Clem Sunter

Why study losers, not winners?

2011-07-27 13:20

Clem Sunter

I have no problem with state-led delegations examining the models of other countries. I am happy to make a contribution to their travel expenses as a taxpayer. But when I hear that one of the countries is Venezuela, which has fallen to last place in the premier league of nations despite being endowed with an enormous abundance of oil and other resources, I begin to wonder. Is it because its leader is the most virulently outspoken critic of America on the South American continent? One only has to travel north of the Limpopo river to get the same message.

Even Cuba is turning around according to some of my friends who have recently been on holiday there. Fidel's brother, Raul, has toned down the anti-Western rhetoric and is beginning to open up the economy. Its famously talented and entrepreneurial citizens are diversifying the economy out of the cigars I used to appreciate being offered at the end of a dinner party into tourism and other ventures.

In contrast, going to Venezuela to learn how to grow our economy at 7% plus per annum is like going to Greece to learn about fiscal discipline. You can only learn from the mistakes they have made! As a taxpayer and co-financier of these state missions to gather data on what is happening in the rest of the world, may I put forward my recommendation of countries that are worth a visit:

1. China. What has allowed their economy to grow at 8 to 10% per annum for so long and has propelled them to the second largest economy in the world? Was it Deng's open-door policy initiated in 1978 and how have they modified the communist model to unleash such an entrepreneurial surge in business activity?

2. India. How did the nation switch from a highly protected, internal-looking economy with a sluggish growth rate of 2 to 3% per annum to an innovative economy growing at 6 to 8% per annum? How did they encourage world-class pockets of excellence like diamond-cutting and software development? What is the government's attitude to the family-owned businesses that now dominate certain industries around the world?

3. Brazil and Chile. If you are going to single out two South American countries from which to gain positive experiences, these are the two I would suggest. How is Brazil attempting to transform its informal small business sector and narrow the gap between the rich and the poor? How has Chile managed to create a mining industry with such vibrancy that it is now the envy of the world including Australia?

4. Germany. As Europe's only world-class economy, how have they kept their premier position as an exporter to places like China? What role does their emphasis on technical education at high school play in their success? What is the relationship between employers and unions that allows the country to retain its competitive edge in international trade?

5. Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. What characteristics changed these countries into Asian tigers? How did they create an environment in which so much emphasis is put in education, law and order and a strong work and savings ethic?

6. Scandinavia and New Zealand. What programmes of action have Scandinavian countries like Sweden and, at the opposite end of the planet, New Zealand implemented to remain among the most corruption-free nations in the world?

7. Nigeria, Ghana, Angola and Rwanda. No study would be complete without examining some of our competitors in Africa. Apart from being the most populous nation on the African continent, why is Nigeria tipped to take over from South Africa as the premier economy in the next 20 years? Why is Ghana so often referred to in international circles as the best governed country in Africa? Is it only the combination of oil and China that has made Angola the fastest growing country in the world? How did Rwanda overcome its horrific internal divisions to emerge as a cohesive economic player with a genuine chance of creating a better life for all?

These - and many others - questions are the ones that I would be asking in the search for the most effective formula to turn South Africa into a winning nation. Personally, I do not believe that Venezuela is where the answers will be provided.

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