The culture of state dependence: An African case

Zakhele Mthembu BA Law LLB (Wits) is a legal researcher at the Free Market Foundation. 

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This article was first published on on 26 October 2022

The culture of state dependence: An African case

In South Africa and on the broader African continent, it seems the prevailing attitude is one that says Black people need handouts of some sort from the government to succeed. These handouts in theory coming from their more well-off neighbours, taken by the force of taxation. The benefits contrasted with the costs of such a policy that sees the state as the biggest economic player are never interrogated.
Depending on the political climate of a particular nation, certain ideals about the role of the state in the economic lives of ordinary citizens prevails. Ideas of rampant state intervention, motivated if we take the proponents of such ideas at face value, by a noble need for seeing the suffering of their fellow men eliminated.
South Africa is governed by parties that have an overt willingness to have the state involved in the lives of citizens. Given the history of the country, viz a viz black indigenous people being conquered and subsequently ruled by a state that inhibited if not extinguished in some instances their life, liberty, and property. Those concerned with improving the lot of black people have seen the state as integral in achieving this end.
Of course, it was the state that inhibited the rights of indigenous black people in the past but beyond removing these inhibitions, political parties and commentators in South Africa support the state taking positive action, like welfare, free education and healthcare, free housing and in some quarters, actual free money. Most are familiar with the phrase of, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ and as such, the free services and goods promised by political parties and delivered in South Africa, however underwhelmingly, is paid for by other citizens. The more well-off neighbours I spoke of.
Taxation presupposes productive activity. To tax something, one would need to first have created value, whose portion is then taken by the state. The history of how taxation itself was used in the conquest and terrorism directed against indigenous black people is beyond our current scope. Yet it is worth mentioning that it was taxation, a phenomenon that seemed to arouse quite the opposition from the indigenous people of the time, which was one of the best tools to cement the authority of the British Crown and subsequently the South African state. An authority whose existence and functionality was the negation of the indigenous authority.
This phenomenon still presupposes something of value which is then used as tax. The medium of exchange for valuable services or goods is usually the commodity that is taken as tax by the state. In the modern day, this would be the fiat paper money printed by the Central Bank of any single country. This detail is mentioned in various ways at the threat of boring the reader for the purpose of illustrating a major flaw in the reasoning of those who argue for state intervention.
This flaw is that state intervention necessitates some form of taxation, which as we have established, presupposes already existing productivity. Therefore, tying the material/economic prosperity of indigenous black people to state intervention programs or actions is not sound. Since there is a way for economic productivity to happen outside of state intervention, by proliferating the idea that the government must do something first before economic prosperity can happen. The required consciousness to create and accumulate capital, to be productive, outside of being connected to a state institution, is heavily diminished. Most importantly and sadly, the economic conditions of the indigenous black people who state interventionist policies claim to help, remains the same, this time with the added damage of a dependency syndrome on the state that can never yield the desired results.
The continent is littered with the failures of interventionism. The sad idea that Black Africans need handouts from their well-off neighbours is damaging and the results are clear to anyone who looks up the economic data of any African nation. Not to say there are no cases to be made for reparations for instance by Black Africans against European and Arabic nations who terrorized them in the past. Yet the necessity for creating one’s own capital, instead of taking it from another, whether justified or not, cannot be escaped.
Basic reasoning about these issues will tell you that for more taxes, more productivity is necessitated. The more you tax the productive, the less willing they would be to be as productive as they otherwise would be without higher or any taxes. The end of the improvement of the quality of life for Black people is best achieved through simply letting those people build their wealth without any state intervention as was the case in the past. All these facts lead one to the solution that the state should try to stay as far away as possible from the economic affairs of citizens.
No nation in the history of nations, Western or Eastern, has ever achieved prosperity through redistribution instead of productivity and creation. Yet seemingly African leaders have convinced themselves that the best way to improve lives is to have them run by the state. This culture of the state needing to do something is unsound as has been demonstrated, and as such it follows that the empirical results of it have been the depressed living standards and economic growth, we see on the continent persisting even beyond colonization.
To achieve what those who would argue for more intervention want to achieve, their solution of state intervention needs to be scrapped. Instead, a belief in the myriad of individuals that make up the Black Collective they wish to help needs to be cultivated. A belief that even when left to their own devices, given the liberty to do with their life and property as they wish as long as they hurt no one, Black people can still prosper, is needed. Lest we perpetually march down the road to serfdom we seemingly have been on for a while as a continent.

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