THE SAUDI CULTURE OF WORK

THE SAUDI CULTURE OF WORK

You are the future king of Saudi Arabia. You have serious problems to address.


Half your population is under 25, so you know your economy must generate many more jobs. The kingdom’s political and social stability depends on it.

You know that new technologies have made it easier to find oil in new places around the world and pull it from the ground. The resulting surge in global oil supply means energy prices are unlikely to return to the heights of years past ($147 per barrel in 2008). You better make changes that ease your dependence on the sale of oil for government revenue.

You’ll also need to reduce government spending. Nearly two-thirds of working Saudis are employed by the state, and it will become gradually more difficult to pay all these people the wages they expect. You need to encourage more Saudis to take private-sector jobs.

But many of your people don’t want private-sector work. In government jobs, prestige is high, hours are short, vacations are long, and the pay is good.

In addition, 45 percent of Saudi private-sector jobs are in the construction sector. That means manual labor, which many Saudis consider demeaning. They’d prefer that guest-workers from other countries continue doing that kind of work. (About 11 million of the 33 million people living in Saudi Arabia are foreigners.)

You know that too few Saudis have the education and training to take on white-collar jobs in the private sector. Combine these two problems, for blue- and white-collar work, and you can understand why foreign workers hold 90 percent of the kingdom’s private-sector jobs.

You could set quotas that force employers to include a set percentage of Saudis on their payroll and tax the hiring of foreign workers to make it more expensive. You could also tax the foreign workers directly.

In fact, that’s exactly what the Saudi government has been doing. The result is that 800,000 foreign guest-workers have left the kingdom in the past two years, according to a report from Eurasia Group’s Sarah Al Shaalan. Yet there’s no rush of Saudis to take their place in the workforce, and the unemployment rate has risen to an unprecedented high of 12.9 percent.

The bottom line: To bring the Saudi economy into the 21st century, future King Mohammad bin Salman must do more than change the law. He must find a way to change Saudi attitudes toward work. That means changing Saudi culture. His decision to try to bring more women into the workforce by allowing them to drive suggests he understands this better than anyone else.

Unfortunately, a correct diagnosis is not enough to solve a problem. Given the stakes, there’s no doubt he’ll keep working at it.

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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