To the Minister of Higher Education and training, Dr. Bonginkosi Emmanuel “Blade” Nzimande.
I’m a student at a wonderful institution in the Eastern Cape called Rhodes University. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to study at Rhodes, but that opportunity which I have been blessed to have, might not exist for very much longer for my fellow students.
There’s big talk here about your proposed fee increase and people are getting seriously ticked off with your government (to say the least). Don’t worry, though, as I’m lucky enough to have a layman’s understanding of economics and I know about inflation. Over time, our currency has become weaker and so things end up costing more. Your government actually might have been able to help avoid this, and instead make the rand stronger – but hey, don’t stress. Not all of us are like Ron Paul. By the way, you should probably chat to Ron Paul sometime if you get the chance. I think he could teach you a lot.
But back to the fees. So fees are going up, it seems, which is totally understandable and just a manifestation of economics (well, let’s just say bad economics) – but you’re a communist for crying out loud! We should have seen this coming.
Still, this fee increase is going to affect many of my fellow students. Some of them can barely afford to pay for university. Some of them are literally the first people in their families to study towards a degree. How tragic it would be to see these people fall to the wayside simply because they could not afford it! I, like many, believe that if an individual is sufficiently meritorious with their academics, then the government should in no way involve themselves so as to prevent them from getting their degree.
But the funny thing is, Blade, this is exactly what students are now calling for. ‘Free education’ is such a popular buzzword right now and many students genuinely think it’s a possibility. They don’t see the irony in all of this, because the simple fact is that while your statist government policies have monopolised the tertiary education sector for public universities, these students are now calling for even more government to solve the problems which government created in the first place! I only hope that there are no commerce students engaging in these hocus-pocus economic ideas. But then again, you’re a communist presiding over our higher education system, so they very well might.
But seriously now, Blade, I think we both know that ‘free’ education is nothing more than a fiscal fantasy at the moment.
Around 6% of South Africa’s population pays 99% of the tax revenue. That’s kinda like taxing everyone in Cape Town in order to pay for the whole country’s budget. What’s more, with all our unnecessary government spending and bureaucratic intervention, we end up wasting a heck of a lot of that dough on things which just do more harm than good. eTolls? C’mon, Blade, was that really necessary? Spending money to build infrastructure which then collects the money to make up for the money spent on building infrastructure used to collect money? You should really read some books by this guy called Frédéric Bastiat. He said something about a broken window once… Can’t remember the details, but I think it might relate your fiscal policy.
Even discounting this, have you ever wondered what gives SARS the authority to put a gun to the head of our citizens and repossess their earnings? Sure, when a guy threatens you at knife point on a street corner and steals your wallet it’s called ‘theft’, but when the good ol’ folks at SARS do it, it’s called ‘taxation’. Would you support legislation which allowed muggers on streets around the country to get acquitted because they were merely ‘taxing’ a guy at knife point? Seriously, Blade, there’s a moral issue here. I know communists have a history of being immoral, but spare a thought for those who pay your salary. And the salary of the rest of the Cabinet. And the President. And the legislators. And the police. And the Army. And… well you get the point.
So what’s the solution here? There are certainly a number of options:
1. Shift around the available government funds and put more into subsidising higher education. This could work… for a while. The problem is that, with the same old policies which hinder economic growth and devalue the rand, we’re just going to end up in the same position next year. You’ll have to ask Parliament to do this, but the DA has been asking to do this for a long time now to no avail – so good luck with that.
2. Go full commie and tax our taxpaying-class into oblivion. Make South Africa one of the least attractive places for investment. Force entrepreneurs to move overseas. Make it attractive to avoid taxes and have South Africans place their businesses in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda to get around this pesky new fiscal policy. Look on the bright side: you’ll be getting more revenue to help out with the students, but that probably won’t matter because there will be far fewer jobs available for these students. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, our economics classes could teach them that it would be more intelligent to start up in Lichtenstein or Monaco or something. At least that way they’ll be employed. But again, how long till you drive all the people wealthy enough to pay taxes out of the country? How low will you put the threshold on the lowest tax bracket? How will you react when people start realising that peasants in 18th century France were in a similar situation and they ended up beheading their king? Yikes… we wouldn’t want that now, would we?
