Saturday, 2010-01-30

Back from Dubai

Work flew us all to a hotel in Dubai for our annual conference. I’m back, safe and sound, although tired.

Dubai is… weird.

The place it reminds me most is the final part of the city in the video game “Crackdown”. Huge glass-clad towers limned in neon, and of course the world’s tallest building Burj Dubai Khalifa [1] standing in for the Agency Tower.

Burj Khalifa

I also get the feeling that the excesses of the expat lifestyle contrasted with the privileges of the Emirati elite will result in a novel or movie by this generation’s Bret Easton Ellis channeling William Gibson.

In retrospect it’s obvious that the outer signs of prosperity —the giant buildings, the lavish artificial islands, the ultramodern metro — were not the result of brilliant free market policies by the autocratic ruling family but were instead a combination of the global hunt for returns and a sovereign state’s implicit guarantee from default. Dubai wasn’t defying the property bubble, it was its apotheosis, and the needle-like Burj Whatever looks like the the pin that burst it. Thousands of speculators lost a lot of money and multiple thousands more poor migrant laborers lost their livelihood.

The place is ghostly, the malls inhabited by wide-eyed tourists arriving six months too late and listless vendors.


Without the debt pumping the economy, there are few attractions. It’s hellishly hot and humid in summer, the prices are high, the rigidly Muslim society frowns on stuff that creative types like, such as public displays of affection, alcohol, and sex out of wedlock. I’ll be seriously surprised if Dubai is even a player in a decade.

[1] Sheikh Khalifa, president of the UAE, personally bailed out the project to the tune of $10bn and got the tower renamed after him. No-one has got around to updating the lavish presentation of the building in the visitor’s area: it’s referred to Burj Dubai throughout.