James Ashton: Human capital could be Dubai’s next challenge

  • @mrjamesashton

“Do you like cricket?” the Pakistani taxi driver asked as he drove us out to The Atlantis hotel, a pink confection on the tip of The Palm that features an ATM dispensing gold in a Rodeo Drive-style shopping arcade. “You look like a bowler.”

Appearances can clearly be deceiving, especially as the same cabbie dismissed the local Emiratis for wiling away their days by only sleeping and eating.

The truth is, even if the locals were working all the hours available, the huge economic boom in Dubai couldn't be sustained without a massive influx of workers. Even if the oil ran dry, there would still be billions to invest. So far the mix of sultry weather and tax-free earnings have proved unbeatable in luring thousands of people to the region to put that money to work in tourism and trade.

It sounds like a sandier version of the American dream, but not everyone is making a fortune. Just don't mention the planeloads of Ethiopian women being flown one way to become housemaids and nannies, leaving their own families at home.

With Dubai's scale of ambition showing no let up, I wonder if the next big challenge may be human capital, not simply capital.