It is frustrating being an advocate for pro-market policies in a country where some of the primary agents of the market refuse to defend it. These primary agents are, of course, businesses. Despite claims by conspiracy theorists and left-wing nutjobs, business in South Africa is pretty complacent, much less domineering over our politics. As a result, anti-business policies rule, destroying the economy and damaging businesses. Even then, businesses refuse to save South Africa.
Firstly, it is not the responsibility of business to do anything other than obey just laws and maintain ethical practices. Business in South Africa has been decried for not doing enough to contribute to economic growth, employment and transformation, and I have rebutted those condemnations more than adequately in an earlier article.
While business has no responsibility to save South Africa, or contribute to a pro-market agenda, it does have an inherent interest in doing so. Then why has it not?
Businessmen are risk-takers; they’re smart and they’re hard workers – but they’re ultimately survivalists and reactive. And the best way to survive is simple: keep your head down.
I honestly don’t blame businesses for not openly condemning the government. They’re scared. The state has already showed its willingness to attack businesses, and reward loyalty. As desirers of survival and profit, it is to be expected that businesses will not bite the hands of government, who could easily shut them down, or reward them for good behaviour under the regime.
But we’re approaching, or have since past, the line where business should no longer be able to abide a state that is taking us off the cliff. As the treasury dries up, and only the most corrupt cadres get tenders, business will hopefully start to realise that there is no longer any profits to be made from the corrupt halls of the Union Buildings.
There have been a few attempts to incite business to oppose the state. In truth, most business leaders are anti-ANC. That is an incorrect principle, as they should be anti-statism and anti-communism, but it is a start. This opposition is toothless, due to the aforementioned reasons, however.
Nonetheless, there have been three suggestions, so far, on how businesses should show their disdain for the state of the country.
In principle, I support tax revolts.
When the government fails to uphold the social contract, even the most draconian of political philosophers believe the people have the right to revolt. In theory, tax revolts are also very effective. If done strategically and competently among business and the middle class as a whole, it would strip the state of their ability to enforce any form of punishment.
But there is a problem in choosing to revolt, as there is no guarantee that other tax payers will also revolt. We’re all scared of being held up on tax evasion. If one company revolts, but another does not, the entire revolt falls. This is an example of a Prisoner’s Dilemma that will probably never be overcome, as there are too many cogs and too little trust.
This idea was one of the worst I have ever seen. It is classically South African, which is not a good thing. It takes both our protest culture and combines it with our general inability to analyse costs and benefits.
The strategy basically argued that if businesses shut down, it would pressure the government into behaving. What this strategy forgets is how many people rely on businesses functioning to survive. This isn’t some hobby that you can take a break from. People starve when businesses aren’t open. Employees aren’t paid. Goods aren’t made. Families are flung into poverty. The #NationalShutdown was thoughtless, and I’m glad businesses were smart enough not to participate.
The government, especially an African government, can survive far longer than disparate businesses can. Businesses have to work to survive. Governments merely have to pillage. Governments don’t care if businesses aren’t open. They’ll just continue looting.
Save South Africa
A coalition of civil society, business leaders and public figures came together to continue to misdiagnose the problems of the South Africa. They see Jacob Zuma as the only thing wrong with the country, ignoring the pre-Zuma legislation that strangles our economy and the looming threat of communism from within and outside the Tripartite Alliance.
Save South Africa is no way to truly save South Africa. It is a half-arsed politically correct club that accomplishes very little. They have no guts, and no real knowledge of the real threats to this country.
So, what should business do to contribute to saving South Africa if they so wish? Here are five meaningful and non-risky strategies that businesses can use to contribute to meaningful change in South Africa.
1) Be Honest
Business leaders in South Africa are schmoozers and liars. The biggest victim of these lies are themselves.
They tell themselves that South Africa just needs optimism, and that openly discussing our dire economy is bad for investment. They’re right, but investors know about the dire straits regardless. What business should be doing is being honest to politicians that they are not happy. They need to admit that the country is falling apart, and be honest about why.
Honesty is not only a refusal to lie. It is also the growth of guts. Businesses need to be honest with higher education, telling them that protesters will not find jobs in their companies. They need to be honest with unions, and say ‘no’ outright to their unreasonable demands. With this honesty, they can start acting as active stakeholders in the country, and not just pawns in a politician’s game.
2) Criticise Policy
Businesses are second-class entities in South Africa. They are decried by our left-wing politicians and abused by trade unions. Above all, they are victims of large swathes of legislation and regulations that strangle their ability to function.
Businesses must, in the spirit of being honest, criticise the policies that damage them. Instead of lying down and letting themselves be beaten by the likes of increased taxation, labour regulations, BEE and a myriad of other regulations, business needs to take an active role in publicly condemning these damaging policies. Business must stop being patsies, and truly work towards their own survival.
3) Refuse to work with the corrupt state
This is a lot harder than the other principles, but will work out very well for businesses in the long run.
The reason it is hard is that politicians and the state use coercion and their political gravitas to push businesses into working with them. But as you work with the beast of corruption, you can never truly escape.
The solution is to refuse.
No matter how big the tender, if it comes with the baggage of working with corrupt cadres, or coerces you into taking on corrupt BEE appointments, refuse. Thrive the way a business should – through pleasing consenting customers and clients through great service and products. It is safer in the long run, and you don’t lose control of your business or your soul.
4) Work with pro-market organisations
Businesses are busy. It’s in the name. They don’t have the will or the time to complain about policy or lobby for better legislation. Thus, they should be working with civil society organisations that have their best interests at heart. There are swathes of decent civic organisations in South Africa that want to create a better economic landscape for business, but very few businesses actually support them in any form.
Businesses need to show their moral, financial and political support for these organisations. They need to fund them to keep them lobbying, but also throw their open support behind them to construct a pro-free market bulwark against the rising socialist tide.
Some of these organisations, besides the Rational Standard, are Ineng, Free Market Foundation, and the Institute of Race Relations. Contact them, offer your services or even just your moral support. Make them know that they aren’t just defending your rights in vain.
5) Realise that Capitalism is the best way forward
Business and capitalism is integral. Without a free market, businesses are just departments in a command economy, destined to fall. It is within the interest of businesses to be pro-capitalism. It is insufficient for them to support it in their actions – they also need to openly support its principles.
South Africa is dominated by those calling or a slave economy, whereby businesses are serfs under cadres and the commands of the “People”.
It is within the interest of all businesses to oppose calls for nationalisation, increased regulations and all Marxist-leaning rhetoric. Business needs to take a stand for the principles necessary for its survival.
To save South Africa, business needs to embrace the free market, which it requires to function. It needs to realise that South Africa’s problem isn’t one man and one family, but an ideology that despise freedom, success and prosperity. For a successful South Africa, business needs to take a stand and openly support the capitalism that they require for their existence.