, stability, and sustainability have become enshrined as humanitarian wishes in our global community. These concepts inform our values and perceptions of universal human rights. In concert with dignity and essential freedoms, these concepts moreover comprise the bedrock of the 21st century’s globalized civilization that prides itself on having climbed to historic peaks of prosperity by practicing humanized capitalism.
But these values and wishes of safety are historic anomalies in human affairs. They all but vanish entirely from collective awareness at the all too frequent times that are ruled by fear, hatred, greed, acute need, and aggressive search for dominance.
Rather than non-zero pursuits of security and sustainability for all, our species’ predatory traits have been – and are – the staple diet nurturing human mentalities and actions, demonstrated in the rise and demise of empires. Although diametrically opposed to our deepest values, this edge of human evil is what stares us in the eye when reality really hits us over our collective heads. In the case study of Lebanon, this is what all who reside here are once again being forced to see and acknowledge – apart from some entitled talking heads who are deeply and truly stuck in the sands of fake hopes.
To our common, everyday minds going about the ordinary business of life, the greatest shock of October 2023 might be witnessing the wider societal capacity for evil. We are witnessing the harvest of long years of suffering and injustice into the winepress of human wrath outdistance the Lebanese devastating economic experiences with corrupt individuals and perfidious financial zero-sum players seeking profit at the expense of the greater good.
Notwithstanding the vanity of harboring hopes for restoration of economic democracy, justice, and prosperity during such times, a curious question remains in such a situation: are we deluding ourselves if we think of sustainable prosperity as goal for all or is the business and financial dimension of human affairs a realm where safety, security, stability, and sustainability are valid and achievable paradigms?
Addressing the same question to geoeconomics makes it a fundamental research challenge. The world of finance, where data today can be sourced with minimal delay and in previous ages unseen accuracy, needs to investigate if it truly is a realm where human behavior can be modeled and modified for the achievement of socially optimized, economically healthy outcomes.
Can financial safety and social stability be instilled as a mutually co-created and interdependent achievement of an advanced society? Also, can this ideal be sustainable across markets of different size, scope, and maturity? This inquiry is of great interest for Lebanon in both an abstract, principled way, and for evaluating plans to rebuild the country’s financial markets and their supervisory system.
These questions are besetting this country at a juncture where several competing, aggressively confrontational and deeply adversarial geopolitical forces threaten much more than its territorial integrity and way of coexistence. To put it differently, Lebanon just now has been confronted with the drums of war, and wars are two things: murderous and fucking expensive.
One victim of war, one single universal human war death, is one too many, without regard to their label of racial, religious, national, or age. So much for the moral debate about a terrifying danger that the Lebanese people feel exposed to by forces outside their control.
In the slightly more detached and intellectualized debates over the economics of conflict and post-conflict, wars wreck economies. To start with, there are direct operational costs, physical destruction of infrastructures (etcetera) and their opportunity costs to combatant countries; the loss of human capital, long-term mental health costs and bodily care and rehabilitation needs; and damages to global environments and climate.
The fateful connection of war and debt is a new cause for worry today because global debt has risen to monstrous proportions in relation to global GDP. After climbing to a debt level of 258 percent at end of 2020 in relation to global GDP during the Covid19 pandemic, the world took some courage because the following two years saw this unimaginable debt mountain shrink by 20 percentage points in the next two years. Now, however, the latest news from the US 2023 fiscal year, which concluded at the end of September, jumped by by $320 billion, or 23 percent. Deficit is the progenitor of debt. Witnessing the perilous state of the world, with wars on the rise and unsustainable financial pathways overpowering the world’s richest and most powerful nations, the painful dynamics of war finance seems bound to further burden the coming generations.