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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Are our enterprise policies shaped by obsessions? Paradigm paralysis (2)

Ramaphosa’s Manifesto – “A New Deal” – envisages the “massifying” of black enterprises to promote growth and job creation. It is shaped – like the National Development Plan – by the paradigm of SMEs as prime agents for growth and jobs. As the belief in the curative effects of bloodletting – it was the general consensus – acted as a barrier that prevented the consideration of alternative treatments, the belief in SMEs obscures evidence that net job creation is largely independent of firm size.

Convictions, one must remember, do not necessarily yield to evidence.

Masaai Mara crossing

For the creation of several hundred thousand successful businesses (or would “massifying” – Ramaphosa’s term – imply businesses by the million?) there needs to be at least a similar number of entrepreneurs with effective business skills and plans for these businesses to have a chance of survival.

But for a business to succeed one needs other ingredients than mere entrepreneurial aptitude and astute management: it requires support from customers and clients. Successful “massifying” of new businesses would therefore depend on a prior (or at least simultaneous) mushrooming of the spending power of existing consumers and/or the “massifying” of consumers.

On that, the New Deal is silent… Could a 2016 warning about economic transformation hold the explanation?

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Investment ambassadors can try, but SA company losses exceed taxable income

Pres Ramaphosa’s announcement that four special ambassadors – including well respected Trevor Manuel – are to roam the globe in an aggressive pursuit of foreign investment  “… like a pack of lions”, appears to be premature. It would have helped these ambassadors if they could have had a better story to tell than one of a business environment with stagnating profitability and growing losses where:

  • only 25% of firms have earned sufficient to be liable for company tax;
  • firms with a taxable income below R10 million decline at a rate of 31 per week;
  • a mere 635 companies are responsible for 77% of company tax;
  • from 2009 to 2015 company losses as submitted to SARS increased by 85% and for the last two years were higher than the taxable income assessed.

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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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A Cyril Swallow does not make a Summer of Growth: How business friendly is Ramaphosa’s New Deal?

We need to massify the creation, funding and development of black-owned small businesses, township businesses and co-operatives.” Cyril Ramaphosa’s New Deal for South Africa (14 Nov 2017).

This quote from Ramaphosa’s 10 point plan manifesto to get the economy growing forms part of the action steps under Point 5: “we must accelerate the transfer of ownership and control of the economy to black South Africans.

At first take the creation of an immense number of enterprises sounds like a pro-business approach. But is this objective realistic? Will it render the desired outcome? Even more basic: is it sound economics?

The New Deal is silent on how this enterprise factory that will mass-produce black-owned businesses would work. Whilst the manifesto was announced in the context of the ANC leadership contest, the “we” that Ramaphosa refers to is clearly Government and its administrative institutions. Continue reading “A Cyril Swallow does not make a Summer of Growth: How business friendly is Ramaphosa’s New Deal?”

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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