JOHANNESBURG - Recent events in our country caused me to look back in 2011 when Moeletsi Mbeki threw technical bones in his book, Architects of Poverty, and looked into the future “I can predict when SA’s “Tunisia Day” will arrive. The year will be 2020, give or take a couple of years.
The year 2020 is when China estimates that its current minerals-intensive industrialisation phase will be concluded. For SA, this will mean the African National Congress (ANC) government will have to cut back on social grants, which it uses to placate the black poor and to get their votes.” Many probably thought Mbeki was under a Nonqawuse spell - a 19th century Xhosa prophet.
Moeletsi’s far sighted diagnosis of “children playing with a hand grenade and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s economic recovery austerity paper capture the essence of the Tunis Moment.
It is at moments like this that we may wish to invoke the spirit of Norbert Wiener’s definition of Wiener’s definition of Cybernetics - “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.”
What is relevant is the extent to which we can claim scientific understanding of the functions and processes of the National Development Plan (NDP) and any other macroeconomic plan we have had thus far as an endeavour in science.
We need to test our capabilities, attitudes, actions and responses on whether they matched, match or will match cybernetics.
I have stated earlier that Mboweni’s recovery paper was strong in words but poor in facts. The paper lacks evidence on consideration of goals, circular causal chains, action to sensing to comparison with desired goals.
It hardly compared what the goals of the NDP are against what it wishes to deliver. It was conspicuously loud in its silence on the goals of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
This is a fatal flaw.
Where it attempted to speculate on employment, it provided the nation a promise of a million jobs in ten years.
The NDP said we the economy should grow at least 6 percent per annum to deal with the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Mboweni’s paper gives the NDP a growth rate of 2.3 percent but suddenly assumes an expenditure GDP of 5 percent. No schoolboy of national accounts makes an error of that magnitude in the residual between production and expenditure growth in GDP.
Obviously with such fatal errors and flaws the paper cannot be internally consistent. What then is the problem? Only the National Treasury and the SA Reserve Bank have institutional modelling capability in the state.
We should pride ourselves of this capability. But therein lies the fissures that a cybernetic process uncovers – severe knowledge asymmetries which now allow the tail to wag the dog.
Cabinet is discussing the plan. Apparently there are more than 700 inputs to be processed. This is probably the worry that faces every patient on theatre bed - 700 hundred doctors. Such a patient would justifiably hallucinate of mourners attending his funeral.
Do not get me wrong, public participation is important and has its place as cybernetics apply very well in social systems too.
Unless and until it has been tested through the eye of the science based needle, not all is in there. Statewide model based capability in the real sector of the economy is what we need. Moeletsi says we have tinkered with a system we do not understand.It is time we moved to a developmental orientation of the state rather than an obsession with the
exclusionary regulatory orientation.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.