Collectivism, in all its forms, has been tried, and has failed, all around the world. It will never work even if different people are put in charge. It is a system that fails, both conceptually and morally. Socialism, communism, fascism, colonialism, apartheid - the destruction and death which these various iterations of collectivism have caused around the world beggar belief, yet here in South Africa we appear all too eager to rush back down that road. Belief in redistribution of wealth, the National Health Insurance (NHI), expropriation of property without compensation - these all showcase a deliberate move towards an expansion of the power of the state over the individual. Philosophically, when any group or the state is placed above the individual, we have collectivism. It is time for SA to move towards a truly radical solution; capitalism.
Capitalism means individual rights. Capitalism means property rights. Capitalism means robust diversity. Capitalism means competition. South Africans have been dominated by the state, in all its various forms. It is time to choose the freedom which capitalism brings. In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand defines capitalism as: “the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships.” South Africa cannot have real, long-term economic growth if the people are not free to make it happen, and, as things stand, we are not free - the state always stands in the way.
A system in which players vie for government favours and tenders is not capitalism. A system where businesses and individuals are suffocated under mountains of bureaucracy and red tape is not capitalism. A system where businesses are bailed out by government, or are protected from competition by government, is not capitalism. We currently sit with a mixed economy; a mixture of freedom and controls. Rand described a country with a mixed economy as being “in the process of disintegration, a civil war of pressure-groups looting and devouring one another”. For as long as we have a mixture of capitalism and socialism, any group with greater power will exploit the resources of the state for their own gain.
The bigger the state grows, the more control it has over us. It does not like competition - Eskom and SAA, as the two premier examples, have been protected and bailed out countless times, at tremendous cost to South Africans and to the economy. In a capitalist system, when a business fails, it has to bear the consequences - there is no bailout.
It does not matter who runs the government at any given point in time. The group in power will have its favourites, and the greater the power of the state, the greater the abuses – both in the past and in the future. Right now, we admonish success if we deem it ‘too much’ but we never define what ‘too much’ is. We act only on what makes us feel that there is something wrong.
Capitalism is the only system which ensures property rights. Each person must be free to grow her or his own wealth pie, for their own use. To think that the wealth in a country is fixed, to be divided up so that each receives their ‘fair share’, is zero-sum thinking. We must think on the individual level, not in terms of arbitrary groups which only divide us into groups based on race or wealth. In the same vein, limiting individual freedom means people sink a deeper into poverty because they are not able to free themselves from the state.
State capture would not have had the debilitating effect it has had, had the state not been so big, and had it not taken up such a large part of the economy. The bigger the state, the worse the harm when it is captured. South Africa should pursue capitalism and freedom, not decay and stagnation.
Granting people freedom to trade is radical. Allowing new businesses to sprout, free from regulations, is radical. Recognising people as diverse individuals, able to pursue their own happiness as defined by themselves, is radical. Collectivism is the choice of those who see the state as our saviour - and is the very antithesis of radical. Capitalism is the only positive radical choice for South Africans.
Chris Hattingh is a Researcher at the Free Market Foundation
This article was first published in City Press on 26 October 2018