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The concept that the government should serve as an employer of last resort in times of economic stress was first floated by the late economist Hyman Minsky. Its modern-day proponents remain largely marginalized, despite the nation’s persistently high unemployment and the extreme damage to the job market that was done by the deepest recession in generations. 

But Ali Kadri, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, argues the policy, which works as an automatic stabilizer when economies are struggling, is all the more appropriate for an Arab world that has been plagued by extremely high joblessness and a general lack of infrastructure and development. He says the Arab spring creates an opportunity for a drastic shift in the region’s approach to social and economic policy.

The retention of resources and their redeployment within the national economy are indispensable conditions for development and job creation. Employment policies are best set subject to social efficiency criteria distinct from the salient neoclassical productivity ones. It is highly unlikely, in view of the sheer smallness to which industry and the productive economy have shrunk under neoliberalism, that it would be possible to reemploy the massive redundant labour force on the basis of expanding private sector expansion and productivity gains. A criterion valuing and remunerating social work may be costly in the short term, but the social returns will reimburse initial expenses over the long term.

Notwithstanding the reductionist nature of the neoclassical criterion of efficiency, equity, in an Arab context of war and oil, must precede any received criteria for efficiency. More egalitarian rent, land and resource distributions redressing the dispossession of the working population during the neoliberal age represent the necessary conditions for effective demand enhancement and a successful development strategy. In practical terms, the state has to act as the employer of last resort (Minsky’s ELR) creating socially relevant and public sector employment. Increasing-returns industry and a granting of preferential status to regional capital and labour are also required. In view of the instability besetting capital accumulation, a regional security arrangement bolstered by working class security and substantiating autonomy over policy can underwrite long-term employment generating investment