Andrew Kenny: Does good policy always lose votes?

Andrew Kenny explores a provocative question: Do good policies always lose votes? In his analysis, he delves into the reluctance of political parties to boldly present successful policies, contrasting capitalism’s proven track record with communism’s failures. He challenges the norm of promoting bad policies for votes and advocates for clear, sound policies that have brought prosperity elsewhere.

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By Andrew Kenny

Do good policies always lose votes? In an election campaign, if a political party offered clear, sound policies that have proved successful wherever they have been implemented, would it lose a lot of votes? Corollary question: if a party offered disastrous policies that have proved catastrophic wherever they have been implemented, would it win a lot of votes? At present, the answer seems to be “Yes” in both cases, which must be why parties refrain from offering good policies, even when they know they would bring jobs and prosperity.

In our election campaign, most of the parties offer bad policies – partly to get votes and partly because they believe in them, or rather try to convince themselves they believe in them. The DA, which has the best performance in government, comes closest to offering good policies but is too nervous to offer them boldly, simply and completely. Its proposals for our job-destroying minimum wages are a good example.

The most spectacular example of a good economic system that always works is capitalism; but capitalism seems too shy to advertise its successes. The most spectacular example of a bad economic system that always fails is communism; but communism promotes itself loudly and aggressively. Capitalism is an economic system where everybody, rich and poor, working class and aristocratic, is free to engage in trade and enterprise as they wish, to employ or be employed as they wish, and to own property as they wish.

Communism is an economic system where a political elite, the Communist Party, (never working class), owns the means of production, tells everybody else where to work and how to work, and does not allow ordinary people to own property. Communism is a modern form of serfdom. The success of capitalism and the failure of communism can be measured in many ways. Ordinary people in capitalist countries are always richer than those in communist countries, always freer, always lead more interesting lives.

A very good measure of capitalist success and communist failure is the fact that ordinary people always want to move from the communist country to a capitalist country, sometimes risking their lives to do so – and never the other way round. The only people who ever do are a tiny handful of upper-class people, such as the public schoolboys who defected from Britain to the Soviet Union. Yet capitalism is reviled around the world and communism is celebrated.

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Apart from one half-hearted little South African party standing in the 2019 election, I know of no political party on Earth that had the word “capitalist” in its name. (This party had good policies, tiny organisation, and got few votes, although it did get mine.) Part of the reason is that businessmen – capitalists – are nearly always political cowards, and somehow ashamed that they have spread prosperity. Hundreds of parties around the world have “communist” in their names.

The leaders of communist parties around the world who have led their countries to destitution and tyranny are regarded as mythical heroes, almost worshipped by academics and activists around the world. Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Castro and Kim Jong Un are revered by the world’s elite. The ANC, SACP and EFF model their economic policies on Marxist-Leninism. Hardly anybody knows the names of capitalist leaders who made their countries grow and prosper, countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Chile. Lenin caused mass famine in a huge country with wonderful soil and natural resources; Lee Kuan Yew took a small island with no natural resources and made it into one of the most prosperous countries on Earth. Where is the Singaporist – Lee Kuan Yewist party? One of the most successful capitalist countries in the world is Switzerland (which never had colonies). Tell me who the leader of Switzerland is.

To convert the South Africa of apartheid into a free and prosperous country, the most important thing to do, probably the only thing you needed to do, was to get rid of all the restrictive apartheid laws and all the bureaucrats who implemented them. The most successful countries have clean, limited governments that allow the people to get on with their lives and their livings without interference. To convert South Africa under the ANC into a free and prosperous country, the most important thing to do is to get rid of all the racial and restrictive laws that are crippling the economy and sending unemployment sky high, and all the bureaucrats that are implementing them.

If I had a political party, this would be my economic manifesto. Scrap BEE, cadre deployment, affirmative action, employment equity and all other forms of racial preference. Scrap all the labour laws except for those pertaining to health and safety. Allow anybody to employ anybody else on terms agreed by both. Scrap the minimum wage completely – scrap it now, don’t phase it out gradually as the DA is proposing. Remove all mandatory powers of bargaining councils over outside parties. In short, unshackle the economy and allow poor people to join the formal economy, from which they are now deliberately shut out.

How do I know this simple radical manifesto would work for our economy? Because it has always worked, in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and everywhere else it has been tried. The most spectacular example of the benefits of free-wheeling capitalism comes from, of all places, Communist China. Under a communist government and a communist economy, the people suffered and starved. Chairman Mao, beloved by intellectuals all over the West, produced probably the worst famine in history, killing around 50 million people.

A very different man, the great Deng Xiaoping, took over in 1976. He was honest enough to see that communism was a disaster for the economy and brave enough to admit it. He visited the USA and saw the massive benefits of capitalism. Then all he did was lift the restrictions on the economy and set the people free to trade and do business as they pleased. He unleashed the freest free market there has ever been, the most competitive. There were no labour laws, no minimum wages and no interference from bureaucrats, politicians or trade unions.

The result was an explosive growth in prosperity. Tens of millions of people were lifted out of poverty. It began under austerity, with low wages and long hours, making Chinese goods competitive on world markets, especially the USA. The workers learnt their skills on the job, and became more skilled, more productive, and more valuable to employers. Wages rose. The people got richer. There was competition for workers. Chinese goods rose in quality and flooded world markets, including South Africa’s, as you can see in every second shop here. But the Chinese government remained communist and therefore inefficient and wasteful, running huge, badly managed State-Owned Enterprises, which accounts for Chinese woes today.

