Who benefits when the poor are empowered?


It seems to politicians that poor people, as opposed to well-off people, are vulnerable and therefore easier to manipulate, writes Kole Legodi.

In an era gone by, a one-time US president used to advocate what he called “trickle-down economics”. This is an economic system or format in which the rich or those who might become rich as a result of economic reform, trickle empowerment to those who are below them on the economic ladder.

This sort of economic system is part and parcel of capitalism and it is rooted in the supply side of macroeconomics.

The dominant economic “ism” in this century is capitalism which, according to its devotees, is efficient, productive and profitable. Its detractors call capitalism evil, exploitative and downright inhumane.

Trickle-down economics does not work simply because human beings are largely driven by self-awareness and in a country where the poor are cannon fodder for many so-called leaders, such a system might not work. Mother Teresa and her ilk cannot be easily replicated.

In whose interest is it to see poor people empowered? Often poor people are very easy to “manipulate’’ because they do not have any bargaining power. Case in point: In South Africa one seldom sees a “service-delivery’’ protest in a well-to-do area. Service-delivery protests are the staple of informal settlements.

Any economic system that has to rely on the “kindness’’ of other humans cannot be perfect and is guaranteed to have many flaws. What happens when those in power are in a bad mood? Will they still be generous?

BEE was supposed to benefit as many black people as possible, but the reality has been different from what its inceptors hoped. What it has done is to benefit as few black people as possible. The BEE rich are becoming richer and in the process of enjoying their economic benefits, some of the black tycoons have started to see their black counterparts as an unnecessary pestilence.

About 2003 in Limpopo, an employment equity beneficiary who was lucky enough to be hired in a senior position in the office of the premier told young unemployed people who were desperately looking for jobs that the “government was not an employment agency”.

If we agree that the country cannot afford to have a polarised society where some people go to bed hungry, why aren’t we joining hands to ward off the selective amnesia of trickle-down economics? But then the question arises, in whose interest is it to see poor people empowered?

As said before, politicians seem to regard poor people as vulnerable and easier to “manipulate”.

Well-off people might also be “manipulated’’ but their situation is made more palatable by the ability to be governed by the choices they make in their lives.

Well-off people choose where to live, which schools their children should attend, where to shop, what to drive, where to go on vacation, what to eat.

Can the same choices be expanded to those who are waiting for the benefits of trickle-down economics?

In extreme cases the potential beneficiaries of trickle-down economics wait for government functions to have a good quality meal with vegetables and fortified fruit juices. In whose interest is it to see poor people empowered?

If South Africa can empower 40% of the most poor and vulnerable, who will attend rallies of political parties? If 40% of the poor and vulnerable can have their food security needs fulfilled, who is going to eat the food provided at those rallies?

It defies logic that both political and religious leaders are not taking care of their primary flock and constituencies. Most leaders advocate the notion that all humans are equal before the law.

Can’t we wean our poorest citizens off the gradually declining government teat?

But then, in whose interest is it to see poor people empowered?

On Wednesday, among others, the poor and the vulnerable had an opportunity to kick in the teeth seemingly arrogant politicians from across political parties. The scale of corruption in the country is soul-numbing and corruption robs the poor.

What is clear as daylight is that the president will have to choose the smartest and the brightest to serve in his Cabinet.

South Africa can no longer afford leaders and managers who lead and manage through giving excuses on why the poor are left behind.

Legodi is a City Press reader from Limpopo


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