I AM happy. I love that I was born here and now live in a democracy in Africa. It has taught me my manners and to respect my fellow citizens in a way that Europe never quite managed in 20 years. I love the fact that in this country when the chief of police makes a mess of an appointment we can all pile in and savage it; or that no matter how much power and cunning he has, not even the president can stop the law forever. I am swept away by the romance of normality, of watching our government do as rotten a job with poverty or corruption or education or industrial "policy" as do so many other supposedly more sophisticated countries. We are neither uniquely gifted nor incompetent. And it’s a comfort to have good choices for Springbok flyhalf and scrumhalf too.
But, oh dear, we do have a really serious problem at the top. It is that no one making policy in government, or the ANC, has ever run a business? There are good reasons for that and it won’t last forever. But there’s an attitude, a hostility, to business in the ANC and the government that ruins almost every turn of economic and fiscal policy. It is the root reason we cannot grow.
Partly it’s because the ANC leadership confuses economics with finance or business. There are any number of so-called "development economists" advising the president. Some even went to universities overseas. Now in power, they are the folk who think that with a kick here and a push there, why, they can reshape the capitalist beast into almost anything. Hence we have price controls on scrap metal. Coal’s next. Then all minerals, so they can be turned into turbine blades or world-class jewellery right here. Easy, if only business would play ball.
No surprise then that Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu could tell a mining conference in Australia last week she wants investors in mining companies to live with lower returns so they can spend more on social upliftment. Who will save us from this rubbish? It is hard to believe that stuff like this can still be uttered by a cabinet minister in a modern economy.
It is the job of local, provincial or national government to supply basic services — water, sewerage, electricity, refuse collection — to people. They do this by spending what are called taxes on the procurement and supply of these services. This is why governments collect this tax thing. But where do taxes come from, I hear you cry?
They come from companies that make big profits and from the salaries they pay. If a company makes a loss, even a small one, it does not pay any tax. So please, in South Africa in 2013, no matter how much we might hate those greedy/rich/thieving/whatever-else-you-want-to-call-them monsters who run or invest in businesses, come up with a new plan. I undertake to die of happiness if President Jacob Zuma were ever to stand up and say: "I want South Africa to be the country in which businesses can make the most money in the shortest amount of time."
The bigger the profit, the more the tax and, usually, jobs. It is pointless trying to change the world or to change the way profit drives people. Let business do what it does, Mr President and Ms Shabangu, and you’ll have more than enough tax revenue to satisfy your electorate for decades. The more you drive business in the opposite direction, the less time you’ve got.
EVERY now and then someone deems it useful to remind me that in the 1999 general election, I, as editor then of the Financial Mail, formally endorsed the UDM of Bantu Holomisa. The intent is obviously to try to humiliate me. The latest reader to pull at this chain is Mark Lowe from Cape Town after I had written approvingly of Mamphela Ramphele, which he took for an electoral endorsement. In the same way he deliberately misread my welcoming of COPE into the political landscape in late 2008.
Everyone has their reasons for doing this. I presume Lowe’s is because I don’t write approvingly (enough) of the DA. I might, if someone could just explain their economic policy to me.
Meanwhile, I certainly don’t regret my 1999 moment. My point about the ANC then is even more appropriate now.
Holomisa may not have come to much but, if backing winners is the game, then I’m not interested. Karl Marx wrote this book Das Kapital. It was very good on describing the problem but, we know now, not so good on the solution. So what? I’ll bet he isn’t sorry either.