3. Change nothing and just let the fees increase. I couldn’t blame you if you did this. Prices go up and so must fees. Maintenance must be done, lecturers need to get paid, and so it’s only natural for you to raise fees. Of course, the blowback from this will be protests, destruction, and vandalism of university property. There will likely be shutdowns supported by SRCs which would mean that students might not be able to graduate. Some of those students may not be able to afford to study for another year and so they’ll end up never graduating. You’ll be demonised, hated and held responsible, but I’m sure you already know how that feels.
4. Get out.
Just get the heck out of education.
“But Nick, without the government, fees will be enormously more expensive, how could we ever afford to do that?”
Yeah, they would be expensive… at first.
You see, by monopolising the world of higher education in South Africa through government intervention, you have removed a vital aspect of the free market which makes capitalism so great: competition.
If the government can’t provide education for the masses, why do you insist on stopping the private sector from doing so? I’m sorry, Blade, but that just strikes me as being completely bizarre.
Take, for example, Akademia. Akademia was a brilliant idea of AfriForum to start up a private, Afrikaans-medium college. A great business decision, if you ask me, given the huge amount of animosity towards the use of Afrikaans at public institutions of education. There isn’t a single public university which teaches exclusively in Afrikaans, and yet the one time a private one gets opened, it gets slammed by the government! Seriously, Blade, I’m not making this stuff up. In 2014, you… wow, this is hard to type… here it goes: you actually planned to close a private college on the basis that they were being linguistically discriminatory.
Blade… like…. what the hell were you thinking?!
So let me get this straight: some brilliant humans decide to educate a distinct linguistic demographic in their native tongue, and, rather than giving these heroes a medal, you try to shut ’em down? I’m no Marxist, but I’m pretty sure Karl Marx never wrote anything to the effect of “If some geniuses decide to use their market prowess to educate folks, that’s like totally not cool and you need to use force to stop them, because y’know, Afrikaans ain’t cool.”
No, Blade. Bad move. The guys who started Akademia simply wanted to provide a service and earn a profit in return, but you thought that that particular venture necessitated bringing out the big guns to threaten them. The only other place I know where you can get into that much trouble for trying to teach people is North Korea, but that’s a Marxist-Leninist state, so maybe you like whats going on in North Korea.
The thing is, some of us don’t want to live in Kim Jong-Un’s Leftist utopia. In fact, I’m not sure I can even think of one person I know who does. Odd – but you can see where they’re coming from.
So here’s a bit of economic theory which I hope you might take to heart:
1. We need to reform our thinking and stop asking “How much more can I get from the government?” and start asking “How much more can I serve my fellow man without the government?” Lets face it: the government sucks at everything. The private sector can, has, and will continue to outperform it.
2. Deregulate as much as you can. I know it’s hard and every Marxist bone in your body tells you not to, but it will ultimately be for the greater good. Really, what you are doing here is making it as easy as possible for people to start up businesses which will lead to more wealth which will lead to more people being able to afford higher education without the help of the government. It’ll be like #FeesMustFall except it’ll be more like #GovMustFall. How great is that? People will literally be protesting for you to do less.
3. Read up on some great political and economic minds. There are already a few PDFs available at Rational Standard. A few suggestions from my side would be:
- The Law by Frédéric Bastiat
- Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
- The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard
- The Road to Serfdom by FA Hayek
Trust me, after reading that lot, you’ll be implementing common sense capitalism in no time!
So there it is, Blade. If there’s one thing that we can agree on, it’s that you sure have a tough situation ahead of you.
If there’s one piece of advice I’d give in closing, it’s that I really hope that whatever happens, you will consider the vast implications of what choice you might make. Too often, politicians these days just simply make promises they can’t keep because of popular demand. Populism is now the order of the day, and far fewer people are willing to examine the implications of their actions.
I sincerely hope that you and everyone in our government will think before they act. Everybody loves free stuff, until someone has to pay for it. Keep that in mind.