Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dubai's Submarines

About four years ago, I started hearing about this place I'd never heard of with a name as exotic as "Timbuktu." This place was called Dubai. From what I read at the time, the place was a glittering paradise in the making, with billions of dollars being invested in capital. The goal was simple--invest dwindling oil profits in real estate capital, and the real estate capital ought to pay back in taxes in the long run.

As I learned more, there were cracks in the glittering Dubai facade. Dubai hired thousands of foreign construction workers for cheap, paying them minimum wage to complete the world's largest construction projects, including what is now the world's tallest building.

It wasn't until recently that I saw this, a brief documentary exposing Dubai's darkside, making the desert miracle a mirage, centering around a Frenchman publishing a book about his own Dubai nightmare. He started a company to make personal-sized submarines. The company went bankrupt, and now the investors want to collect.

In America, the corporation would have taken the hit and sank. In Dubai, however, there aren't corporations, and the individual is responsible. They go to jail until they can pay their debts--jail makes that condition difficult.

Reflecting on this, some pieces came together. I remembered an old essay by Paul Graham called "The Submarine." In short, the article portends articles like the ones on Dubai. These articles are virtually written by PR firms, hired by businesses and countries to promote products and services with the validation of "journalism." The articles on Dubai wreak of the qualities described in The Submarine.

Then the irony really hit me; the video bashing Dubai itself, that too was a plug from a PR firm for that Frenchman's book. It's as if anything you hear about that damn place, some one paid for. Do they really do anything there but spend?

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