Commentary

Saudis in a Tight Corner — the Princes Make Clever Moves & Mistakes, Too

The fanfare surrounding President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia failed to lift the shroud off the very tight corner that the Kingdom was in. It is a corner that some of the Princes realize they have allowed themselves to be pushed into. If they are to escape, a large dose of potent medicine will be required.

The nub of the Kingdom’s problem centers on the fact that it is a giant socialist enterprise. According to the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Development, a whopping 67% of employed Saudis are on the Kingdom’s payroll. Many of these state employees do little more than collect a paycheck. Coupled with this is a tangled maze of juicy subsidies and handouts Saudis receive for doing nothing. Where do the funds come from? Oil, of course.

The nub of the Kingdom’s problem centers on the fact that it is a giant socialist enterprise.

With the collapse of oil prices in 2009, reality set in, and the Princes became squeezed tightly into an unfamiliar corner. In an attempt to move out of the corner, Mohammed Bin Salman, the Deputy Crown Prince, produced a bold plan, Vision 2030. His plan includes a massive privatization (the sale of a piece of the state-owned oil giant Aramco), a sharp cut in wages and benefits for civil servants and significant subsidy cuts. The wage and benefit cuts didn’t go down well. So, the Kingdom reversed course and cancelled many of the cuts. The Princes learned quickly that once a government gives away goodies (read: grants so-called “rights”), it’s hard to take them away.

One change that was not rolled back was the switch from the lunar-based, religious Hijri calendar to the western Gregorian calendar. This occurred on October 1, 2016. The reason for this radical change was simple economics.

The Gregorian calendar has 10.9 more days than the Hijri calendar, meaning that the public sector can cut costs through the dilution of wages—same pay spread over more working days. In another move that touches on sensitive religious matters, the Kingdom has announced that it will increase visa charges for people completing their religious pilgrimage, the Hajj. Even in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, economics has trumped religion.

If the Saudis really wanted to embrace a calendar without any religious implications, and one that is superior from a logical, economic point of view, they should adopt a permanent calendar (read: the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar). The Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar (HHPC) provides a comprehensive template for revising the contemporary Gregorian calendar. It adheres to the most basic tenet of a fixed (read: permanent) calendar—each year, each date falls on the same day of the week, and every year begins on Monday, January 1st.

The year is then divided into four three-month quarters. Each month begins on the same day (and date) each year. The first two months of each quarter are made up of 30 days; the third is made up of 31. So, each quarter contains 91 days, resulting in a 364 day year that is comprised of 52 seven-day weeks. This is a vital feature of the HHPC, because, by preserving the seven-day Sabbath cycle, the HHPC avoids the major complaints from ecclesiastical quarters that have doomed all other attempts at calendar reform.

Moreover, the HHPC accounts for the disparity between the necessary length of the HHPC (364 days) and the astronomical calendar (roughly 365.24 days, the duration of one full orbit of the Earth around the Sun) by simply tacking one additional full week to the end of every fifth or sixth year (specifically 2020, 2026, 2032, 2037, 2043, 2048 and so on). This keeps the calendar in line with the seasons — serving the same function as the leap year in the present Gregorian system.

If you wish to determine the day of the week your birthday will fall on forever under the HHPC, just look at the calendar below.

Steve Hanke is a professor of applied economics at The Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.