UCT Intellectuals: Let’s Try Central Planning – Again!

In an article first published on GroundUp, Bruce Baigrie and Henrik Ernstson write that new private residential developments outside of urban centers should either voluntarily adhere to their quasi-utilitarian city planning preferences, or the government must force them to. For Baigrie and Ernstson, both from the University of...

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In an article first published on GroundUp, Bruce Baigrie and Henrik Ernstson write that new private residential developments outside of urban centers should either voluntarily adhere to their quasi-utilitarian city planning preferences, or the government must force them to.

For Baigrie and Ernstson, both from the University of Cape Town, socialist central planning was never eviscerated by reality. They believe, in the wake of their colleagues’ report from the international ‘charity’ Oxfam, that they have enough know-how to dictate to private individuals, using their own money, on their own property, how they should go about utilizing that property. And it’s not a recommendation, either, as the authors endorse using “democratic institutions for more inclusionary urban development.” This, if you are not aware, is sophistry. What they mean is: Use government, policy, or law, to force other people to do their bidding.

The crux of Baigrie and Ernston’s argument comes down the fact that in some areas of South Africa, townships are wealthy suburbs are in close proximity to one another (allowing for trendy, tear-jerking aerial photographs which show the contrast), and that this is a problem. There is no doubt in my mind that this is, once again, another instance of classical Marxist ‘revolution’ theory showing its ugly face. As I wrote in my previous article on the Oxfam report, it is simply false to assert or assume that the poor will, or want to, ‘rise up’ against the rich, simply because the rich are wealthier than they are. It is a patronizing notion at its core, which attributes an extreme kind of envy, and a predisposition for violence, to the poor.

Of course, the authors don’t say this quite as explicitly as the Oxfam report, but a reading of their article does appear to indicate this line of thinking.

The actual words they use in their article don’t appear to say much of anything. I’ll briefly cut through the nonsense they try to pass as thoughtful intellectual content.

The promotional videos show white people – apparently indicating who is expected to live in the developments.

The authors are clearly attempting to point out some kind of subconscious or implicit racism by focusing on this. Despite the claim that social justice is inherently interdisciplinary, cutting through law, economics, politics, sociology, psychology, and so forth, the authors clearly do not appreciate the ordinary rules and concepts governing marketing and business.

If the developers, having done their research, come to the conclusion that mostly white individuals will be able to afford or be interested in moving into the new developments, they will tailor their promotional content to reflect that. This is not implicit or subconscious racism; this is marketing, which is, by its nature, depending on the context, every kind of -ist imaginable. Most shaving cream commercials are sexist against women, and most diapers commercials are sexist against men. Commercials for AVBOB funeral services are racist against whites, and commercials for unaffordable residential property are racist against blacks. Except, we don’t call it racist or sexist, we call it ‘identifying your market’ and then tailoring your message to focus on that market.

The developers, however, will not say no to a check from a wealthy black individual or family which seeks to move into the property.

The walls and CCTV cameras around the developments are intended to exclude.

The social justice left in South Africa, especially concerning this line of thinking, are extraordinarily detached from reality.

They seek to disarm law-abiding citizens in the name of social justice. They seek to remove ‘exclusionary’ perimeter walls in the name of social justice. They seek to remove vicious guard dogs which pull the flesh off trespassers. They seek to regulate – or abolish – private security firms in the name of social justice.

There is apparently not a care in the world for the fact that South Africa has some of the highest murder and rape rates in the world, and has a notoriously inefficient and corrupt police force.

If it is unclear: The walls and CCTV cameras are there to guard against crime. Anyone who seeks to go beyond the wall, whether they are white or black, rich or poor, has no businesses being there. And if they do, they can present their business at the gate, and the individual inside the complex will have the guards open it up for them.

The evil DA municipal government allowed a development in Cape Town to go ahead.

Whether or not the correct procedures were followed is immaterial if we are talking principles, which Baigrie and Ernstson appear to be doing, for the most part.

The principle is that the property whereupon the development has been built was paid for. The authors appear to lament the fact that the development might have disturbed the natural environment, but they are concerned with a very warped conception of ‘sustainability’.

