Petro-Dollars and Economic Change in OPEC Nations
All the OPEC nations, particularly those in the Middle East, have become the scene of hectic development and massive construction efforts, resembling boom towns in Western movies. The landscape is transforming so rapidly that it is done as if by Aladdin's genie. At no time in history has there been so much change in such a short time in lands where nomads roamed a decade ago. The present prosperity of the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries can be compared only with the golden days of Arabia during the reign of Harun al-Rashid in the last part of the eighth century, and that, too, would pale by comparison. Construction is the catchword and it is everywhere. The din of jackhammers and pile drivers, the construction of derricks, the whining of bulldozers, and the iron frameworks of high-rise buildings are quickly changing the landscape all around. The ports are clogged with shiploads of imported supplies, and the narrow streets are jammed with Mercedeses, Fiats, and other symbols of new-found wealth.
The welfare state is distributing money liberally from the cradle to the grave. Education and health care are free. Housing and food prices are subsidized. Patients are flown to Europe for special treatment, if necessary, at the cost of the government. The most precious commodity in the Middle East, water, can be found almost anywhere in oil-rich countries, thanks to innumerable desalination plants.
The benefits of consumerism are everywhere in the OPEC lands, particularly in the Persian Gulf countries. Today, a consumer society has blossomed throughout the Middle East, but it is a consumerism sustained mostly by imports. As Ray Vicker of the Wall Street Journal reported in June 1977, it is "buy, buy, buy, for everything in sight." 1 Teheran now has an automobile population of 650,000, while only eight years ago the