Not many people know what the word ‘radical’ really means.
When politicians speak about radical economic transformation (or RET for short), they generally mean, depending on their point of view, violent, militant, extreme, or just plain awesome economic transformation. But what does the word truly mean?
Radical comes from the same word as ‘radish’ – the Latin word ‘radix’, which means ‘root’.
Therefore, radical economic transformation should really mean transformation that gets to the root of our problems. And that would therefore imply a kind of shared agreement about what the root of our problems is.
Of course, the proponents of RET have a simple answer for this – colonialism, which to them was the political expression of the evils of capitalism. And so the solution is obvious. End capitalism. Nationalise banks, mines, land. Let the government run it for the good of the people.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how South Africans need to start building their own punk rock economy.
In an age of declining institutions, we should embrace a DIY approach to work and life that prioritises authenticity, intentionality, and craftsmanship.
Beneath such advice lies an understanding of work and economics that is radically different to the ideology of modern economics.
I was reminded of this recently when I stumbled again across a book I read at varsity: ‘Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered’, written by economist EF Schumacher in 1973. The fourth chapter is called ‘Buddhist Economics’ and was written by Schumacher decades earlier after he worked as an adviser to the Prime Minister of Burma.
In the Dickens classic, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, the protagonist ends the novel by sacrificing his life for the husband of his one true love, his rival in essence.
Before he dies, this protagonist, Sydney Carton, says the following:
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.
“I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy…
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
The genius of the novel is that Dickens lets nobody off the hook – both the regime of pre-revolutionary France and the revolutionary leaders have blood on their hands.
But redemption comes from somebody who sees through the cycle of violence and absorbs it.
Nicola is a good friend’s sister and a really interesting person. She has experience being an investment banker in London, and a transport pilot in Africa. She is also an avid podcaster – see theflightstuffcast.com
She recently read this column and was stunned by the lack of economic engagement on the part of the writer.
Basically, the writer is arguing that new DA mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, was wrong to cancel the bicycle lane project in favour of more spending on basic services in Alexandra.
I, for one, can’t believe the politically tone-deaf thinking contained in the piece, while Nicola was interested in the lack of economic engagement by the piece, which instead bases its arguments on nebulous international ‘standards’.
First of all, let me say that I understand poverty will always exist in some form or another because we live in an imperfect world.
One of the misplaced keys to politics is, I believe, a sense of the tragic. We need to realise that we can’t bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. There will never be a utopia (after all utopia really means ‘no place’).
With that in mind, we need to take the world as we find it, and try to ameliorate the suffering that seems to be part of the human experience. We should do this not only because it increases human happiness, but because it is how save our own souls – by treating our fellow humans as neighbours.
So what big ideas can we use to try to alleviate poverty?
I want to throw out something radically simple.
If you are still mystified about the rise of Trump, this is the article you need to read.
His critics dismiss him too glibly. But the fact that such a strange man like Donald Trump has so much popularity tells us something is shifting in the world.
And that shift comes as a result of a seismic aftershock to globalisation.
Globalisation is the process by which the world’s economies and cultures have become interlocked and inter-connected.
Two examples help us to understand it:
1. Money lenders in the US take gambles on risky mortagages and crash their economy. Here in South Africa people somehow lose their jobs as a result as demand is sucked up worldwide.
2. I remember travelling to Malawi a decade ago. Even in its quietest corners, I came across young children wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the images of American rappers.
The great hope after the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism was this idea of a new global village, where democracy and free trade inspires a free and prosperous world, progressing under the auspices of a Pax Americana.
As human beings, we need to be valued as individuals and we need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. If an organisation can’t validate both needs, it will crumble.
The traditional churches are bleeding members. Almost everybody hates their bank. In South Africa, the ANC is falling apart. Parastatals are falling apart. Sports clubs are even dying. More and more it seems as though we live isolated lives, without our loyalty being inspired by any larger body.
In the US, the Democratic Party almost nominated a presidential candidate who is barely a Democrat (Bernie Sanders only joined the party a few months before he launched his campaign). The Republican Party actually nominated somebody who hates their party (Trump has continuously mocked the Bushes and other party leaders).
About a week ago, I wrote a post entitled “The ANC Will Die”. Some people told me this was a ridiculous notion. I think JZ’s proving those critics wrong today.
This week we have seen Number 1’s response to losing three major metros to the DA. He has taken charge of state owned enterprises, and is building a narrative to get rid of Pravin Gordhan, perhaps the most respected ANC leader right now internationally.
In short, he is looting our democracy.
In most normal political parties, the party structures would now just hold a vote of no confidence and move on with governing instead of these power games (which hurt the poor most of all).