Zambia’s biggest problem is its

Anti-Capitalist culture…not Edgar  Lungu or Alexander Chikwanda…


AMBIAN politicians should not have the misconception that government has a lot of money like the Vatican billions-

I get angry and switch my ZNBC -TV channel back to Comedy Central when I watch the news and see opposition as well as government officials promise people things that they know they don’t have or can’t buy and give to these people using their own money unless with money coerced from other people. There is no government or Church for that matter that has money of its own apart from that which it extorts from its people in the form of taxes or tithes.

It’s high time our politicians understood that “there ain’t no such a thing as a free lunch” and this saying has recently been mathematically proven by David Wolpert, a former senior computer scientist at NASA -Ames Research Centre and currently professor at Santa Fe Institute in his work in ‘computational complexity and optimization’. Practically, even in our own homes, we all know it’s impossible to get something for nothing.

Could it be true then, that if ‘poverty’ is the ‘something’ we desperately need to eliminate, that we cannot eliminate ‘poverty’ and suddenly become massively wealthy from nothing?  How about ‘jobs and more money’ is it not true that you cannot get more jobs and money from nothing unless you have that ‘something’? That’s to say if you’re in business, employment or even you’re a church pastor, you need that same ‘something’ to stay in business, employment or keep your church going and without that ‘something’ ’you go bust or get fired or close your church. And that something ain’t free.

This also reminds me of the common computer adage way back in our 1970 FOTRUN-V era “Junk-in-Junk –out’’ meaning if your input is rubbish or wrong data you didn’t expect the computer to correct the answers for you. Similarly you can’t plant sweet potato runners and expect to harvest Irish potatoes. But why do we keep hearing our politicians promise ‘some-things’ to people from nothing?

I know it’s considered politically incorrect to criticize culture in Zambia these days, especially if you’re Davis Chama or Edgar Lungu, but whether we’ve people who consider themselves poor and have come to accept it, or my young sister Edith Nawakwi, who sometimes rightly or wrongly thinks this country can become wealthy from nothing— and blames Mr Chikwanda for not using  ‘nothing’ to develop the country or it can be the case of Tonga women marrying Bemba men and vice versa for a Tonga to have “something” of a chance to come and rule Zambia, as Zambian we really have to, somehow, sort out our cultural dysfunction.  I’m not talking about customs, traditions, dancing or music, and I’m definitely not talking about our food or women. I’m talking about our cultural capitalism. The next 2.0 billion Eurobonds, Chinese Looters Club land deals and counter deals, protests and everything in between all mean very little if as Zambians, by and large, we don’t ditch our statist zeitgeist and rediscover real Zambian capitalistic exeptionalism for even when our ancestors lived in caves, they always rewarded talent, bravely and hard work.

In Ngoni culture, hardworking tribesmen were allowed to marry as many wives as they could support, similarly in Namwanga culture hardworking husbands (correct me Edith) would always be rewarded with another woman—usually a beautiful young sister or sisters. This is common amongst the Tonga and Bemba speaking people too and you would have seen rich men such as HH and GBM marrying as many wives too if they so wished. So, I can safely say, these were common traditions in all our Zambian tribes. People who were exceptional, brave warriors, or rich with cattle or goats or were merely good hunters—enjoyed certain privileges that the lazy tribesmen didn’t.

When going to the airport last week, I saw a black Limo and when I asked my cab driver, he told me it belonged to Senior Chief Mukuni of the Toka Leya in Southern Province. But the cab driver was quick to add…oooh, he is very rich. The same evening was a ZNBC clip of a Chief who had built a school, better than some GRZ structures, from his own resources for his subjects. True, every chief in Zambia, with so much land at their disposal, must be rich and they should not be beggars or dependants of government assistance and -hand-outs. But what do we see everywhere you look today. Some Chiefs, Head men, their subjects have sold their land to Chinese and, perhaps drunk all the money instead of investing it back for more money from development —and have gone back on government assistance programs.

No…It should not be any different with every Zambian today.

A perfect example is Zambia under UNIP. A default and sovereign crisis is supposed to have chastened the nation into a sensible, market-oriented direction as the folly of debt-addicted big state crony socialism got utterly discredited. It’s a nice theory tried under UNIP. But Zambia, thirty years after its 1980s default, that saw the nation undergo years of soaring inflation, food shortages, street riots, and  dollar shortages that ended with a change of government in 1991 to a market driven system and only nine years after HIPIC in 2006 when all this was to have ended for a new beginning, we have opposition politicians who are feeding the people with the same junk that can only lead us back to the era of economic malaise. We have politicians who cling to the past, completely clueless, hyper-interventionist socialist overlords who want to come and continue to run the economy into the ground. The reason is the core culture never changed. When your culture is toxic, up is down, black is white, socialist failure is capitalist failure.

