Pro-poor LED fails our cities, towns & the poor: Enterprises of the right kind generate city growth

There is an intriguing symbiosis between cities and towns on the one hand and enterprises on the other. As the world population urbanise, so are business activities.

Physicist Geoffrey West in his “Scale:  The Universal Laws of Life, Growth and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies” says based on city growth one can state precisely what will happen with the number of businesses in that city: a doubling of population does not require a doubling of grocery stores or filling stations, economies of scale kick in in a predictable manner. The reverse is also true.

Geoffrey West & Scale

Unfortunately, South Africa’s economic and enterprise development policies and strategies ignore these predictable realities. In addition, LED plans by municipalities in the main demonstrate a lack of understanding of what drives development.

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Creating jobs and reducing poverty: why not enable the informal sector properly?

Author: Frederick Fourie

President Cyril Ramaphosa aims to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation. Key to this are action plans for employment creation, to be deliberated at a jobs summit.

The South African Informal Sector: Providing jobs, reducing povertyA new edited volume, published by HSRC Press, flags the importance of explicitly addressing the informal sector in such initiatives, given the key role it plays in providing paid employment and reducing poverty. The book is based on research done in the Research Project for Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth (REDI3x3).

This research shows unambiguously that the informal sector is an important source of employment (and of paid employment), with a growing propensity to employ. Regrettably, for many decades the sector has remained forgotten or, at best, in the margins of economic analysis and policy consciousness. Many policy makers appear to group it together with formal SMMEs. Such an approach risks missing key elements of the ‘forgotten’ world of informal enterprises – their potential, the constraints they face, their particular vulnerability, and the policy support they need to be viable and self-standing.

How many jobs are created in the informal sector?

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The resilience of some small towns in the Karoo

A new article in the Journal of Arid Environments (see reference below) examines the ‘Small Town Paradox’ in eight small towns in the Eastern Cape Karoo. Normalised data (enterprise numbers per thousand residents) and estimates of enterprise richness were used in the comparisons. Willowmore, Steytlerville and Jansenville outperformed Aberdeen, Hofmeyr, Steynsburg, Venterstad and Pearston in terms of total enterprises per 1000 residents as well as enterprises per 1000 residents in the tourism & hospitality services and agricultural products and services sectors. In fact, in some measures these towns even outperformed the larger towns of Graaff-Reinet, Cradock, Somerset East and Middelburg. Over some seven decades, the enterprise richness of Willowmore, Steytlerville and Jansenville increased (like those of the larger towns) whereas the enterprise richness of the other five small towns decreased. Hausmann et al. (2017) postulated that productive knowledge is a main determinant of the wealth/poverty of nations. I think this is also true for towns and used enterprise richness as a proxy for the levels of productive knowledge in the towns.

The resilience of towns is now a hot scientific topic. It refers to the ability of towns to respond successfully to adverse changes. Some do it well and some not; hence the ‘Small Town Paradox’. The decline of agriculture, particularly wool farming, in the Karoo stressed many Karoo towns. The study was done to determine if resilience was present in the Eastern Cape Karoo. It was.

The article demonstrates two important issues: 1. There are useful measures whereby the strengths/weaknesses of the entrepreneurial development of South African towns can be compared. 2. Productive knowledge is probably an important component of the resilience of South African towns.

References

Toerien, DF (2018) The ‘Small Town Paradox’ and towns of the Eastern Cape Karoo, South Africa. Journal of Arid Environments. Available free of charge for a limited period at:
https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WwV0Vu7-m4sz

Hausmann, R, Hidalgo, CA, Bustos, S, Coscia, M, Chung, S, Jiminez, J,  Simoes, A & Yildirim, MA. (2017) The Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity. Center for International Development, Harvard University.

Is a pro-poor LED stance justified?

Nel and Rogerson (2016) reviewed Local Economic Development (LED) policy and practice in South Africa. They reported that results have been modest despite the significant support for nearly 20 years put into applied local economic development. They suggested that a potential over-focus on pro-poor local economic development at the expense of simultaneously working with the private sector on pro-market interventions, could be a stumbling block to the potential success of LED.

Mason (2018) stated that poverty is a multifaceted phenomenon and the condition of poverty often entails one or more of these realities: a lack of income (joblessness); a lack of preparedness (education); and a dependency on government services (welfare).

I asked if our research on enterprise dynamics that reported a wide range of regularities in the enterprise structures and dynamics of South African towns and municipalities (some of which have already been discussed here) could help to shed light on a question whether a pro-poor LED stance might be justified.

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Zipf’s law and South African towns

An important question has exercised the minds of many economist over time: why are there differences in the sizes of different towns? For instance, why are all towns in a region not of equal size? The answer has to do with power laws.

There is no Hobbesian significance in the word ‘power’ – it is just a mathematical term. If the value of some quantity q depends on the value of another quantity x according to a power-law relationship, this means that each time x is doubled, y increases by some constant factor (Ball, 2005).

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A LED puzzle

Looking for workBecause of high unemployment and poverty levels, all South African municipalities have been tasked to promote local economic development (LED) as part of their integrated development plans (IDPs). Various central and provincial government departments, organizations such as SALGA as well as consultants provide LED guidance and support to the municipalities. And academics do research on LED and small towns in South Africa and publish their results in scientific journals. Yet, given the above, there is an aspect that really puzzles us.

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