Steen Jorgensen's blog
It has been too long since I last wrote about the jobs situation in the Middle East and North Africa, and an account of what actually happened when I met your senior financial authorities at the World Bank annual meeting in Tokyo is long overdue.
I just finished our live chat on jobs in the Arab World – thank you so much everyone for contributing, commenting or just listening in. What was most impressive was the joint search for answers, the dialogue blossoming among participants; it wasn’t “just” questions and answers, but a true dialogue. Now, I promised you all that I would take what I heard and use it when I meet finance ministers and other high officials during the World Bank’s Annual Meeting. So here is what I heard.
The Arab World faces a great opportunity with large numbers of educated youth entering the labor force in the coming decades. An opportunity for the Arab World to re-emerge as the dynamic, innovative center of prosperity it once was – IF, and that is a big IF, this vast human resource is given the opportunity to reach its full potential. So WHAT is standing in the way, WHY is unemployment so high and HOW can these both be overcome?
With the Arab spring bringing into sharper focus the long-standing challenges of inequality and unemployment in the Arab world, the question is what to do. It is clear that in the medium term only a dynamic market-based economy can generate good jobs for the unemployed and, importantly, the underemployed. It might seem tempting in the face of popular pressures to expand the public sectors further, but it is not feasible and not desirable. That said: "In the medium term we are all dead" (this was a famous Keynes statement and he actually said it about that favorite economist phrase "in the long run" but it suits me here).
The Arab world was a center of intellectual fervor and scientific discovery when my forefathers in Northern Europe were a rather backward people raiding neighbors and toiling for the King. Over time the tables turned and the last several decades in the Arab world were a period of political control, few basic freedoms and widespread exclusion.
Meanwhile people in other parts of the world enjoyed increasing freedoms and an information and media revolution making information accessible to more and more people. Now, almost overnight, millions of Arab citizens have joined this global table of exchange and openness. Twitters, facebook posts and blogs are buzzing around the Arab world with new-found freedom and excitement.