White Monopoly Capital: astute reverse double somersault or a Janus performance?

Is the presidential acknowledgement of entrepreneurs as heroes and not villains the equivalent of Pope John Paul II’s admission that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo for endorsing a helio-centric view? If so, it is one of the most astute political reverse double summersaults. As deputy-president Mr. Ramaphosa himself sung heartily the “Down with White Monopoly Capital” song in the Zuma choir.

Janus Ramaphosa

Does the comment during the dinner of the Investment Summit really signal the dawn of economic freedom or was it merely a modern manifestation of Janus? Will the future reveal a Ramaphosa butterfly that was an ugly caterpillar under Zuma or is the two-mouths-two-messages the real reality?

The first requirement to assess future options is a proper understanding of the present. Let us explore that by assessing the ANC Government’s (and Ramaphosa’s) views on SMEs:  does it indicate an embrace of private initiative or something else?

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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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Enterprise policies as untested as the practice of bloodletting: no wonder they fail (1)

More than 3000 years the practice of bloodletting was applied to cure a range of illnesses: intense headaches, constipation, abdominal pain, boils or fever… It was administered by barbers (they had sharp blades) and later by qualified doctors. Some of the famous who received this treatment were Marie Antoinette (when giving birth in 1778 to her daughter Marie-Therese) and George Washington in 1799 on the day of his death when doctors drew about 40% of his blood in an attempt to cure him from a severe throat infection. In Washington’s case, the bloodletting did not cure him and one can only wonder to which extent it had contributed to his death. In 1793 acute bloodletting by guillotine definitely caused the demise of Marie Antoinette.

Why did the bloodletting practice with its origins in ancient Egypt continue until a century ago as an esteemed medical practice? Two reasons:

  • The existing paradigm considered bloodletting successful, elevating it to the realm beyond questioning or doubt. It was practised by all the trained practitioners. It was therefore not questioned. Respect for specialist insistence on accepted practice re-enforces paradigmatic reign. Even after the description of the circulatory system by William Harvey in 1628 it took three centuries before the practice of bloodletting was largely abandoned as an unproven cure. One of the most striking examples of this blind acceptance of so-called “expert opinion” is the 1500 years that Greek physician Galen’s doctrines were revered. Galen said of one of his cures: “All who drink of this remedy recover in a short time, except those whom it doesn’t help who all die. It is obvious that it fails only in incurable cases.

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The other side of the ‘tourism coin’

The 2015 Statistics South Africa report on tourism1 concentrates on information about travellers, e.g. their numbers and origins, but does not provide any information about tourism and hospitality (T&H) enterprises in South Africa, e.g. their numbers or locations. Neither do the 2015/16 Annual Report of the Department of Tourism2 and the 2016 Report of the World Tourism Organization3 provide such information. Something is lacking in the tourism scene of South Africa.

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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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