/ 3 February 2017

Letters to the editor: February 3 to 9 2017

Resource abuse: An Angolan boy walks in a canal in Benguela city. The burden of environmental exploitation by big industry
Resource abuse: An Angolan boy walks in a canal in Benguela city. The burden of environmental exploitation by big industry

It’s time we all became economics atheists

Is it coincidental that so many articles in last week’s Mail & Guardian (January 27) were more closely related than usual?

Wealth is a threat to environment”; “When a catchphrase trips you up”; “Dreams turn to dust for Mozambicans moved for Vale pit”; “Uganda gives refugees hope, land and jobs”; “Matric really starts with grade one”; “Inequality requires concrete solutions”.

All these headlines foregrounded something that environmental, economic and social justice activists have been saying for many years: not only are overconsumption and overaccumulation the main reasons for global environmental degradation, apparently insoluble poverty, growing inequality, the corporatisation of the academy, but they also point to what has been ignored, even by students of Marxist theory.

Marx spoke not only of the exploitation of labour but also of the environment, without which none of the top global industries would be profitable today. The United Nations estimates that this environmental exploitation amounts to a subsidy of about $7.3-trillion annually – 13% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009. In far too many cases, the burden of this subsidy is carried by people who already have little and who lose their local natural resources to boot, killing all hope of genuine local sustainability.

The Band-Aid approach ignores root causes – the myths of GDP growth-driven economic and education policies. These grow from the cult called “economics”, which has more in common with religion than any pure science. Economics gives us the doctrine of growth, the high priests (Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, the World Trade Organisation and others), “the market” being seen as omnipotent, and so on. The omniscient market knows best. It is a benign creation, for if you do the right things you will be rewarded.

It is time we voted in a government that sees this and actually looks at what its own research is saying. When he was finance minister, Trevor Manuel confirmed that, for poverty to be dented under the current economic paradigm, it would take 25 consecutive years of 7% annual GDP growth – yet the national treasury confirms that it does not see us reaching much above 4% until 2050.

Relying on that is insanity, but we have not shifted away from the mantra of GDP growth. It will supposedly take 100 to 200 years to “eradicate” poverty. Global warming and pollution already kills and displaces millions every year.

We need policies that speak to each other, harm none and prioritise basic human needs. These needs are eradicating hunger, housing and service backlogs; radically improving community safety, with an emphasis on gender; and creating a people- and planet-centred economy, driving livelihoods, not just jobs.

The resources are available; the political and corporate will is not. We need a balanced political playing field with direct representation. People must be asked what they want and policy should be designed to give effect to that. South Africa is supposed to be a participatory democracy, right?

Our choices are simple, if stark – radical change soon or planetary death. No other option appears on the horizon. – Muna Lakhani, Cape Town

M&G’s business section floored me

It has taken a week for me to calm down enough to write this letter. I was disgusted by the lead story in Mail & Guardian Business (January  20). The author has no clue why the Brits voted for Brexit.

The main drivers of the vote were immigration and the belief that control of Britain was going to be totally in the hands of the European Union.

A classic lesson to all politicians is: do not allow voters to decide on policy.

Then I read with horror Judge Dennis Davis’s opinions on how he was directing the increased taxing of assets – some would say legalised theft. It looks at the “appropriateness of South Africa’s tax system” – basically, how much can be squeezed from the dwindling number of taxpayers.

Yes, we had the suggested balance between killing the golden goose and the tailspin led by the present government. President Jacob Zuma has wiped out way more value than the money squeezed out of taxpayers. He is using the public purse to fight his own battles in court. Where is his contribution?

Davis’s disgraceful assessment that he is “struck by the mean-spiritedness [of people]” shows how it is so easy to be comfortable on a big salary.

Davis goes on to say that it is “shocking” that people tell him they do not think they should hand over more of their assets when they die.

And then, “quite frankly”, more should be taken from owners of assets to be spent by the ANC.

Parliamentarians, judges and the like drawing fat salaries are a drain on the economy.

It does not matter what is given; it is still not enough. Until South Africa has a government that spends taxpayers’ money to uplift the people instead of for self-enrichment, the country is doomed to join those on its northern borders and go bust. – Tom Morgan