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Mini Davos delves deep

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STEVEN GRUZD

Dr Azar Jammine, director and chief economist of Econometrix, expounded on the obscene, ever-widening gap between rich and poor – the world’s eight wealthiest people earn the same as the bottom 3,6 billion.

Free trade has not spread rewards equitably, creating the angry backlash of the Brexit vote in Britain and in the US, Donald Trump’s election on the platform of “protectionism, immigration control, anti-globalisation, tax cuts and infrastructure investment”.

Jammine exposed the pressure on asset managers to pursue short-term profits in 24-hour global financial markets. He said “greed perverted and prostituted capitalism” and that South Africa has to, somehow, address inequality.

Former American diplomat and associate editor of the Daily Maverick, Brooks Spector, scrutinised the surprising, stratospheric rise of Trump. He predicted a “phase shift… an international age of discontinuity… nationalist, nativist populism” sweeping America, Europe and beyond.

He asked: Is the election of French right-winger Marine le Pen as unthinkable as a Trump win once was? Spector said Trump tapped into a revolt against the status quo, against experts who thought they knew better. This was coupled with a fear of migrants and job losses, and his supporters’ admiration for authoritarianism, with racist undertones.

Trump’s successful message to voters was: “I can fix it. Just support me.”

Dr Reuel Khoza, intellectual and former Eskom chairman, expounded on what ails contemporary Africa. Inherited government models “promote rule of man over rule of law”, instilling inordinate power in presidents.

Africa has a “zero sum mentality”, where success is always at someone else’s expense. “We consume everything, even our seed stock for the future.”

Mathematics and science education is deplorable and with conflict resolution “in Africa… ‘might is right’,” Khoza decried the “collapse of public and personal morality”, fostering endemic corruption and crime.

“We forget the Ten Commandments,” he said, “But obey the Eleventh: ‘Thou Shalt Not Get Caught’.” Brightening this gloom, he mentioned South Africa’s robust free press, independent judiciary, active clergy and “some” Chapter Nine institutions.

Finally, Johnny Copelyn, CEO of Hosken Consolidated Investments, and erstwhile trade unionist and ANC MP, reflected on the lost idealism of the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme. At its heart was electrification of the townships, to boost consumption and create jobs.

In his view, the alphabet soup of economic blueprints that replaced the RDP from 1996, have failed. Yet over four million RDP houses were built, 17 million people receive state social grants, and tertiary education is at levels previously unimaginable.

Copelyn said corruption had shocked and sickened the public and “the demise of the stature of the presidency is little short of shameful”. He believes South Africa failed to protect the clothing and textile industries from cheap Chinese competition. He concluded: “We must build a society of builders, not takers.”

The event was sponsored by Octagon Asset Managers, and was also in memory of Yaakov ben Chaim Leib and Miriam bat Yossef Isaacson.

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