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, please comment/add/suggest/critique etc. etc.:
AND most importantly, there are many people ready to help, ready to work, ready to create and be innovative – this can be solved.
On the short term measures, it will be essential that they are compatible with what we all want in the long run which is the creation of good jobs in the private sector with social protection. So, the ideas we discussed included quick retraining of university graduates in relevant skills such as entrepreneurship, expansion of access to finance for entrepreneurs, short term employment creation through funding civil society or private contractors to repair infrastructure and deliver social services (e.g. child care), removing subsidies for energy that implicitly subsidize capital investments in labor saving technologies, making it cheaper to buy and operate more machines rather hire new workers, and using some of the revenue saved to improve social protections for the poor and re-target subsidies towards labor (e.g. payment of social contributions for first-time hires).
A big question is: What happens now after the Arab Spring? On the one hand, the opening up of societies, greater transparency and greater empowerment of social actors should all lead to breaking down the past insider/outsider model and lead to more dynamic societies with greater prospects. On the other hand, there are at least two risks: (1) that expectations are so high that Governments decide to act quickly without thinking of the long run, and possibly making the situation worse in the process (e.g. by increasing energy subsidies); and (2) that new elites take over and instead of breaking up the current insider/outsider system, simply replace the old elite with a new one. Only when the Arab World returns to its traditional respect for merit and entrepreneurship can we see a true Arab renaissance.
In the meantime, please keep the questions and suggestions coming, keep the dialogue open and I will get back to you after the meetings and tell you how things went.