What does 50 Shades of Grey by E L James have to do with our prospects for 2013? Well, it was one of the books I read over the Xmas sojourn and it did give some ideas! But more of that later…
The other three books I read were, in a manner of speaking, more instructive.
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond is a magnificent expose of the history of civilisation over the past 13 000 years. Amongst other things he explains why Europe was not invaded by bellicose Africans mounted on domesticated rhinos or warlike red Indians riding bareback on bisons. Who would have thought that the tsetse fly could single-handedly stop the arrival of horses, cattle and pigs in Southern Africa and that the only domesticable animal in Africa was the guinea fowl? The mind boggles at the realisation that all dogs — Great Danes and Chihuahua’s alike — are all descended from domesticated wolves.
The main thrust of the book is to answer the question "Why did wealth and power become distributed as they are now, rather than in some other way? For instance, why weren’t Native Americans, Africans and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated or exterminated Europeans and Asians?"
He answers this question in his 460 page book in one sentence: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves." Having spent much time in New Guinea amongst hunter gatherers he argues that these so-called backward people demonstrate greater innate intelligence than many Wall Street bankers. Not that difficult some of us may argue.
But it is essential reading for those who want to understand how Eurasian cultures came to dominate those of Africa, the Americas and Australia. And it is particularly important reading for those who believe in the inherent racial superiority of those of Caucasian decent.
How to fix South Africa was another interesting read. Edited by Ray Hartley of the Sunday Times it contains 24 short contributions by many eminent commentators across our political, economic and social spheres. Everybody agrees that unemployment, poverty and inequality are our biggest challenges, but the "fix it" proposals they put forward could not be more diametrically opposed.
This, in itself, remains our VERY biggest challenge. It would seem to me that agreement between the social partners (Government, labour, civil society and the private sector) on the "causal nature" of the problem is just about impossible, except for one compelling reality — we have to deliver "opportunity", more so than houses, water and electricity. How then will we ever arrive at agreement on the way forward?
The "Fix it" book demonstrates that amongst the 24 authors:
- There is no agreement on what poverty is, who lives in poverty and what the numbers are;
- There is no agreement on what kind of economic model is required to promote employment and entrepreneurship. The market economists head butt the state interventionists and vice versa;
- There is no trust between the social partners;
- There is no common ground between those who promote low wage low skill opportunities vs. those who promote decent work high wage opportunities, despite overwhelming evidence from the Asian successes;
- There is no common recognition of the inflexibility of our labour relations dispensation as a major impediment to job growth (despite the fact that we rank 144/144 in the Global Competitiveness Report). Old world 70s socialists lock horns with modern day entrepreneurial wealth creators;
- There is no agreement on how to "fix" education as unionists argue the rights of teachers and business the rights of learners;
- There is no agreement on how we make the National Development Plan work as we argue the semantics of what is and what isn’t a vision for the future as well as what is and what isn’t a single rallying point. Some would propose a short "Top 10 (countries in the world) by 2030" other a seven page 2000 word "vision" about how we should "love each other".
But, there is agreement on the importance of SMME growth, entrepreneurial endeavour and bottom-up driven job creation.
This "Fix it" book demonstrates that implementation, action planning, setting goals and delivery has for 18 years been bedeviled by mistrust, political expediency and deteriorating state capacity, and that this must change as Dr. Mamphela Ramphele illustrates (below).
Article continues on pages two and three: Pennington draws parallels between what he read in a book by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele and 50 Shades of Grey, and the outlook for South Africa in 2013 and beyond...