In an effort to restore its credibility in global capital markets, the government of Dubai recently issued a 58-page report detailing its austerity plans as it works its way towards responsible, long-term planning. The report is being touted by the media as “unusually transparent” compared to most reports coming out of the Middle East that are heavily influenced by officials trying to paint rosy images of their centrally-planned economies. In the report, the government acknowledges the cancellation of close to a thousand real estate projects valued at tens of billions of dollars. The lack of demand was sighted as the primary reason for the cancellations. This comes at a time when a possible deal is being worked out on the restructuring of debt for Dubai World, the largest sovereign wealth fund to ever default on payments to its creditors at the onset of the financial crisis.
There is a statement in the report that may not stand out to the average reader, but has significant Memetic implications as to where Dubai is in its cultural emergence. The statement says that the government had completed a major reassessment of the “economic development” element of the Dubai Strategic Plan for 2015 (DSP 2015) which resulted in the cancellation of these projects. When DSP2015 was made public it called for the systemic development of Dubai. In addition to economic development, it called for social development, modernization of the security apparatus (police), development of the judiciary and public safety, and for excellence in government. The report emphasizes that the government will now be focusing on those other aspects of the plan that were ignored during the boom years. So, why is Dubai emphasizing these aspects of their cultural development now? The answer is simple: In their rush to look like the West, government leaders trampled over this very essential developmental stage called the ORDER value system (vMEME), what is known in Spiral Dynamics as the all-important BLUE stage.
Thirty years ago, Dubai, much like the rest of the Middle East was mostly centered in the TRIBAL-EGOCENTRIC vMEME. Historically, cultures lingered in these value systems for centuries before life conditions propelled them to seek higher levels of complexity. But, the Gulf region of the Middle East was different; enter the role of money. Immense wealth that appeared suddenly was thought of as the needed catalyst to rapidly develop the culture and in a few short years have it have Memetic complexity that rivaled that of the West. So with a charismatic ruler like , Sheik Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who embodied the HEALTHY expression of the EGOCENTRIC vMEME at the helm, the Emirate embarked on one of the most ambitious development plans in modern human history. Like the rest of the Middle East, having Western corporations and personnel in charge of their huge projects was thought of as cultural emergence; if it looked like the West, it must act like the West. This false belief made the ruler of Dubai fall into the “build it and they will come” illusion that was further reinforced by opportunistic global firms offering “the higher, the bigger the better” sales pitch that built this desert oasis overnight. With most of the focus being on the real estate sector, little attention was paid to who was buying up Dubai. At one point during the boom, as much as 85% of buyers were speculators with value systems that thrived on the smell of money, short-term EGOCENTRIC vMEME that loved instant gratification with no complexity for long-term thinking. There were no laws similar to those in the US or other advanced countries that limited investor purchases to 25% within a project. These Western designed types of restrictions come from a vMEME that’s heavily entrenched in the ORDER value system, on which the ENTERPRISE value system was built. Leaders of Dubai thought they can skip this stage altogether. After all, having a good Judiciary system doesn’t land you on the cover of Fortune Magazine or get you on 60 Minutes. Anyone who warned of the need for this type of order was quickly dismissed. Absence of order needed to meet the growing needs of this city state wasn’t just in the real estate sector, it was felt at systemic levels and the general rule became that anyone sounding the alarm over anything that came in the way of progress was silenced immediately.
The strategy of avoiding the ORDER vMEME was very short lived and came to a halt when global liquidity dried up and Dubai was left with thousands of unfinished projects and no money to complete them. The most iconic humiliation the Ruler of Dubai suffered was having to change the name the tallest building in the world from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifah after Sheikh Khalifah the Ruler of Abu Dhabi put up the money to finish the Tower. Many other failures continued to expose the short sightedness of an experiment that put one value system before the other. The thinking that money alone can bring on human emergence was proven wrong. If anything, money showed the pathologies and greed that are inherent in human nature. Europeans who’ve been known to belong to the EGALITARIAN/HUMANITARIAN value system, descended to their past imperial/colonialist selves very quickly and became the pillagers of wealth. Americans running some of the world largest sovereign funds for Dubai embarked on buying worthless companies that were teetering on bankruptcy and collected enormous fees on both ends of the transactions. This was Disney World for Western business people where they saddled every business entity with enormous debt, filling their pocket with outrageous compensation without any of their activity ever being scrutinized by a proficient ORDER system that understood the nature of what was being done. When all the dust cleared, the Westerners went home and the government of Dubai was left with hundreds of billions in liabilities. The Ruler soon realized you can only imprison so many executives before the practice becomes a public relations disaster. Not building on a solid foundation of an ORDER vMEME is an open invitation for people and entities with EXPLOITIVE value systems and a great degree of intelligence to manipulate the absence of complexity of a lower vMEME. Even with enormous wealth at your disposal, YOU CAN’T SKIP A STAGE! A very tough lesson indeed in the science of value systems.