Monday, August 3, 2020
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An outsider’s take on what makes Dubai tick

Visitors to Dubai are often left wonderstruck by its achievements. For most of them, it presents a culture shock beyond description and negates all that they have been conjuring up in their minds about the place.

Whether it is the infrastructure, quality of life, sense of security or even the way people dress, the initial reaction is one of disbelief and it takes a while for reality to set in.

For some visitors, particularly those from the developing world, the Dubai experience has an inspirational dimension that sets them thinking about what they have been missing in their own countries. It is a stark reminder of how their own governments frittered away great opportunities for progress, although hardcore patriots among them would insist that Dubai is quite an ‘unreal’ place and that what is possible here may not be practical elsewhere, given the scale and the depth of problems as well as the burden of history inherited by their countries through the ages.

Dubai fires up the imagination of not just those from developing countries. Visitors from the developed world are left spellbound as well. A Forbes article on Dubai gives insight into this aspect. The contributor — Bill Frezza, a technology evangelist and venture capitalist — even suggests booming Dubai can remind America how to grow again.

Venture capital partner

Frezza spent his early career years at Bell Laboratories, holds seven patents and has been investing in early-stage tech start-ups for the last 17 years as partner in a venture capital firm. “If you despair for America, visit Dubai. If you fear our nation’s best days are behind us, visit Dubai. If you believe American entrepreneurship is being crushed by incompetent bureaucrats, crony capitalists, rabid regulators, and a growing dependent class, visit Dubai.

“If you worry that Detroit represents our future, that ‘equality’ will triumph over excellence, and that redistributionist democracy has entered a death spiral, visit Dubai.”

This is how Frezza opens his piece on Dubai. His views certainly merit more serious consideration than those of first-time visitors whose highly impressionable minds might be swayed by the glitz and glam of the city. Frezza asks his countrymen to visit Dubai to convince themselves that “if an isolated culture in one of the most troubled regions of the world can shake off the fetters of stagnation and build a prosperous modern city where 25 years ago there was only desert, then surely America can regain much of what it has lost”.

Of course, he underlines the fact that when Dubai set out building its economy, it did not have to deal with millions of citizens on dole or had piled up trillions of dollars in government debt and unfunded liabilities, like the US did, or pander to an electorate that clamoured for free stuff.

At the same time, he points out how Dubai lacked any of the resources that America had access to, such as natural resources, human capital, a track record of entrepreneurship or technology prowess.

The article attributes Dubai’s success to a leadership possessed by an unshakeable will to avoid the sorry fate of its neighbours by adopting an economic system “we seem all too willing to abandon: capitalism”.

The recipe for Dubai’s success is: rule of law, free trade, low taxes, business-friendly regulations, free movement of people and capital, no tolerance for corruption, physical safety, and security of property. By creating an environment of economic freedom, complemented by selective investment in infrastructure, Dubai’s leaders ensured that capital and talent poured in from every corner of the world.

— The writer is a journalist based in Dubai