Dubai: Capitalist Mecca or Authoritarian Dystopia?
UPDATE: According to this report, some laborers bound for Iraq end up building the new $592-million U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
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Albert Esplugas - 10/27/2006
Mike’s article is, in general, a good one. Indeed, I don’t support his conclusion that Dubai is some kind of fascist / absolutist dystopia, and I don’t share some of his moral judgements about certain realities, but I mostly agree with his characterization of the place (considering what I have read elsewhere about Dubai and the UAE and what I have heard from people living there). Mainly, it’s true that laborers working for factories are legally bound to a single employer and this infringe his rights, but it’s also true that they are not slaves as Mike seems to insinuate since they come to Dubai voluntarily, attracted by that “exploitative wages” that are a lot higher than the ones paid in their homeland. I certainly agree, on this respect, with a comment posted in Marginal Revolution:
Mike's article is a remarkable summary of what westerners think of Dubai.
Unfortunately none of the westerners here in Dubai takes time to speak to these 'exploited' workers. Next to my building there are three construction sites. Workers usually stay at 'labor camps', which are similar to trailer-home communities in the US. Relative to my living conditions, of course, they live in 'crapper'. But that's a wrong comparison. Accroding to workers that I meet daily on my way home, these 'labor camps' are much better than what they have back home (Kerala or Karachi or any other city in India or Pakistan). They have access to clean water, better health care than in their respective countries, and most importantly they have jobs.
The recent strikes took place not because of poor working conditions, but because some employers had not paid salaries to workers for months. These events do take place, but on a larger scale majority of workers 'enjoy' steady stream of income.
We have to bear in mind that 80% of Dubai population is foreign, Dubai imports much more people from poor countries than, for example, the US, and then it is logical that wage inequalities in Dubai are deeper (and that comparisons between incomes inside the country rise feelings of injustice among individuals with socialist-egalitarian leanings). If the US had open borders there would be sharp inequalities too, and may be more voices claiming that a lot of wages are “unfair” or “exploitative”.
Despite all its faults, I tend to think that Dubai is one of the freest places of the world.
I recomend you this article of Doug Casey: Freedom Blossoms in the Desert
Mark Brady - 10/24/2006
It seems like you misunderstood me, and I'm rather at a loss to see why. My question--Capitalist Mecca or Authoritarian Dystopia?--focussed on two different aspects of Dubai. On the one hand, Dubai functions as part of the global marketplace. On the other hand, most of the workers are South Asian contract laborers, legally bound to a single employer and subject to totalitarian social controls. I suggest that, however we may choose to categorize Dubai, it certainly isn't corporatism or fascism as historically understood.
Craig J. Bolton - 10/24/2006
I really sometimes wonder whether most of those who regularly post to this Blog have a clue about what liberty is all about. For instance, two or three paragraphs from this article, that literally follow one another:
" Dubai, in other words, is a vast gated community, the ultimate Green Zone. But even more than Singapore or Texas, it is also the apotheosis of the neo-liberal values of contemporary capitalism: a society that might have been designed by the Economics Department of the University of Chicago. Dubai, indeed, has achieved what American reactionaries only dream of—an oasis of free enterprise without income taxes, trade unions or opposition parties (there are no elections).... "
"Feudal absolutism—the Maktoum dynasty owns the land area of Dubai —meanwhile has been spruced up as the last word in enlightened corporate administration, and the political sphere has been officially collapsed into the managerial. ‘People refer to our crown prince as the chief executive officer of Dubai. It’s because, genuinely, he runs government as a private business for the sake of the private sector, not for the sake of the state’, says Saeed al-Muntafiq, head of the Dubai Development and Investment Authority. Moreover, if the country is a single business, as al-Maktoum maintains, then ‘representative government’ is besides the point: after all, General Electric and Exxon are not democracies and no one—except for raving socialists—expects either to be so.
The state, accordingly, is almost indistinguishable from private enterprise. Dubai’s top managers—all commoners, hired meritocratically—simultaneously hold strategic government portfolios and manage a major Maktoum-controlled real-estate development company. ‘Government’, indeed, is really an equities management team led by three top players who compete with one another to earn the highest returns for al-Maktoum (see Table 2). ‘In such a system’, writes William Wallis, ‘the concept of a conflict of interest is barely recognized’.  "
Now that sort of economic/social system use to be well known under the name "corporatism" or even better known under the name "fascism." So is there really any "mystery" about the nature of Dubai?