Right at the start of the year students are buying textbooks for the new semester, but if you are an economist in training, you need to read a bit wider than just the prescribed texts. Last year three new books were published on the challenges facing the South African economy, its businesses and policymakers. So, if you want to keep up with the debate, we have some recommended reading for you.
The first is Zumanomics Revisited, by Prof Raymond Parsons.
Zumanomics Revisited is a different book from the 2009 edition of “Zumanomics” that comprised a large number of essays on the South African economy edited by Raymond Parsons. The present edition is the vision of one author on the future of the political economy of South Africa. It is an independent assessment of the current state of the economy with a vision of the likely future political economy developments if the policy proposals of the National Development Plan (NDP) are implemented. There is a close relation between the exposition followed by Parsons and that of the NDP. This is explained by the fact that the NDP is an economic-political document based on a synthesis between opposing views. The NDP does not subscribe to a particular political or economic ideology. It presents its analysis and policy proposals from an ideological neutral position. In this respect its policy proposals presuppose a synthesis. It is this feature that qualifies the NDP as a unique policy document that could be implemented without wasting time on diverging ideological debates. Put differently, the implementation of the NDP requires leadership not ideological debates. This is the major theme of Zumanomics version two. In this sense this book projects an optimistic vision of the South African trajectory towards 2030. This is an important stance that requires strong defense in a country that is showing features of optimism fatigue with a failing public sector. You can read Prof Peet Strydom’s full review here.
In his new book JP Landman argues that if you look at the newspaper headlines, you are very likely to get swept up by this week’s drama (this week it is Nkandla). Very quickly you will become very negative about the country and its future prospects. We should rather take the long view. He asks what makes a modern successful society and evaluates the progress made since 1994 and future prospects against each of these requirements. The first is a growing economy and he throws out some numbers: Over the last 19 years the SA economy grew by 77% in real terms, there has been social development and investment in infrastructure. The successes are ascribed to the end of sanctions, the opening up of the economy, prudent fiscal and monetary policies and increases in productivity. I would qualify this “success” and ask why did South Africa not receive much FDI, why have many sectors struggled to compete in an open economy (and are now asking for protection), how capital intensive is the growth in productivity? But the book just goes on to argue that South Africa has reached a level of economic development where democracy has a reasonable chance of surviving. You can read Prof Krugell’s review here.
Unfortunately we do not have someone who has written a review yet, but the publisher writes: Dawie Roodt argues that economics is not about numbers, graphs and statistics; it is about people, and about how they react to incentives. Unfortunately, our politicians seem to have forgotten this. Using simple concepts and thought-provoking anecdotes, the book explains how ‘the market’ evolved with humanity, what was wrong with communism, what the global financial crisis is really about, the ways in which the state spends your money (and the ways in which it actually should), how tax is collected, how money and inflation really work, the ins and outs of trade, and the ups and downs of labour. Buy it here.
Remember, reading is how you update your brain’s software!