Where is Chris Hart?

2016-03-06 08:36

I don’t know about you, but I miss Chris Hart’s shrewd analysis on South Africa’s economic and social issues. I seriously do. I was thinking about him this week. I noticed on his Twitter account that he last tweeted on the 3rd of January 2016. He’s been silent ever since.

It is depressing that a man so incredibly smart on matters of economics has been silent this long. I have met Chris numerous times at the Free Market Foundation South Africa (FMF) in Bryanston. Last time I saw him was when he gave a brilliant talk titled “The Watershed” at the FMF. He’s a great man. That I do not doubt.

Hart was, after a string of tweets expressing his views about South Africa’s lacklustre economy, crucified for tweeting “More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities…”. Many, including his employer, Standard Bank South Africa, deemed this tweet racist. He had to apologize. Standard Bank South Africa suspended him.

My fellow South Africans, we have to face the reality here: South Africa’s economic future looks gloomier – and we shouldn’t expect any positive news anytime soon.

In his recent budget speech, the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, stated that his department projects 0.9% economic growth this year. Unemployment remains one of the highest in the world – close to 40%. The rand has become too weak. Prices have risen. Electricity is going up. E-tolls, for us living in Gauteng have gone up. Taxes went up last year and they are going up again this year. Government spending continues to rise. This economy is in a serious crisis.

And government is the architect of the crisis we are in. E-tolls are government’s project, electricity is going up because government has monopolized the energy industry by its ownership of Eskom and barriers to entry. They raised taxes to finance their airlines company called South African Airways, and, of course to finance welfare.

The unstable economy and President Jacob Zuma’s scandals in his administration are partly to blame for the weakening of the rand. Unemployment is high for many reasons, including sectoral minimum wages and government’s regulations that stifle business growth.

Chris Hart has been terrific in identifying the root source of South Africa’s above economic woes. He’s also been honest on what he believes ought to be the approach to escape this crisis. Government, should exit the economy. Clearly, it is inflicting sever harm to all South Africans, especially the most vulnerable, us the poor.

Because of these disastrous policies and programs, the economy will grow by less than 1% this year. And it could be worse. The Institute of Race Relations’ chief economist, Ian Cruickshanks, projects 0% economic growth in 2016. Given this reality, how exactly are we going to create jobs for the millions of people who are unemployed? The economy needs growth, and it’s not there, because government represses it.

And politicians never ever acknowledge the fact that it’s their policies that are a problem. What they go around telling people is that we are in a crisis because of some selfish, greedy capitalists; and that government must intervene more into the economy. It’s never ever about their policies.

The outcome of all this is serious damage to our society. We have developed the thinking that we are entitled to other peoples’ properties. That some greedy capitalists out there owe us something; and that we are entitled to taxpayers’ money. It is this sense of entitlement that has produced turmoil in our universities. Students feel they are entitled to the so-called free higher education. Well, it is not free, somebody has to pay for it. Who should it be?

I’d argue that the source of xenophobic attacks was also a sense of entitlement. We assaulted and burned our fellow Africans to death; looted their shops they have worked too hard for.

As a well-informed economist, Chris Hart sees this huge problem. I see it too, and have written a few pieces about it. He spoke the truth - we are suffering because of government’s disastrous policies. And the increasing sense of entitlement is worrisome.

It’s time to get serious about the future of this country. To move forward, from now, we’ll first need to face the reality - that government is a problem. It is we the people who can make our country a better place.

Mr. Hart should come back. He’s contributed immensely on the field of South African economics. This is a critical time for our nation. His voice is needed.

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