According to them, sustainability is “a connection between ecological processes and social justice.” And because, it seems, they are more concerned with doctrinal ideology rather than a evidence-based conception of environmentalism, this line of argument can be set aside rather simply.

Low density housing is inefficient; we need high density housing.

The authors here problematize the fact that cities’ footprints are substantial increased, but without a corresponding increase in living space for the poor. Apparently, South Africa needs “high density and integrated housing development.”

What appears to be ignored here is, once again, the rules of doing business.

Last year, Bernie Sanders famously criticized the fact that there were various kinds of aerosol deodorants available for sale. This kind of socialistic thinking comes down to the fallacious idea that there should be no ‘duplication’ in markets, because this is apparently an ‘inefficient’ use of resources.

What the authors are, in fact, saying here, is that South Africans do not deserve choice. Intellectuals like Baigrie and Ernstson, who are highly educated, and appreciate what people need in life, will make our decisions for us. For them it is perplexing that some people would want to live in large yards with much space between the homes, and others, like myself, would not mind living in high density developments.

This patronizing intellectualist drivel is a cornerstone of socialism: There is, apparently, a class of people who simply know what is best for everyone else. Their dictates must be adhered to for the common good.

The free market, of course, is the opposite of this. Every person knows what is best for himself, and therefore he should ultimately be allowed to decide for himself and his property. No economy, by the way, can function without heeding this fundamental principle of individual choice. As always, this is where I will, appropriately, embed the excellent Learn Liberty video explaining the importance of prices in the economy:

Prices can really only be determined by market forces, and market forces can only be moved by individual decision-makers. Government central planning is the most inefficient use of resources, time, and space imaginable.

Something about a settler mentality.

As is so often the case, the climax of the social justice advocate’s argument is often the most nonsensical part of the argument. Up to this point, Baigrie and Ernstson have made an argument that one can follow and interact with. However, now they bring up the “colonial settler mentality” which, after having read their final five paragraphs a few times, appears to mean that wealthy white people think they are allowed to live a good life in Africa – how dare they?

If anyone else can make sense of what the authors are trying to say here, please feel free to place it in the comments below. However, it seems to be based in the ordinary, now-well known notion white people’s existence in Africa is illegitimate by default. This so much so that even contemplating moving into a nicer suburban setting is somehow an act of oppression and exclusion. And herein, as always, we see the fundamental problem with the social justice narrative. It is evangelically collectivistic.


So here we have, once more, intellectuals from the University of Cape Town urging us back to socialism, despite the fact that South Africa just recently came out of a half-century experiment with socialism and central planning. Indeed, even before Apartheid began, or indeed before the Union was established in 1910, the Transvaal was run, fundamentally, as a socialist state.

As I wrote in my article “Reject the Preachers of Economic Ignorance” the worst thing South Africans can do within our current economic climate, is given ideologues who reject economics per se a say in how we need to solve our problems.

Poverty in South Africa is not a complex subject. When you tax the rich to the extent that they just want to flee your shores, and when you regulate industry to the extent that investment dries up, and when you make the cost of living so high with value-added taxes, and regulatory costs which businesses pass off onto the consumer, then you get poverty. The poverty in South Africa is a direct result of central planning and socialist thinking from Apartheid and since Apartheid.

Ignore and reject the orthodoxy as preached by the likes of Baigrie and Ernstson. Conventional ways of doing things have gotten us nowhere. Embrace the free market.

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Leave a Reply


  1. Johan Kruger Reply

    Excellent thanks!

  2. Gillian Benade Reply

    Good read.

    1. Jerry leroux Reply

      I agree. Better than good.

  3. justice for all Reply

    The free market ie freedom to exploit the poor into perpetuity by white capital.

    1. Lloyd Macklin Reply

      ..what is ‘white’ capital?

    2. Martin van Staden Reply

      If ‘being free’ automatically means white people exploit the poor, then the problem is freedom. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be exploited by ‘white capital’ into perpetuity, than be a slave to the collective.

