Thursday, March 6, 2008 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

City of Fortune--Is it an Illusion?

"Dubai is a spectacular boom town that mirrors and magnifies the obsessions of the modern age: war, oil, 9/11, consumerism, celebrity, real estate hysteria, environmental degradation, globalization, the gap between rich and poor. On one level, it represents all that the world aspires to; on another, its greatest failings."
Magic Kingdom or Glass House?
Deborah Campbell

There are two locations in the world that fascinate me. One of them happens to be China. The other is Dubai. The former will likely become the most influential economic power for the next few centuries. The latter is a mystery... to me... and to all.

I finally signed up for The Walrus, a Canadian version in the footsteps of Harper's, the 2nd oldest American magazine (the oldest is Scientific American). I should have done this a long time ago because I have been meaning to expand my horizons. Besides, no self-respecting liberal with a sucky job and too much free time on their hand should avoid these magazines (either that, or try to get a better paying job that takes more of one's time; or find true love ;) ). Anyway, I was browsing their archives and came across a good article about Dubai.

Magic Kingdom or Glass House? was written by Deborah Campbell for the September 2007 issue of The Walrus. It isn't on investing or economics. It probably belongs more on my general interest blog than here; but I thought some might find it interesting given that many economic and financial cross-currents cut through Dubai.

If you have time to kill and are interested in a fascinating city like Dubai, I suggest that you read the full feature-length piece. The article is an illuminating look at the city that is the modern symbol of wealth. For those not plugged into the Middle East, this article also gives a feel for some of the thinking that percolutes over there.

I squint at a line in my notes, trying to remember who told me, “Dubai is Arab leadership, British intelligence, and American lifestyle,” leaving out only Third World labour as the fourth leg of this table. With its population drawn from 180 nations, including the army of low-wage labourers building towers to Heaven, is Dubai another Babel? Will God curse it for its hubris, for attempting to make in the inhospitable desert a glittering Shangri-La? Is it the apogee of human civilization, an “end of history” built on free-market capitalism if not liberal democracy, or is it just a mirage, the oil boom’s final glorious homage to itself?

Surrouned by desert rises a city wealthier than most places on earth. Most of it, like an oasis in the desert, is an illusion. I find Dubai interesting because it is an improbably wealthy city in the middle of nowhere. It is also situated in a hotspot between Europe, Africa, and Asia. But then again that is what makes it prosper. When was the last time you heard of a city or a country situated off the map that prospered?

As the title of the piece poses, along with the concerned tone of the article, will this all come tumbling down? Many cities and countries seemed to have rosy futures, only to see them come tumbling down? Will one terrorist strike collapse everything? Is all this just an illusion?

Or will Dubai be the Singapore of the future? A city outliving its size, playing an important part in commerce, and being wealthy beyond anyone imagined? A totalitarian city that I will never embrace; but one that wealthy individuals or those willing to sacrifice personal freedoms will enjoy?

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