In his book, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality-why intellectuals so often loathe the free market—Ludwig von Mises described this cultural anti-capitalism:

“As John Doe sees it, all those new industries that are supplying him with amenities unknown to his father came into being by some mythical agency called progress. Capital accumulation, entrepreneurship and technological ingenuity did not contribute anything to the spontaneous generation of prosperity. If any man has to be credited with what John Doe considers as the rise in the productivity of labour, then it is the man on the assembly line…”

“The authors of this description of capitalistic industry are praised at universities as the greatest philosophers and benefactors of mankind and their teachings are accepted with reverential awe by the millions whose homes, besides other gadgets, are equipped with radio and flat screen television sets.”

The biggest risk to Zambia is not austerity or fauxsterity or another default or the kwacha depreciation. And it’s certainly not the bogeyman of accumulating too much debt after the $2.0 billion and being frozen out of sovereign credit markets – it’s that Zambian culture remains antagonistic to free, unfettered markets and is chronically state-dependent.

And we have several examples of Latin American countries with similar experiences to Zambia under the UNIP era and we have heard some Zambian politicians praise the late President of Venezuela. You, see, Venezuela, after suffering crippling inflation rates throughout the 1980s and 90s as Zambia, the electorate went on in 1998 to vote in another central planning inflationist in Hugo Chavez. They re-elected him in 2000, 2006 and 2012, and his successor Nicolás Maduro in 2013, even while the country was in a hyperinflationary death spiral and heading toward outright economic collapse. Venezuela’s problem just like Zambia’s ultimately is not fiscal mismanagement— it’s an anti-capitalist culture.

And so it is with Greece, that opposition politicians give as an example for us not to borrow. After already securing debt relief and effectively being allowed to default by restructuring its debts over the next fifty years at subsidized interest rates — and after actually achieving economic growth in 2014 by cutting taxes and slashing the size of its sclerotic, bloated government — this toxic Greek culture prevailed once more when they elected a team of socialist die-hards to drag it back into the mire. Of course it doesn’t help that on the other side of the negotiating table is another bunch of central planners in the EU, IMF, and ECB. Nevertheless, Greece sits stuck between two central planning negotiation parties because its people have been too busy demanding goodies when they know their government has no money of its own and continue with their habits of partying instead of freedom.

True, most countries get into trouble — but some bounce back better than others and the list may surprise those who are anti- PF borrowing.

It’s not just Zambia any sovereign nation can overspend and get into financial trouble, and most have. It wasn’t that long ago that our colonial masters in Britain were forced to go cap in hand to the IMF in 1976 and cede their fiscal sovereignty to that institution. By the latter half of the 70s, Britain was a downright mess. Even the world biggest economy America, defaulted on its international obligations in 1971 and suffered a rolling inflationary economic crisis for the rest of the 1970s. Both these countries bounced back. As did Chile, a country that was producing 100,000Mt less copper than Zambia in 1973 and country we have always referred to in these very pages now produces 5.6 million Mt of copper, Uruguay, and the Philippines after their fiscal and financial turmoil of the 70s and 80s.

“But I think the case for the American default needs a brief explanation before we get our anti-capitalist colleagues confused. You see, during the 20th century, economic thinkers such as John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman showed that without the gold standard, it was possible to expand the money supply at a 3%-4% annual rate, in line with, and thereby supporting, global growth. This knowledge caused the United States to “overexpand” the economy in the 1960s to finance the Vietnam War. By 1971, the U.S. could no longer keep its pledge, made in 1944 at Bretton Woods, to redeem its dollars for gold. So the U.S. let the dollar “float” against gold (find a “natural” price different from the historical $35 an ounce), thereby going off the gold standard. With the notable exception of Japan and Germany most developed world countries such as Britain and Italy were in similar straits, and went off the gold standard, along with the U.S.

But at the same time unlike America, Britain, Germany, Italy, Chile etc, we see that some countries don’t bounce back, and I believe this happens when the national culture is, or has become, fundamentally anti-capitalist and resigned itself pathetically to cradle-to-grave state-dependency. In addition to Argentina and Venezuela, we’ve seen prolonged economic and financial malaise following painful crises in the likes of our neighbours Zimbabwe and I understand that even Ghana, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey and most of southern Europe are in a mess. It could only mean that these countries, just like some Zambian politicians in the Rainbow Party seem to suggest, don’t seem to learn from past mistakes because they don’t seem to want to or can’t locate the lesson amid the intellectual haze of their cultural zeitgeist.

But really the lesson is clear. An economic crisis can jolt a fundamentally pro-capitalist (or mostly pro-capitalist) nation that had lost its way back onto the straight and narrow. But there is no guarantee of recovery when the culture has descended into infantile anti-capitalism, dysfunctional statism, and an antagonism toward entrepreneurial dynamism and self-reliance. For these a crisis may not herald recovery but instead a longer, deeper national decline. Only a culture shift resulting from the spread of sound ideas can make Zambia a fertile ground to accept real solutions. The need to spread the good news of liberty and free markets is clearly as urgent as ever.


Just a thought,


Categorized | Business

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