The phenomenon of state-led macroeconomic planning

In the wake of the latest alarm bells from the international ratings agencies about South Africa’s economic policy incoherence and incompetence, J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes another look at South Africa’s continuing love affair with the words of the developmental state, but not its hard choices. And along the way he casts a nervous eye northwards, as Zimbabwe may, soon enough, actually get its act together, even as South Africans continue their foolish argument about the sacred meanings of that phrase, “the developmental state” amid the contest for the leadership of the African National Congress and then on into the 2019 general election.

Nearly five years ago, in increasing despair over South Africa’s anaemic economic growth amid an economic policy landscape largely shaped out of some weak, lumpy mush, I wrote, “South Africa, a Developmental State? No Chance.” It is repeated below to give a sense of the criticisms raised then. Now, sadly, nearly a half-decade later, little has changed, except for the worse as international ratings agencies continue to deliver bad news for South Africa. As Donald Trump might have tweeted over some much less consequential matters: “So SAD.”

And it is sad. Despite the lack of growth, South Africa’s politicians and senior government figures continue to blame the global commodity cycle for South Africa’s febrile economic growth, rather than policy choices or the lack of them. South Africans continue to squabble furiously over whether university education should be free or not, rather than confronting and addressing the failures of the nation’s primary and secondary educational systems that abandon more than half of every student cohort that enters its first year of education – eventually allowing most of them to drift into desperate lifetimes of sporadic, casual labour at best. This failure to confront the inadequacies of education contributes to extraordinary levels of youth unemployment, and an overall unemployment level that is headed towards 30% of the working population.

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