Bars on businesses stifle ability to bounce back from pandemic - Businesslive

4 October 2020 - One of the most important lessons of the lockdown is that businesses that had enough room to adjust and innovate (preserving jobs, justifying investment and sustaining tax payments while continuing to match pressing public health demands) not only survived but helped others survive too.

Michael Morris

One of the most important lessons of the lockdown is that businesses that had enough room to adjust and innovate (preserving jobs, justifying investment and sustaining tax payments while continuing to match pressing public health demands) not only survived but helped others survive too.

Too many did not, mostly because the government lacked the imagination and confidence in the governed to factor choice and enterprise into measures they understood simply in terms of enforceability.

This is not an argument for business-as-usual, or — in the idiom of critics — putting profits before public health. This charge is heard much less nowadays, the widely predicted (once widely discredited) warnings of the heavy socioeconomic toll of the hard lockdown having become uncontroversial.

To be sure, no government could have afforded being anything but actively engaged as the pandemic struck, when certainty about the risks was limited. Which is why instincts mattered. Now that we must deal with the consequences, instincts matter even more. The signs are not encouraging.

As Peter Bruce wrote last week: “The state can’t cope with even the most basic challenges. The trouble is the state doesn’t know that….”  (“Get set to steel ourselves for more pain”, September 30).

On the prospect of SA being “about to veer off at a tangent into the (relatively) unknown as part of a grand ‘reimagination’ of our economy being championed by the president”, Bruce noted drily: “This may be something of an ideological stretch for an already bankrupt country.”

“Common sense,” he went on, “suggests that after what we have been through the first thing you do is work with what you have, the bits that have survived, and do your utmost to ensure those businesses start to grow again.”

A good place to start, as another fellow columnist, Kate Thompson Davy, suggests, is to tailor the regulatory environment to opportunity and success (“Let’s give digital nomads a place to hang their dongles”, September 29).

Examining the role of technology — and dynamic solution-seeking — in supporting a shift away from office-based work during the pandemic, Davy spotlights what she calls “an interesting subset of workers”. These are “digital nomads”, whom SA could and should target by deliberately easing regulations to make it simple and easy for them to relocate here, rather than go to Estonia, Georgia, Bermuda, Mexico or Norway, among several countries that are doing just that.

As Davy argues, digital nomads — “location-independent workers” such as freelancers and the self-employed, creatives and independent consultants who “can work from anywhere with a reliable internet connection, and do” — bring work, dollars and consumer needs that locals can meet.

However, regulations limit the potential of this opportunity — even if they are failing to thwart it. (Davy notes: “If you come to SA on a tourist visa you are not legally allowed to work here, but let me tell you they are here anyway. If you hang around the coffee shops and upmarket backpackers of Cape Town, you’ll find them.”)

The point is that this risks being just another wasted opportunity. Davy suggests that creating a new visa type for digital nomads “would legitimise the bright young things who want to be here anyway — and for whom technology is the real passport”. Tragically, though, our instincts go in the opposite direction.

This is amply revealed in the thinking of ANC strategists in Gauteng in the draft Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill, which seeks to reserve certain economic activities in townships for citizens or those with permanent-resident status.

Limitations on business stifle jobs, income, taxes, investment, growth and national wellbeing, because they always undermine the choices, and the wisdom, of ordinary people.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2020-10-04-michael-morris-bars-on-businesses-stifle-ability-to-bounce-back-from-pandemic/

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