Economic Lessons from Egypt: Grow the Economic Pie Instead of Subsidizing It

EgyptA common criticism of liberals is that their solution to every problem is to throw money at it.

Why not? Government has a lot of money and can tax the people and businesses to get more of it. It’s a seemingly easy solution to messy and uncomfortable situations.

Here’s why not — there can be an infinite number of problems but only a finite amount of resources. Throwing money at everything inevitably means that money will someday run out at perhaps the most unlikely and unwanted moment.

For proof, look at what’s going on right now in Egypt.

While the American media focused on basketball players’ dealmaking and World Cup soccer, Egyptians began suffering from skyrocketing prices for fuel, food and other necessities.

Previously, when prices for such staples rose, the government solved the problem by throwing money at it. Instead of dealing with whatever systemic problems caused increased prices, the government just used tax revenue to subsidize lower prices and thus eased the pain of the people. This worked for a while. The people could afford the life’s necessities and the government kept citizen anger at bay. This was one thing that transcended Egypt’s revolution — until now.

According to a report on National Public Radio, over half of the population of Egypt lives at or below the poverty line and the government was spending over a quarter of its budget on subsidies. Tourism and foreign investment was scared away by the political turmoil of the last three years, which reduced the government’s ability to spend on subsidies.

As an example of the pain now being felt by the population, fuel prices have risen a staggering 78 percent this year.

The Egyptian government’s primary approach was to subsidize the needs of the individual instead of exploring ways to grow the economy. Had it allowed the free market to work by lowering taxes and reducing the role of government, it would have encouraged entrepreneurship, investment and innovation, and thus, jobs and prosperity.

So what can the United States learn from Egypt? Today, the political focus of American liberals is to guarantee rewards in lieu of ensuring growth. In other words, liberals want to make sure certain groups are guaranteed a share of the economic pie since liberal policy has failed to grow that pie.

When President Obama first took office, he helped hammer through an $840 billion package to spur economic growth. Results of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, however, are muted at best. Few can argue the economy has recovered to its pre-crash strength. In fact, economic growth was negative for the first quarter of 2014 (-2.9 percent annualized). With such poor results from liberal economic policies, Obama’s new ideas seek, in part, to force businesses to provide increases in wages that should come naturally from economic growth.

Women would also likely be able to negotiate higher, fairer wages when they have the ability to move from a company that is not paying them fair wages to a company that does. Less experienced workers will have more options to demand more wages if they have options. Government should not have to mandate it.

Additionally, in light of the events in Egypt, there is less need to distribute unemployment benefits to those out of work when economic growth provides more and more jobs.

These options present themselves when there is growth. But liberals apparently think it is much easier to try to force top-down positive results in the short-term without regard for long-term consequences.

Unfortunately, as Egypt now shows, this approach cannot last forever. More specifically, trying to force such results from the economy without the actual benefit of growth is not sustainable. Whether the policy is to force businesses to pay higher wages when unemployment is relatively high, increasing subsidies for unemployment or growing subsidies for the provision of basic individual needs, forcing more reward when the proverbial pie has not grown is not sustainable.

Just ask our friends in Egypt.

Photo credit: Abe World! (Creative Commons) – Some Rights Reserved

P21HugheyNewsomeHughey Newsome, a business consultant in the D.C. area, is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to

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