Here are questions no one has ever answered. Suppose a Mr Gumede is running a little factory in a poor black township, making cheap, warm clothing for people who cannot afford more. He needs more labour to keep the poor people warm. He offers Mr Nkosi, an employed man, R4,000 a month to work for him. (The minimum wage now is R4,412.) Mr Nkosi is overjoyed. This is far more money than he has ever earned as an informal trader, being lucky to get R1,000 there. He will now have the dignity and security of a proper job. His wife can stop working as a prostitute to keep them alive. He immediately accepts the offer. And immediately he is told that rich, powerful people will not allow him to do so. The rich and powerful will not allow him to improve his life. He must go back to R1,000 a month on the black market. His wife must continue to sell her sex. Maybe Mr Gumede will have to shut down his factory, dismiss his existing workers and let poor people shiver in the cold.

Who can justify this? Please Mr Minister of Employment and Labour, please Mr Trade Union Leader, please Economics Professor, tell me why you would rather have Mr Nkosi hungry and humiliated rather than earning a wage you don’t approve of? Why can’t he choose for himself? What right have you to ruin his life? Why do you think only rich people should be allowed to be employers? Why do you think a woman is allowed to accept a grant of R510 a month to bring up her child but not allowed to accept a job offer of R4,000 a month?

I think John Steenhuisen, the DA leader, should ask such questions, loudly and in public – after he has changed “phase out the minimum wage” to “get rid of the minimum wage immediately”. The usual gang of vested interests, including COSATU and the EFF, have attacked him in their deeply dishonest way, accusing him of not caring for the workers. The EFF now promises a minimum wage of R17,500 a month for mineworkers, which would be a good way of hastening the demise of mining in South Africa, when thousands of miners are already losing their jobs and BHP is trying to buy out Anglo-American assets – except for those in South Africa, which it doesn’t want, nor does anybody else it seems.

The fact that Steenhuisen wants to phase out the minimum wage shows he does care about the workers; the fact that COSATU and the EFF want to keep destroying jobs by the minimum wage shows that they don’t. COSATU, a rich, powerful trade union gets together with big, rich corporations in bargaining councils with the primary aim of stopping small, poor companies starting up in competition against them. They do so by forcing upon them labour conditions that small companies are too poor to afford. All the talk from the ANC and the trade unions about wanting to encourage Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) is so much nonsense. They want to discourage them. They want to crush them. Minimum wages and restrictive labour laws are the perfect way to do so.

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My education manifesto would be equally simple. Get rid of all affirmative action for teachers, and appoint them all on merit, regardless of skin colour or political connections or lack of them. Take away SADTU’s powers to appoint teachers and hold political meetings in school time. Have inspectors to check the performance of the teachers and, if they are underperforming, sack them. Make sure all children receive full teaching time. If a teacher is regularly absent on Mondays or Fridays, sack him. Education is the field in which the ANC’s hypocrisy reaches its nadir. The ANC elite all say that there must be affirmative action for teachers and that schools should strive to achieve their employment equity targets, meaning that 93% of all teachers should be black. But none of the ANC elite sends their own children to schools with affirmative action teachers or where 93% of the teachers are black. SADTU teachers do not either. My manifesto would say, I want all children to receive the sort of schooling that the children of the rich ANC/EFF/Communist Party leaders receive now.

Maybe these good education policies would not lose votes. Parents of poor black children can surely notice that the schools they use and the schools the ANC elite uses are quite different. Maybe they’d approve of my manifesto. But SADTU would reject it furiously, and SADTU is politically powerful. ANC education ministers are terrified of it. In 2017, Deputy President Ramaphosa, grinning and grovelling in his usual style before bullies and thugs, gave a cringing eulogy to SADTU at their gala dinner. It began with, ‘Revolutionary Greetings!’ I believe his own children went to the revolutionary St Stithians.

On crime, corruption and violence, especially violence against women, all of the parties say the same thing: we’re against it, but none offers very clear remedies. Here there is a bigger problem: who is going to police the police? Some of the ANC’s formal policies such as BEE are really just legal corruption, where comrades and cronies make lots of money from ‘whom they know’ rather than what they do. The ANC and organised crime merge into each other. The police are behind many of the robberies on cash-in-transit. The ANC seems to support the taxi Mafia, and protested loudly when Cape Town took action against taxis who were breaking the law and endangering lives. When criminal gangs, almost certainly of the taxi Mafia, were shooting, stoning and intimidating long-distance bus drivers, Fikile Mbalula, then Minister of Transport and now General Secretary of the ANC, refused to take action against them. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that he and the ANC are in league with the taxi Mafia. I’m afraid there is only one answer to all of this: get rid of the ANC. My manifesto would then say the usual things: arrest the criminals, clean up the police, expose and punish corruption, and so on.

Most of the political parties in South Africa now, including the ANC, EFF, MK and the SACP, just love communism and adore Lenin, Castro and other communist leaders who have murdered and starved their people. They all praise the working classes, which praise is part of Marxist ideology, and they all despise the working classes, and want nothing to do with them, except get their votes. They condemn the workers to terrible public transport, terrible state schools and terrible state hospitals, while they themselves, in the vanguard of the revolution, enjoy private transport, private or partly private schools and private health care.

However, there are a few parties, notably the DA, who are fully aware of the benefits of capitalism and of a free market and free trade. But they are too shy to say so loudly. They know that in the past, to espouse good policies at election time was to lose votes. But maybe if they became as bold about their good policies as the ANC is about its bad ones, the tide could turn. Maybe if they attacked the bad policies more aggressively and pointed out more angrily the massive hypocrisy of the ANC, which says how much it loves the workers but has actually betrayed and impoverished the working classes, people would start to listen. Maybe with more determination and louder voices, they could make people vote for good policies.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission