“Nothing for mahala – nothing for nothing” (Stax, Nothing for Mahala, 1985)

One may not approve of the law of gravity because of the bruising when one takes a fall. One could argue based on thinness, fatness, agility or fragility. One might even vehemently oppose gravity standing atop the 223 m high Carlton Centre in the heart of Johannesburg, screaming the absurdities of gravity like a madman. Throughout this charade, the law of gravity will neither gloat its legitimacy nor mourn the allegations – it will remain silent. In his Ich bin ein Berliner speech, John F Kennedy said: “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.” It was more than a reprimand on Khrushchev for building his wall to keep East Germans out of West Germany against their will. It was also a profound reflection of the ultimate benefit of authentic liberty – freedom of choice. Freedom of choice to pursue happiness or not, contentment or not, wealth creation or not, squander or not – the list is endless. Or not. It’s a choice. Add capitalism to the recipe and choice becomes a nirvana despite the complexities of a compromised world. No other environment enables choice like the capitalist democratic environment does. Furthermore, no other environment creates economic conditions or free markets that nurture personal wealth creation as efficiently as capitalist democracies do. All other forms of government enrich and allocate more power to the state – risky. One might argue that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in free-market environments. It is a non-sequitur – it is a fallacy that the poor are poor because the rich are rich. The fact that the rich benefit, doesn’t mean the system is exclusive or wicked, and it definitely does not mean economic collapse for others either. It is better to judge the overall impact on the economy. When the rich get richer, the poor get richer too – through job creation, opportunity for peripheral commercial
activity that inspires creativity and innovation, which in turn spur on other secondary peripheral commercial activity, and so on. The overall impact is positive for everyone. The converse is true, too. The absence of a free market breeds dependence and reliance on government alone for sustenance. This in turn prevents creativity, stifles innovation, smothers working smart and cripples the overall economy. I would like to write this is why Winston Churchill coined, “… democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” But I will be accused of all sorts of obscene things, so I won’t – except to say that Churchill with all his wit and astuteness simply repeated someone else’s wisdom. I haven’t made any assertions yet. What I have described thus far is, with or without our eminent consent, the nature of the beast. So here’s the big, hairy, audacious assertion: Looking forward, if we continue indefinitely on this war path to equality and equity as an outcome, South Africa will fail. Now I’ve had my chips. A repercussion of the free market is competition. Immersed in democracy, competition is guided by policy so that the starting point of the competition is as fair as it can be under the circumstances. Moving on, whichever way we analyse it, competition is a contest – a race. If you are healthier, eat the right foods, practise regularly and take the appropriate vitamins, you will probably beat me. The same applies to competition in the free market – if I am better networked, innovative, knowledgeable, smart and disposed to calculated risks, I will gather wealth faster than you. By virtue of competition then, equity and equality as outcomes become misnomers of the free market – equity and equality of outcome becomes a fallacy. That’s the nature of contests. Uber, for example, is an innovative product in comparison to the paid
taxi service. The concept is innovative and every one benefits, including the consumer. No amount of car burnings or striking is going to counter the power of this free-market product/service. Notice that equity and equality do not feature in Uber – opportunity does. Does this mean that goodwill, social investment and giving stop – absolutely not. People tend to give more in free markets, because there is more to give. So what does this have to do with South Africa and civil engineering? If we wish to get ahead and achieve radical economic transformation, it is best we rely on learning a skill or trade, gather experience and understanding of our field of expertise, improve our networks, and work both hard and smart to fill gaps in the market. We should be discouraged from relying on equity targets and equality measures as outcomes – it is never going to happen. The presence of competition is to the free market what the action of falling down is to the law of gravity. Competition is like the law of the free market. Subscribing to equity and equality is like jumping off the Carlton Centre, or in this case, the edifice of the free market. You don’t hurt the law or the edifice – on the contrary, you hurt yourself.

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