Zimbabwe's economy of patronage and plunder

THE "race to the bottom" in Zimbabwe is characterized today, by an economy of patronage and plunder which will take more to reverse, than merely exposing political deception.\r\n

This is the second and final part on the matter of understanding the limits placed on progress due the tendency of politicians to “race to the bottom”, as explained in my last article. I implore my readers to forgive me for a rather longish article. This is because; I must expel all my thoughts on the subject matter from my mind at once.

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In his paper on thwink.org, Harich further argues that, “Because the size of falsehood and favoritism can be inflated, and the truth cannot, the race to the bottom has an inherent structural advantage over the race to the top”

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Put in other words, he explains that, because the size of falsehood and favoritism can be inflated while the truth cannot, corrupt politicians can attract more supporters for the same amount of effort.

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A corrupt politician can promise more, evoke false enemies more, push the fear hot button more, pursue wrong priorities more, and use more favoritism than a virtuous politician can. The result is that, the race to the bottom is normally dominant. Thus the reason that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is not so much that power itself corrupts, but that the surest means to absolute power requires corruption.

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Despite the obvious need for sustainable social change, that serves the common good, there will continue to be a resistance to change, simply because of its overwhelming advantage. The “race to the bottom” through deception, is the surest way for a politician to rise to power, to increase his power, and to stay in power.

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I think this helps us to comprehend the challenges we face in Zimbabwe, South Africa and many more African countries. It is frequent that, when we genuinely attempt to cause positive social change, we normally experience difficulty and the non-acceptance of evident solutions that would achieve the common good. This is simply because, the contemplated changes can be perceived as threats to political power and influence.

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To use a more specific example, the rise of a non-partisan black capitalist class in Zimbabwe was stifled and dissipated, not because it was not good for the country, but because it was seen as a threat to the political establishment. To date we suffer from a “flight to quality” by a large portion of talented Zimbabweans of all sorts, who left the country in repugnance. This, in my view, further accelerated the “race to the bottom” which is characterized today, by an economy of patronage and plunder.

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The victimization of non partisan black capitalists, the obsessive need to control of the media, the suppression of freedom of association and of speech, the favoritism shown towards partisan individuals and business people, the victimization of urban voters, the intimidation of farm workers, the and the intimidation of opposition parties all assisted this acceleration of “the race the bottom” in Zimbabwe. As a result, degenerates, or those not seen as threats to political power, became the major beneficiaries and continue to dominate the economy through conformity and party loyalty. These are the workings of the race to the bottom, which provide a perfect excuse for continued political exploitation.

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In the case of South Africa, a recent example is the issue of the education fiasco where, incompetence is being protected for political reasons. For goodness sake, how can a country that successfully hosted the 2010 World Cup fail a simple task of delivering textbooks to schools on time? Replacing the leadership which has presided over this fiasco is the obvious solution that would serve the common interest and yet, we can see a resistance to change informed by political interests. Incidentally, there are many other instances that confirm the existence of Harich’s race to the bottom model in South Africa such as, tenderpreneurs, cadre deployment and then some. No country seems immune.

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In his exposé, Harich then goes into details that I think, would not only bore you here, but would also adequately confuse those who are not too familiar with systems modelling. Suffice it to say that, he exposes how the interests of corporates , a new dominant life form termed: Corporatis profitis, are in conflict with the aspirations of the people: Homo sapiens. This leads to the further strengthening of the race to the bottom. The corporate pursuit of profit and gross national product maximization, encourage and accelerate the race to the bottom at the expense of the common good.

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For example, in Harich’s words: “As gross world product continues to rise, sales and profits soar to unprecedented heights. However, so does pollution and natural resource depletion. While the consequences of these effects are delayed, it is only a matter of time before the quality of life for Homo sapiens begins to fall.” The objectives of the two (i.e. the Corporatis profitis and the Homo sapiens), are therefore mutually exclusive.

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Harich, further identifies ways and means of exposing political deception to limit its negative impact.

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True, the fundamental challenge is for us to create social value systems that increase our ability to identify political deception when it happens. However, I think that Harich shies away from digging deeper to discover the root cause of political deception. He stops only when that deception is exposed, and assumes that public opinion will shift accordingly, thus limiting the political space for politicians to continue their deception. That is not my experience.

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If we take the case of South Africa as an example again, its political machinery has failed dismally to pursue the common good, despite having one of the best constitutions in the world, an independent judiciary, a vocal opposition party, a reasonably free press and a very politically active community that exposes the lack of service delivery. There must be something more to it.

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In the case of Zimbabwe, although we seek to change the rules of the game through a new constitution that will deliver unto us the same freedoms as in South Africa, I am skeptical whether we will have different results. Changing the prevalent value system of political favouritism and patronage, to a fair system will take a significant period of time if not a generation. This is simply because the rot we must attend to has permeated into all sectors of society. From commerce to sport to religion, we continually see the hand of avarice, patronage, plunder and deception, manipulating all we may do. Reversing the race to the bottom will not be easy.

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I think that, the root cause of continuing political deception is the means by which we elect individuals into power. Our problem emanates from the form of the democracy model that we use to elect individuals into power. It should be obvious that, as long as we continue to use the number of votes to elect our politicians, political deception will continue as a means to gain the most votes and thus, attain political power.

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I am convinced that, in order for us to prevent the race to the bottom, we need to create new and innovative social systems that change the means by which individuals attain political power and influence. I have long argued that democracy, as we know it, breeds oligarchies which develop into dictatorships of all forms. There is a tendency within our democratic systems, to centralize political power and thus provide an opportunity for a few to manipulate and deceive so that they remain in control. My conclusion is that, democracy based on majority vote wins, is the root cause of race to the bottom. South Africa is a clear example.

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To be honest, what that new social system is, I do not know. I do, however, have some ideas which need further sharpening. What I do know is that, we stand to be disappointed by expecting different results from what to me, is a structurally flawed system of politics. I have, in the past, spoken of the need for us to look back at African history and adopt some of the social management systems used then as an alternative to modern democracy. However, now is not the time to delve into it.

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Naturally, I am compelled to further entertain my judicious readers by addressing the root causes of the underdevelopment of Zimbabwe by Zimbabweans through political deception, patronage and plunder. However, before I do that, I need to comment on Zimbabwe’s recently announced mid term monetary policy next, as I think that, once again, it misses addressing the root causes of bank failures.

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Hmmm, so much to do, so little time.

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Vince Musewe is an independent economist and you may contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com. This article was first published by politicsweb