The news that South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by -3.2% quarter-on-quarter delivered yet another hammer blow to South Africans’ economic prospects. This was the biggest drop since the 2008 financial crisis. In effect, the government has inflicted a self-created recession on us. Talk of changing the Reserve Bank (SARB)’s mandate (talk that very publicly shows the power struggle currently raging within the ruling African National Congress [ANC]) is intimately tied with the news about the country’s GDP, and part of all recent moves to impose yet more state control over ordinary people. We need to start noticing, and hopefully, fighting, the philosophy underlying all of this, which we often let go because it is couched in ‘noble’ terms such as transformation and equality — the philosophy of collectivism.
Why do certain members of the ANC constantly talk about changing the SARB’s mandate? They aim to print money, to plug the holes which their continued spending cannot keep up with. Don’t be blinded by the ‘quantitative easing’ talk — they want to print money, plain and simple. Why do they want to print more money to take care of government debt? Because they want to spend more, on existing and new government projects. Why do they want to keep spending money? Because, philosophically, they see the state, in the form of the ANC, as central to our lives. Because, morally, they see it as good to provide us with services, from an airline service to giving us electricity, to giving houses to the poor and, one day, quality healthcare.
Yes, I am aware that President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the ANC would not seek to change the SARB’s mandate; but I think this is but a temporary respite. He said that, “It is our desire for the SA Reserve Bank to be publicly owned. However, we recognise that this will come at a cost, which given our current economic and fiscal situation, is simply not prudent.” And so it is not moral restraint, but merely pragmatic restrictions, that have saved the SARB for now.
Pragmatism will eventually fall away, as collectivists become more and more determined. All that can stand against it, morally, is the philosophy of capitalism and individual liberty. Day by day, little by little, collectivism — the importance of the group over the individual (in this case, the state above the individual) — is spreading throughout SA’s government. All they are debating and fighting over are the ways in which they’ll try to control and guide us, never whether that is the morally correct thing for them to do.
Over the last few years we have witnessed consistent, and ever more brazen, attacks on individual property rights, private healthcare, and now the attempts to requisition the SARB. There is a deeply entrenched view that, without the state’s hand, no jobs will be created and poor South Africans will remain where they are.
Most, if not all, commentators, analysts, and ethicists (in the form of business leaders and those in academia) decry the state of SA’s economy, a state where they see anyone’s success as having come at the expense of others, always along racial lines. Wealth creation is labelled as immoral: CEOs are paid ‘too much’, businesses’ responsibilities are to society and a myriad stakeholders, not shareholders, and businesses must ‘give back’, implying that they took something from someone at some point.
Children and university students are taught they have a right to education, or a job, or healthcare, or housing, or food and water. Take your pick. These all imply that that someone has to provide these things to them. And if the private sector won’t provide ‘enough’ for everyone, they state has and will assume that role, and use the tools available to it to force everyone into roles it deems moral and necessary for the good of all.
We cannot be surprised at all these collectivist policies and moves, when the climate breeding them is one where anything individualistic, and deemed not tied to ‘the good of society,’ is held up as deeply immoral. Every single day we decry individualism and capitalism, yet we become upset when the moral concepts we throw around, such as ‘fighting inequality’ and building a new, ‘ethical’ form of capitalism, result in exactly those actions they were always aimed at bringing about. We see more and more parts of the country falling apart, yet we teach people that their worth is measured only by what they can give others, not by the pride they ought to take in a job well done.
I’m well aware that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is an intimidating behemoth of a novel. (If you only Google “Ayn Rand quotes Atlas Shrugged”, I’d consider this little namedrop a huge success.) It is through reading books such as Atlas Shrugged, and understanding the concepts used and applying them to your current context, that you can perhaps begin to make sense of events, and try to fight those whose goal is control over you. The particular quote I’d like you to mull over today is this:
“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, ‘Who is destroying the world?’ You are.”
Practically speaking, whether the SARB is completely nationalised at some point may well be a moot point now, because even simple rumours of such a move are battering the value of the rand, as well as any hope Ramaphosa had of attracting serious foreign investment. But always remember that the bad things happening every day in South Africa exist because of the collectivist philosophical premises of those in power, and those who entrench that same philosophy every day.