Greatest risk is the systematic intrusion of the state into people’s lives - Businesslive

11 March 2019 - One of the ironies of SA is the recurring fear of a rising tide of popular disorder that breaks everything down. Yet since union in 1910 the greater risks by far have always been systematic and orderly, and always the orderly and systematic intrusion of the state into people’s lives.

Michael Morris

One of the ironies of SA is the recurring fear of a rising tide of popular disorder that breaks everything down. Yet since union in 1910 the greater risks by far have always been systematic and orderly, and always the orderly and systematic intrusion of the state into people’s lives.

The effects over the past century have been devastating, yet for all the terrible human and material costs people adjusted after a fashion, if only because there was seldom much else to be done. This was remarkably, almost incredibly, true of the bulk of society even at the height of the insurgency of the 1980s.

By and large, the same is true today though, as we are a democracy, with less justification. And chiefly because it remains true that rather than a rising tide of popular disorder, SA’s risks in 2019, very like those of the past, are found in the same fastidious and methodical exertion of state power.

The absence of revolt might actually be the problem, a complacency Justice Malala warned of last week in the stirring line “Don’t let the outrageous become normal.”

In many ways, it has. A troubling symptom is the seeming indifference of much of the financial sector to the ANC’s promise to consider a deeply intrusive channelling of private savings into projects of its choosing.

True, the ANC has not made itself clear on this. But that should make us (and fund managers) more, not less, concerned. The strategy is mentioned twice in the ANC’s manifesto, yet voters have heard nothing more about it since.

Having made a commitment that it “will … investigate the introduction of prescribed assets on financial institutions’ funds to unlock resources for investments in social and economic development”, South Africans have every reason to demand details about who is investigating and when we are going to find out more. The election is just two months away.

In its tone and substance, the justificatory preamble to this arguably euphemistic electoral promise — though overlooking the real reasons for the deficiencies it describes — may seem reasonable enough.

“The rate of investment in the productive economy and infrastructure”, it says, “has slowed in the recent past. Increasing such investments will help us grow the economy faster, create jobs and boost incomes. This should help us strengthen our infrastructure for more roads, schools, toilets, clinics and hospitals, housing, public transport, communications systems, energy generation and distribution.”

But it isn’t reasonable. The chief causes of insufficient investment — the deterrent effect of ANC policy and mismanagement — are unaddressed, along with the fact that precious taxes are being squandered on a bloated and incompetent state. 

Instead, on top of high (and numerous) taxes, millions of hard-working people will be burdened with the risk of seeing long-nurtured pensions and savings funnelled into, for instance, “energy generation and distribution”, to cite the manifesto. That means Eskom, whose debt has soared to R435bn while its output has faltered critically even as its staff complement climbed from 32,000 to 48,000 between 2007 and 2018.

As economist Mike Schussler put it at a briefing at the Institute of Race Relations last week: “If your money is invested in Eskom and all this mismanagement and wastage is happening, Eskom will say ‘we do not have money to pay you back’ and then you get less, or nothing, of what you have put in. You are going to die poor.”

The assuring register of the ANC manifesto’s vision of a state wanting to “mobilise funds within a regulatory framework for socially productive investments” offers a deceptive guarantee if what impels it is the power of the state to tell citizens what to do, rather than the other way round. 

Against this, Schussler’s realism points to that very real risk of letting what’s outrageous become normal.

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

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2019-03-11-michael-morris-greatest-risk-is-the-systematic-intrusion-of-the-state-into-peoples-lives/

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