Despite sluggish purchasing power and rising prices, everything is packed (hotels, beaches, restaurants, tea rooms and cafes, flights, taxis, leisure spots, etc.), some products and foods are hard to find or sold out. The observation is simple, Tunisians consume and overconsume without limit. How to explain this madness?
While inflation has reached its highest level in 31 years and Tunisians constantly complain about the high cost of living, everywhere there is a frenzy of consumption. The high cost of certain products and foods does not prevent their consumption. Some supermarket shelves are stocked several times a day or empty because of this frenzy. But how to explain this duality between overconsumption on the one hand and half-assed purchasing power on the other.
To answer this question, Business News contacted economic experts and academics to try to explain this phenomenon.
The doctor of economics, teacher-researcher at the University of Carthage and expert-consultant, Aram Belhadj confirmed this observation. ” It is true that observing Tunisians and Tunisian families does not give the impression that there is a crisis in the country he admitted in a statement to Business News.
For him, this is the direct result of inequalities and tax injustices. And to argue that the middle class has been decimated due to significant inequalities: the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten even poorer.
Sir. Belhadj explained that three socioeconomic categories participate in this phenomenon.
The first is an affluent category with purchasing power that provides easy access to goods and services without restrictions.
The other is represented by a large part of the middle class, which tries to maintain the same standard of living as before and which compensates for the deterioration of its purchasing power with excessive use of debt.
The third consists of Tunisians living abroad (TRE), who still have better purchasing power despite the high cost of living in Tunisia, as they are paid in foreign currency.
The economist proposes, in order to put an end to the decline in the purchasing power of the middle class, that a tax on dormant real estate assets be introduced in the absence of the imposition of a tax on wealth to address these inequalities, and which could be an important axis in the tax reform that must be carried out.
For his part, the academic specialist in economics, consultant and business manager, Wajdi Ben Rejeb, believes that a large part of this spending frenzy consists mainly of tourists and TRE returning to the country, two components that consume a lot, strong in their purchasing power.
TRE and tourists, according to him, are able to lead this lifestyle thanks to their purchasing power achieved especially due to the fall of the dinar and its half-bar parity against the euro or the dollar. For him, these are the two categories that fill hotels, flights, restaurants and rent cars because the cost of living in Tunisia remains cheaper than their countries of origin or host countries.
Another aspect mentioned by the economist is the change in the behavior of the average Tunisian: he now applies the logic of the “cicada” and is no longer in the logic of the “ant” before work, savings and investment, referring to the famous fable of La Fontaine.
” Today, Tunisians have realized that they no longer have the capacity to make large investments, such as buying a house, and have turned to pure and hard consumption, to meet their needs and do like everyone else, especially with the development of internet and social media networks, some copy others. It is a phenomenon of mimicry and isomorphy “, he explained.
And to argue that the debt economy occupies a large place in the landscape and that many people get into debt, borrow from other people, from banks or resort to shopping with ease to go on holiday or to consume. These people take comfort in the idea that everyone is doing it, that they deserve it, and there is no need to deprive themselves, according to him.
” But that is bad financial behavior. “, he hammered in his statement to Business News,” because there is a balance to maintain between what we earn and what we spend “. And to clarify that it is a context and a social, sociological and cultural aspect which is not specific to Tunisians but to all southern Mediterranean countries and developing countries.
In response to a query from Business News, he said the pandemic has also been a determining factor, with consumers increasingly adopting irrational behavior based on debt, which explains this frenzy, a legacy of hundreds of years of deprivation. The consumer thus advocates a carpe diem attitude: living day by day and not thinking about the consequences for the next day. The catch is that people who resort to excessive debt then face financial difficulties.
Mr. Ben Rejeb suggested that among the masses there are wealthy people who can afford this kind of behavior, but he emphasized in this context that the rentier economy and the informal economy have grown since the revolution and have been widely developed. Something that has highlighted the inequalities between Tunisians and fueled the new rich, “ war kingdom who exploit the system and influence the behavior of Tunisians of other classes who wish to emulate them.
Wajdi Ben Rejeb therefore ensures that the consumption we observe is misleading because we need to see how this consumption is paid for. And to add that the Tunisians are in the image of the country, in debt and continue to get into debt despite a very high debt ratio.
The observed consumption frenzy and the behavior of Tunisians do not reflect the reality of their economy and their purchasing power. Like the country, a large fringe of the country flaunts an unreal splendor, financed by excessive indebtedness.