Planning for the future amid poverty of today - Businesslive

18 September 2022 - The idea of instant gratification is probably most easily mocked only by those of us for whom the prospect of having to put off getting what we want most, reasonably speaking, is made that much more bearable by the certainty that getting it eventually is not wholly unrealistic.

Michael Morris
The idea of instant gratification is probably most easily mocked only by those of us for whom the prospect of having to put off getting what we want most, reasonably speaking, is made that much more bearable by the certainty that getting it eventually is not wholly unrealistic.

This is simply the reasoned optimism that is at once the condition and the product of what can broadly be described as middle-class life, a life impelled by dreams of better tomorrows, and the confidence that striving to realise them really is worth the effort.

Getting it right seems to depend on three things: opportunities, a willingness to make the most of them, and a conviction that the sum will in time, and with whatever effort may be required, deliver rewards.

Just last week fellow columnist Ismail Lagardien described “going walkabout” with a friend a couple of weekends ago on a visit to east and Southeast Asia and noting how countries in this region “continue along a pathway from the periphery of the global political economy, driven by a type of ‘economics for tomorrow’” (“An acquisitive society does not plan or build for future generations”, September 13).

This, he added, was in “stark contrast to a type of ‘economics of apocalypse’,” … the “idea of wanting everything today and the devil take the hindmost [which was] rampant in the politics of the ANC and EFF”.

Lagardien’s definition of the difference between “apocalypse economics” and “tomorrow economics” is the plainest summary of the choice facing South Africans as the contemporary crisis compels a rethink: “The former is an approach to politics as if there is no tomorrow, and the latter is intergenerational, with policies made with future generations in mind”.

He observes that in societies such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan (though acknowledging the risk of generalising), policymaking occurs with a full awareness “that the people who make the policies (today) may not enjoy their benefits immediately”.

One must join Lagardien in wondering “how one would go about explaining the idea of tomorrow, or of successive future generations, to a hungry or homeless person to whom we probably cannot deny wanting material or consumer things today”.

For such a person, how could deferring gratification be said to be bearable on any realistic grounds of being certain of eventually attaining it? It would be hopeless if one believed there was any fundamental difference between the intelligence of poor and rich people. If anything, in fact, poor people make more careful choices, because they can’t afford to make expensive mistakes.

The problem in our society is that policymakers deliberately limit the choices available, and thus the opportunities that arise from them; far easier, instead, to offer the apocalypse economics of “politics as if there is no tomorrow”.

It is simply astonishing, for instance, that an asset holder of the at least moderate sagacity of Cyril Ramaphosa can speak — as he did at the ANC’s recent policy conference — of undertaking “to make a dramatic, as well as a disruptive, lasting change” in so-called land reform by placing at the centre of national policy the idea of “land redistribution without compensation”.

As my colleague Gabriel Crouse wrote last week: “It is possible for SA to unlock growth potential and it is possible for the SA government to take away legitimate private property without compensation. But it is impossible to do both.”

The first offers vast opportunity and manifold rewards over time; the second guarantees there’s no tomorrow.

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

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-09-18-michael-morris-planning-for-the-future-amid-poverty-of-today/

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