The Saudi Vision 2030 encourages the Saudi Arabians to diminish their dependence upon the government, and to exhibit private initiative as they tackle the economic and social challenges that affect their daily lives. This tenet stems from the fact that successful economies are always characterized by a multiplicity of independent efforts seeking to develop society in all its dimensions.
Accordingly, wealthy Saudi Arabians should consider funding private, independent intellectual organizations—including universities, research centers, and think tanks. These kinds of organizations have, since the beginning of the twentieth century, been playing a pivotal role in enabling modern societies to resolve societal problems through two primary channels.
First, these organizations produce new ideas, some of which are genuine innovations, while others are imports of ideas that have been successful elsewhere. They are able to play this role because they convene specialized scholars who dedicate their efforts to this cause. For this reason, numerous policies adopted by western governments are the result of proposals originally made by intellectual organizations.
For example, the former U.S. president, Ronald Raegan, who oversaw a revolution in the organization of the U.S. government, and who is considered the most popular president in history, depended upon the ideas emanating from the Heritage Foundation in Washington, most prominently in providing intellectual support for tax reductions. Barrack Obama benefited during his terms from the novel proposals of the Center for American Progress in developing important policies, such as Obamacare, and in minimum wage reforms.
These kinds of intellectual organizations work continuously—and independently, with private funding—to propose new solutions to contemporary problems, such as the rising public debt, youth and minority unemployment, and irregular immigration. Society in its entirety benefits from competition between these numerous entities over the search for effective policies.
Second, these intellectual organizations empower society by training ordinary citizens in how to tackle challenges, to discuss issues in a professional and effective manner, and to understand the pros and cons of proposed ideas. Sometimes that support takes the form of structured training programs, such as open workshops. On occasion, intellectual organizations interact with society remotely, such as via journalistic articles, or participating in television programs, both of which aim to build societal capacity.
The Lebanese Institute for Market Studies has been operating in this latter vein. It was founded in 2016 to educate Lebanese society about the importance of free markets and private enterprise. The Lebanese people—most notably the youth component—are characterized by an acute desire to resolve the economic problems that they are facing, but they suffer from an incomplete intellectual platform in the economics domain, which impairs their ability to propose suitable solutions. Left-wing economic thinking has dominated successive generations of Arabic peoples, which has driven them to insist upon the government playing a leading role in the resolution of any economic crisis, in contrast to what the Saudi Vision 2030 calls for.
As a result, the Institute organizes training workshops for young volunteers in political organizations, delivered by various experts—such as academics, businesspeople, and former ministers. The workshops cover issues such as the importance of private enterprise, and the benefits of liberalization, for example in the Lebanese electricity sector, which is performing significantly below the aspirations of Lebanese people. Despite the fact that the Institute has been operating for only one year, it has made substantial contributions, reflected in the large numbers of youth who have agreed to attend their workshops.
In light of Saudi Arabia’s new direction, businesspeople and other wealthy Saudi Arabians may wish to consider supporting equivalent projects within the Kingdom, including the establishment of privately-funded intellectual organizations that study the importance of private enterprise, and that educate society about these important issues.
The Gulf monarchies have pursued a different economic model to that of the Arabic republics, characterized by a greater belief in the advantages of capitalism. However, the Gulf peoples have limited faith in the importance of private enterprise, which has driven the Saudi government and other GCC governments to emphasize it in their economic visions. The GCC countries are relatively highly ranked in indices of economic freedom, especially compared to other Arab countries, and liberalization policies have played a key role in improving the living standards of ordinary citizens.
Yet despite this, left-wring economic policies are proposed daily in Gulf newspapers, such as taxing foreigners, closing the economy, and refusing to reform public sector employment. The persistence of such proposals affirms the pressing need to educate the public about the sorts of policies that truly improve the economy’s performance.
Wealthy Saudis should also consider founding more than one intellectual organization as part of this mission, even if some of them support alternative intellectual schools of thought. This is because the benefits of competition are not restricted to conventional, tangible goods; they also apply to intellectual products.
In particular, having multiple, independent intellectual organizations competing in the proposal of novel solutions, in educating society, and in attracting donations from the rich, creates a strong incentive for those organizations to deliver high-quality output, which is one of the cornerstones of capitalist thought.
The U.S. activist, Malcom X, once remarked: “Any time you see someone more successful than you are in the same business, they are doing something you aren't.”
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