When White Monopoly Capital Starts Looking Good

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On the evening of 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his latest announcement on the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa. He announced that a nationwide lockdown would commence from midnight on 26 March, and would be in effect until 21 April. Along with other ancillary announcements, the President said that both the Rupert and Oppenheimer families had committed “R1 billion each to assist small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic.” I wonder whether those in his party, and many others besides in society, most notably the Economic Freedom Fighters, will also applaud these commitments.

Let us presume that you subscribe to the White Monopoly Capital myth. You assume that wealth is fixed; that the wealth of a country is a pie, and that people are given their fixed share of that pie based on certain factors – in this case, race. You assume that individuals cannot grow or shrink their wealth by their own decisions, work, and trade with others, but rather that they either got however much they have through force or fraud of some form. You assume that people of colour in South Africa have no agency to change their own lives, to improve their station without either the assistance of the state, or by forcibly taking wealth from others to give to them.

I would find it very interesting to ascertain whether, with these assumptions in place, you would be happy with the commitments made by the Oppenheimers and Ruperts?

White Monopoly Capital has been denounced as one of the greatest evils South Africa has ever seen. Now it seems that White Monopoly Capital has become good enough because we are in a time of great uncertainty and hardship. It is wheeled out at the most convenient times, to mask the failures of the state, and to use as a scapegoat for every wrong that may befall the average South African. Unfortunately for its proponents, it is a non-concept; when interrogated, it falls into nothing, because its component parts mean nothing. To presume that wealth is collectively produced or owned is inherently flawed.

The last few decades have seen a rise in the view that inequality is inherently immoral; that some people are only rich because they stole from others, or because they rigged the system to favour them. But inequality is a natural part of freedom – if we really want societies that are free (without simply paying lip-service to the concept), we would also take on board the concomitant necessity that, with freedom, people will make decisions wildly different from what we may want or expect. Many of us make very silly decisions with our time, wealth, and abilities. The more economic freedom we have, the better chance we have to make the most of things. That some have more than others does not automatically entail that they took it by force. This is one of the greatest, most harmful moral fallacies of our time.

The Oppenheimer and Rupert families will be praised for their act of generosity. In a certain way, they should be praised. I am very sure that they pay their fair share of taxes – but, of course, more is always demanded of the producers. They ought to be praised for the productive work they have done in the past, for the value they have created. That is where the real moral worth lies in all this. Unfortunately, it is hidden by the assumption many of us have that wealth is inherently immoral, and that something can only be of moral worth if we give it away to someone else.

These commitments by the two families put paid to many arguments regarding the role of the state and private charity. There is much scope for private charity to fill the void left by government in South Africa. However, I am sure that upon closer inspection much potential charity work is strongly dissuaded because of myriad regulations and hoops for people to jump through and over. Not that this particular instance is an example of charity as such, but it does serve the point: With more freedom, the chances for more goodwill and care for each other rises exponentially. Having the state force us to ‘care’ for one another removes any hint of virtuous morality in the conversation.

It is most interesting that, when people desperately need money, they are quick to take it, no matter the source. One would assume that White Monopoly Capital is tainted money, not even to be considered, never mind actually taken. Those committed to this narrative will, however, likely lay out why they feel that these families must give over all their wealth. The most crucial moral point is that the R2 billion they have given is theirs to do with as they please. They could have buried it in the ground, and this would still be justifiable. It is not for any of us to dictate, through the force of government, how others should spend their wealth.