Simple economics of social revolution

I shudder to think what we would be without talk radio. Take, for example, the other day when one caller gave those of us who have had difficulties understanding economics, a simple lesson about the fundamentals of the dismal science.

According to this caller, the reason people choose to employ illegal foreigners is “simple economics”. Foreigners are cheaper to employ and are more diligent.

Though he did not say it, I suspect the caller would have added that foreign workers are not led by individuals who seem inclined to copy bad habits of cantankerous youths, had he been given more time to share his deep thoughts with the nation.

As I said, I am not much help when it comes to understanding the theories that made the likes of Maynard Keynes famous or infamous.

In fact, my grasp of the subject is best described by the economic concept of the law of diminishing returns. The more I stayed in an economics class the less I understood.


I transferred my stock to exploits that could prove useful in the industrial age, such as reading newspaper columnists in case my life could one day require me to follow that route. There.

But back to simple economics. I wonder if the blokes who broke into my house the other day were motivated by simple economics.

If the radio caller’s logic is to be followed, one can break the law if that is what “simple economics” dictates is the best way to get desired outcomes.

Simple economics must have been the reason they chose CDs of the more contemporary music and left pieces by the likes of Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson and Charles Mingus. It appears they might have thought of taking along Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers until they thought that such a name was hardly going to make economic sense to whoever their market is and left it on the kitchen table.

In case any of those thieves is reading this piece, I am not complaining that you left the music that you did.

I am also grateful that in their “shopping spree” they carefully selected items of clothing rather than leave my family and me with the clothes that were on our backs when they pounced on the unguarded house.

I could stand on a soapbox and preach that whoever has bought what used to be my goods is conspiring and actually encouraging criminality, but the radio correspondent might just clarify that as simple economics. If the retailer sells a flat screen TV for about R10 000, but someone is willing to sell the same for less than half that amount, simple economics must sway the mind of the buyer.

It must have made simple economic sense to steal three Orlando Pirates replica shirts and leave a Barcelona original, bought at Camp Nou itself.

With due respect to Keynes and the radio caller, I think it’s time we moved away from these simple economics. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions about the society we have become. One where having announced that no one was hurt or at home during the invasions releases grateful sighs of relief. Saying you are insured has reduced the violation to being nothing more than load-shedding — an inconvenience which, in time, will go away and see you returning to your normal routine.

You might have noticed that so far, I have not mentioned a word about my expectations of the law enforcement agencies. I am trying to be careful and not be seen as whingeing. I don’t want to risk the possibility of the minister of safety and security and his missus, the minister of home affairs, agreeing that I belong with those who should be deported.

If it can be open season on judges, what would stop those who have the power from going against whomsoever they choose? This prospect is as scary as the thought that the thieves might strike again to collect what another friend, with knowledge of how thieves think, says they call the things they left behind.

I dare say that it is not enough to say that you don’t steal or you don’t buy stolen goods, that you do nothing to encourage the culture that leads to thieving.

Whatever number of police we employ or security structures we put up, as long as we live in a society that dispenses respect and dignity on the basis of what you own materially, without making access to the opportunities fairer, we will always have crime.

The problem is most certainly not about what Charles Nqakula or Jackie Selebi, as the political and operational heads of the police respectively, does or does not do. It lies somewhere between the same energies that are expended on theories about crime being used to start a revolution that places education and social development at the heart of the new order. Having said what I said above about my understanding of economics, that investment sounds to me like “simple economics” if we are to become a less scared and scarred nation.

PS: If you are one of the thieves, please return at least one of the Pirates jerseys before the Chiefs match next Thursday. I’ll try not to ask any questions.

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