A FEW columns past, a reader rightly criticised me for demanding from Business Day op-ed contributor Glenn Silverman, chief investment officer at Investment Solutions, that, instead of simply calling for change in the way we do business, he should enumerate the changes. In doing that without venturing my own ideas, I did exactly what I accused Silverman of doing.
This is pretty daft, I admit, but in mitigation I must plead it is not unfair to assume that readers of Business Day ought to understand that to manage change, even profound systemic change, requires specifics.
Anyhow, here is the point I should have made: the private owners of the means of production have to sever their cosy relationship with the state. This is the profound change we have to make in the way we have been doing business since the rise and centuries-long sway of mercantilism, which saw the relationship between monarch, parliament and the private owners of the means of production conflated into a common cause, ostensibly for the good of the national treasure, and through the oppression of aboriginals and colonists and of the perpetuation of slavery.
This was the old way of doing business. This is what business in South Africa wants to achieve with its sycophantic relationship with the government. This is what has given rise to several revolutions since the Renaissance and cemented the reputation of capitalism as exploitative of the unpropertied class. This, indeed, is true where the gravitas of the state serves the interests of the private owners of capital over others who have an interest in the fruits of production. As the insurgencies of the past months have shown, it is precisely this relationship between the state and industry in South Africa in a mercantilist notion of state intervention that arouses the resentment of the masses.
Mercantilism is not capitalism. Marxists would like you to think it is on the grounds of class stratification and offer populist tyranny in the name of egalitarianism — yet nurture precisely that relationship into which business is co-opted by an armed and overwhelmingly wealthy landlord state to squeeze the last drop from South Africa’s productive citizens. Marxists will present SA’s troubles and the global financial meltdown and concomitant social misery as a failure of capitalism, but deny that the failure has been a direct result of the moral hazard designed into the architecture of state-regulated business.
Whether the private ownership of the means of production should be permitted to continue in South Africa is a different argument, but it should be noted that, despite the insults of tyrants, the individual is "led by an invisible hand to promote an end (to the benefit of society) which was no part of his intention", to quote Adam Smith. It is the way of all living organisms, including humanity.
Yes, we must change the way we do business. The change that we seek is for each of us, including corporate citizens, to assume our constitutionally entrenched freedom and responsibility to seek our own advantage, but to do that without the infantile demand for succour from the state.
The first step is to stop seeking the state’s approval for what we do and to stop hoping for a "business-friendly" government. Our government is the enemy of freedom.