The Economy Of Things

The following are random observations of an economic nature that indicate just how much or little Amman has changed in the 5 years that I’ve been gone.

Has there really been a rise in jobs in Amman? I open the paper everyday to find a handful of decent job availabilities, usually in English. A four star hotel is requiring immediately 17 job vacancies: from ‘director of sales’ to ‘chef de partie’ to ‘cashiers’. All with a minimum of 3 years experience. In the seventh circle Safeway I park my car in the underground garage to find posters pasted to the pillars offering 820JDs for Arabic-English translation (an American company no less). A sign outside the doors of this particular Safeway advertise an opening of a new branch: “Hiring Now!” reads the sign in Arabic and English.

While to the unsuccessful job seeker this perhaps may all seem like a cruel joke it is for me merely an observation of something that is happening today that was not happening 5 years ago when I first left. Rarely could you find a decent job in the newspaper, let alone several advertising internationally recognized companies. Rarely could you find many Jordanians willing to work various jobs that I see them taking up these days. That’s right; a quick glance at the buffet of retail stores and restaurants that have rapidly expanded the service industry of Amman shows mostly young 20-something year olds working behind counters, unashamed. I’ve dared to ask a few in the last couple of days about their work and their attitude tends to be similar: not a career, just a job to help out at home and pay the expenses.

It’s quite interesting. A decade ago most of the retailers in West Amman seemed to live outside of West Amman, now things have changed.

Moreover, many of the advertisements involve organizations outside Jordan (typically the Gulf) recruiting from within Jordan. Today’s Al-Ghad paper has an ad for a program assistant needed in the UAE, accountants in Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, economic indicators show that unemployment has not really gone down that much in recent years. Are more and more people leaving to find work outside the country? Or are we seeing a generation of of our youth ‘coming of age’ and simply filling in the gaps. Also keep in mind that these are mostly service industry jobs and not the kind of jobs graduates go looking for with a career in mind. That is a different story.


Everywhere there are major signs of Christmas on the tongues of retailers. It’s actually come to drive me a bit nuts lately. Nearly half of today’s Al Ghad paper has Christmas related advertisements. Most of them are for unrelated Christmas products. Imagine a digital camera wrapped in a red bow or a Nokia cell phone under a Christmas tree. What comes to mind is that retailers are cashing in on the marketing in all ways possible but what follows that thought is the obvious question: how many people are you or can you possibly appeal to? Christmas and Eid Al-Adha are within each other’s sights this year but only the very small Jabal Hussein clothing type retailers are advertising for Eid, the larger companies seem to be avoiding it all together. Is it possible Christmas is just more marketable than Eid? Probably. But I’m just dying to see some numbers on this.

Building Suburbia:

Last summer the Royal Village was I believe the first proposed suburbia type project launched outside Amman. Since then it seems every now and then another project pops up. One recently showcased a couple of thousand homes to be built near the airport. Good thing or bad thing? A bit of both I think. Imagine living in a nice neighborhood where the houses are somewhat similar, there are actual blocks and facilities like local pools, even sidewalks and predetermined localized shopping centers; all of this only 10 minutes away from Amman. The problem with this is that it’s an invitation to house more and more people. More and more homes encourages more and more consumption of resources such as water, electricity and heat that this country has very little of to begin with. It does however mean people will start moving outside the city and as it took me 15 minutes to simply cross the Medina street today, I’d say that’s a good thing. I think the idea is to build now, worry later, but I’m more of the worry first type of person. The more homes, the more pressures will be placed on these resources, which will of course result in a rise in prices for everyone. I’m also curious to know the demographics: whose buying the homes thus far? Jordanians? Foreigners? What’s the ratio?

Direct Competition:

This is perhaps the strangest thing of all. What is now known on a shababi-social level as Swefieh’s “share3 il-shawarmah” (shawarma street) has about 5 shawarma restaurants literally all lined up next to each other. Most of them seem to be doing well. On Medina street, in the condensed block of of restaurants, there are at least 4 seafood places next to each other. The same can be seen in various other locations around town such as mujama3 jabar and Garden’s street. It reminds me of Irbid where there are whole streets that are identified with the occupations that occupy them. For example, picture one street with several tall buildings all of them offices for doctors, or dentists, or lawyers.

The Average Jo:

The average Jordanian is faced with the same problem as always: rising prices that make it impossible to save money. Expenses are through the roof when I compare them to 5 years ago. This is probably one of the major factors behind all the banks advertising in the newspapers and on tv, asking Jordanians to sign their life away to loans. One advertisement shows a married couple cutting the wedding cake with the headline: “have the wedding of your dreams with a loan”.