      1. Daluxolo Reply

        I think what ‘justice for all’ really means is the hegemony that white capital currently represents (it’s true, and if it was black capital hegemony against a white majority, which it is not, it would be just as bad). I think you are being disingenuously reductive of this idea. It is not about freedom generally, it is about freedom to impose rampant greed and exploitation on others achieved through that perpetuity. One cannot have freedom as you want to call it without economic freedom. People are currently slaves, for the most part, to the perpetuation of institutional disadvantage by the free market.

        1. Martin van Staden Reply

          You are not entitled to simply redefine economic freedom. ‘Economic freedom’ is just another way of saying ‘the free market’ a la individuals are free to interact voluntarily in the marketplace without the political class imposing its will on them. Any kind of ‘economic freedom’ that does not mean ‘the free market’ is a perversion of the term ‘freedom’, which reinforces the point I made in the comment above. I recommend having a look at the first section of F.A. von Hayek’s ‘The Constitution of Liberty’ (which should be available freely online; free education is a thing nowadays) where he discusses this at great length.

          1. Daluxolo

            Okay. Please excuse me for choosing another definition that is not the same as your chosen definition of economic freedom (all language is metaphorical). You know what I mean. Would appreciate if you could engage with the point made (ie freedom is a nuanced concept on a spectrum, rather than free/slave), as I am interested on what you have to say about it, rather than aloofly butt out due to trivial technicalities.

          2. Martin van Staden

            Actually, no, people don’t get to have their own definitions. As a libertarian – from ‘liber’, meaning ‘free’ – the philosophy I subscribe to can be, literally, considered the philosophy of freedom. The primary value I hold is freedom, not prosperity, wealth, or dignity, but freedom. You might be a socialist, a communitarian, or something else, but you should expect that I will defend this territory. Language is important to human discourse and crucial to politics, so it would be silly of you to expect that anyone who is serious about substantive political change will just let their vocabulary be abused like this.

            As to your point, it is, as I mentioned in this article and explained in my most recent previous article, based on the Marxist theory of labor and surplus value. This is an economic fallacy, and I explain why in my previous article. ‘Exploitation’ is a term thrown into the mix to elicit an emotional response, but like I said in my first reply concerning freedom, I would much rather be ‘exploited’ in a market system than be “””free””” in a centrally planned collectivized system. To that, as Leon Louw says in this video, I say thank goodness we Africans are being exploited.


  4. Guy Mullins Reply

    Again the old maxim resurfaces: The higher the qualification, the more likely sh*theadedness rules.

  5. Peter Corbett Reply

    Martin Van Staden is a lawyer not an economist and it shows. He seems not to have heard of externalities nor taken into account that purely market forces often produce undesirable or inefficient outcomes. I certainly don’t want a panel beater to set up next door to me because market forces make that OK for him. An intelligent and sensible discussion would be about how much intervention is optimal. Free marketeers are as extreme and irrelevant as pure central planners.
    Peter Corbett

    1. Roland Giesler Reply

      Poor example, Peter. In a free market, your neighbour better behave or you will use the courts to remove him. It would cost him a lot of money to set up shop and have to break it down again. If you were there first and he intrudes without your permission, he’s in trouble, not you.

      Someone said to be recently: The job of government is not to protect people, but to protect people’s rights. That’s what the problem is. In a semi-free-market your panelbeater can stay, in a free market, he can’t.

  6. Rory Short Reply

    The problems addressed by the ground-up article are the symptoms of a deeper problem. What is that deeper problem? It is the disparities in the abilities of different people to generate wealth. These disparities start right from the conception of a person. If you are conceived by by parents who are poor in both the material and cultural aspects of life then you are more than likely doomed to repeat your parental conditions in your own life. The only way to fix this problem is for the community, i.e. State, to invest in improving the lives from birth of individual children so that they emerge into adulthood equipped with the physiological, cultural wherewithal and skills to generate wealth for themselves. The post facto social engineering approach advocated by the authors of the ground-up article is not helpful and in my view ultimately destructive of a healthy society.

  7. Harald Sitta Reply

    One way ticket to Venezuela for the one and to North Korea for the other. After about 5 years of labor camp respectively starvation and misery they can exchange experiences.

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