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The short-termism trap

Apr 03,2021 - Last updated at Apr 03,2021

Short-termism (excessive focus on short-term results at the cost of long-term benefits) is not a new concept. However, it speedily became more prominent by the Internet of Everything (the intelligent connection of people, process, data and things). Jordanian individuals and institutions, including governance systems, seem to be fast adopters of the rewiring of the brain that comes with short- termism: focusing only on the short-term in everything.

Information is flowing at increasingly faster rates. The pressure within one’s psyche to deliver and perform is growing in intensity. This is evidently true not only for individuals in Jordan, but also within the governance system.  Institutions we are driven to think and decide at the speed of light; and, if the results are not to be promptly achieved, initiatives are discarded to hop on new ones. While short-termism is arguably bad for making life decisions, it is drastically worse for the institutions of the state.

There are ample examples of short-termism among individuals and institutions in the private sector.  For example, the divorce rate in Jordan is rising because, among other things, people look for instant gratification in a marriage instead of a long-term journey with delayed rewards and growing gratification as a result of joint commitments and sacrifices. Also, one may surmise that the majority of investors in the stock market in Jordan are ardent speculators, not long-run investors, this may be true elsewhere too, but I maintain that it is more apparent in the case of Jordan. The short-term thinking is also evident in the behaviour of many retailers, business people, and banks. It is as if the society has become a community of seekers of quick wins and exits (a hit-and-run mindset). 

It is also fair to mention that other factors may affect such a short-term outlook and perspective. Prominent among these is the dwindling trust in the government; whose short-termism has become a primary feature of governance in Jordan. 

The rewiring of the government brain toward short-termism is incessantly evident in the governance system (policies, institutions and processes), which is perilous to say the least. Government institutions have been extremely quick in coming up with initiatives, and even quicker in discarding them. Examples are plentiful. In 1999 the government wanted to follow the Dubai model in attracting investment and development, a year later it switched to the Irish model and experience, and months later it was the Singapore model. Needless to say, beyond announcements and glitzy speeches, we did not follow any and now we talk about a revolution in investment, which call is vacuous and will soon be abandoned. In 2008 we bragged about reducing the debt when we used the privatisation proceeds and sold the port to repay the Paris Club debt, but in 2009 we raised the debt considerably by borrowing domestically at close to four times the interest rate of the settled debt. Another example is the plethora of sporadic and constantly changing tax levies on hybrid cars where taxes and fees have seesawed almost every year since 2006.  Also, not a year passes without an introduction of new taxes or fees on goods and services; thus forgetting the rule that the private sector requires a stable legislative system in order to plan and produce.

Jordan cannot afford this relentless short-termism, especially when it comes to its governance.  Dubai, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Ireland, and others took over 20 years of hard, consistent work toward a goal with clear and focused roadmaps. Development takes time, a long time, two to three decades (not two to three years) if lucky.  So, please think long-term.

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