Increased taxes have not helped people fight off inflation either. The government’s economic policies with regards to this matter are a widely acknowledged failure. I think the overnight syndrome that has grasped the country due to the turmoil of the region has left only one stubborn policy to pursue: create more jobs. It’s a mantra now.

What seems to be worse is this culture of consumption we’ve come to incorporate into our everyday lives. The average Jordanian according to some economists, consumes 120% more than their income, to afford a lifestyle made possible by those bank loans.

Consumerism is fine by me, it’s what makes the capitalist system go round. However I cringe every time I see an overdose of consumption in a country that has limited production. It’s like a dog chasing its tail; it eventually crashes to the floor in a dizzy spell.

I’m willing to bet that if there’s any industry showing any signs of success based on its rapid expansion in the past five years, it’s been the food service industry. From American franchises to the local flavors, these places are opening up in practically every new building. Five years from now there will probably be a Starbucks and KFC on every corner.


  • Lot’s to think about, isn’t there? I am very concerned about the personal debt that people are accumulating for lifestyle maintenance. As concerned as I am about the pop-culture morality imported, I am more alarmed by this debt-addiction and lack of future thinking.

    Our family has a hard time with so much available. It was much easier when we couldn’t get things from the West. Now, it is here, but so expensive there is just no way it’s in the budget and the kids don’t get it. I think it is a good lesson in self-restraint.

  • I always found it quiet hard to get to the facts of how life in Jordan is changing, because when I talked to some of the people I went to school with the complaints seem to grow year on year, thou from an outsider’s prospective things seem to be getting better! The closest I can get to an explanation is that their expectations and lust for consumerism are growing at a faster pace. I for one find that sad!

    I do believe that Jordan has a more open economy and equal opportunity than it did 5 or 10 years ago, however a fairly significant cross section of society is still struggling to adjust and cope with this, this is the single career for life section who usually took it for granted that you will just get a job in the army of the civil service and that will do.

    Hopefully this will change sooner than later otherwise we will end up with a much more polarised society than we ever had.

  • kinzi: “It was much easier when we couldnâ??t get things from the West.” i actually said something similar the other day. when some products wern’t around people just went on with their lives. now those products are available, and availability is a good thing, but the downside is it encourages more spending…it’s ingrained in the seductive nature of the free market.

    Nidal: yes most of the country is having a tough time adjusting. the recent wave of inflation from the war on iraq era, has left the middle class trying to keep up appearances while the lower classes struggling to survive at all, now that their 150jds doesn’t buy as much as it used to.

    also keeping in mind that civil servants retire after something like 15 years and most that enter it are quite young to start with. so you’re 31 or 35 and now you need a new career, or watch as your monthly retirement payment slowly begins to feel like a welfare check.

    you’re also right about the increased desires, so asking friends is not the best instrument for measuring economic progress. you need an outsiders view that comes with the presence of contrast or lack there of.

  • I really canâ??t comprehend the situation in Jordan on one hand you see large scale investments going in the country in almost every part of it. On the other hand it is not reflected on the level of life of Jordanians, life is getting more and more expensive and the average of salaries has not increased to compensate for that.

    I graduated a year ago and started a career, when Iâ??m expecting the outcome of it in 5 years to come, I canâ??t see my self achieving what people, with the same initial conditions but started 5 years ago, have achieved in the same period of time. And even though I started in Gulf I donâ??t count it as an advantage.

  • Re: 1. unemployment, maybe what we’re seeing is the rise of the network society. All that globalisation and technology has opened business from outside, and an expansion of the service sector, but the people taking these jobs are the “4th World”: they are disconnected from the rest of the world and socially powerless, but they live among us (and work for us) network-society-elites / globally connected peoples. I am not too expert at applying the theory behind the Network Society, see Manuel Castells for that, his work is quite interesting (to me at least).

  • ^ (of course there are probably a number of other different explanations.. like the ones you mentioned, or like unemployment being the same because the labour force is growing because we’re more desperate for money?)

  • As you know, you live in Jordan with the Parliament and people you have, not the parliament or people you might want or wish to have at a later time

    So what’s going on? Nothing! There is no planning or long term economical strategies nor anyone cares!
    Suburbias? It’s just the trend, of course no one has thought how they need more roads,schools,heating…etc..High rises would be the solution, but the government would grin on such suggestion since they are land owners and currently they are cashing big money!

    فÙ? Ù?شرةبÙ?دÙ? (in a nutshell)
    Happy Eid and Merry Christmas, do it the Jordanian way, we’ll think about it later, khaleeha 3al tasaheel!Rabak befrejha, ba3deen, ebtedabbar, leesh galgan? enta meen warak?

Your Two Piasters: