Letter: SA should abandon failed ideologies of a developmental and centralising state

While I welcome Deon Pretorius's thoughtful comments on the way forward for SA, I object to some of his language ("Three pressing problems that can be tackled to transform SA", October 3).

Many commentators continue to seek "the plan" and lament the poor implementation of prior plans, but this is to assume what the country needs is a single developmental plan to rescue us.

As a believer in markets coupled with a classically liberal approach, I'd be in favour of many plans; one per citizen would be good! However, the idea that things can be "left to the market" is still anathema to political wonks in this country.

If we are to solve Pretorius's "agency" problem, then at some point our government is going to have to bring in the private sector. That does not mean a single plan is to be agreed and co-ordinated, but that the rules are set up such that a myriad plans can be experimented with, and on which private capital takes risk.

While Pretorius believes there are development strategies available to address acute inequality, one of the tried and tested ones (and used by the Scandi countries he cites) is market freedom: freedom to own property, freedom to trade, freedom from excessive regulation.

Pretorius asks for an "urgent, progressive, planned and collaborative process of societal development". Apart from "urgent" I am not sure I agree with any of the other suggested approaches as likely to be successful. How realistic is it to seek consensus among 50-million people andone-million businesses? What is needed is a market-friendly framework where each are allowed to pursue their own plans and strategies.

Of course, such an approach is a leap of faith, but it is grounded in good empirical evidence. I refer to the recent launch of the Economic Freedom of the World report, which once again cites overwhelming evidence that those countries that pursue market-friendly policies are those with the most choices; including redistributive options.

I do not believe we need Pretorius's "collaborative or partnership agreement" to get this country back on its feet. He calls for the state, business, organised labour, civil society and traditional authorities to all agree on a common goal. Why do we continue to seek this unattainable unity? Rather we should abandon the failed ideologies of a developmental and centralising state and try something else that more closely celebrates our diversity.

That is free ma

This letter was first published on BusinessDay on 4 October 2021.

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