Participation and a reality based study of Economics

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“We have tainted what was a glorious revolution, reducing it to some agrarian racist enterprise. We have behaved as if the world owes us a living. It does not. We have blamed other people for each and every ill that befell us. As every peasant, worker, businessman or woman now stares at the precipice of doom, let us wake up and draw back. We must clear the slate, bury everything that has divided us, and begin again.” – Edison Zvobgo
“Throughout history, too many lives have been ruined by people with excessive conviction in their own views’ – Chang
THE way the field of Economics is taught, is set to change and it’s imperative that Zimbabwean economists are actively involved in this debate. There is a growing concern that the field of Economics is somewhat abstract from the reality of how real economies actually behave. The real world, in the words of Ha-Joon Chang, is absent in most Economics curricula. The neo-classical point of view has turned the field into an abstract field with complex jargon, mathematical formulas and mathematical models that bare no resemblance to reality.
Why is this important? Well, there has been a worldwide campaign to change the way economics is taught so that it can start reflecting the world as it is and not as economists would want it to be. The unique circumstances that have shaped Zimbabwe in recent years have made the country a case study on a lot of curricula right from the measurement and history of inflation; definitions of what money is, to banks and the money multiplier theory.
I draw lessons from the West simply because most people understand its shortcomings and admire its ability to renew itself as well as learn hard truths from its own history. In 1919 John Maynard Keynes, a man most dismissed as a dusty bean counter at the time, wrote an analysis discussing German reparations and Germany’s capacity to meet the obligations imposed on it by the Allied powers after World war 1.
Keynes argued that, it was not within Germany’s capacity to pay £38 billion, or £35billion even. He argued that Germany should pay reparations in other ways and even suggested that, the Allies ought to nurse German trade and industry in order for the Allied powers to have the capacity to extract reparations. He gave a very well-argued economic outline on the consequences of making Germany pay more than she could afford. However, it was his third reason, which stood out most. John argued that,Advertisement

“The vast expenditures of the war, the inflation of prices, and the depreciation of currency, leading up to a complete instability of the unit of value, have made us lose all sense of number and magnitude in matters of finance. What we believed to be the limits of possibility have been so enormously exceeded, and those who founded their expectations on the past have been so often wrong, that the man in the street is now prepared to believe anything which he is told with some show of authority, and the larger the figure the more readily he swallows it.”
John wrote of the Economic consequences of the Peace deal and further argued that, this peace deal would give rise to sinister forces within Germany. By 1923 when the Nazi’s came to power a life time savings would buy a loaf of bread.
Apologies for the history lesson but a lot of people can draw parallels with what has and is happening in Zimbabwe. I think Zimbabweans are oblivious to the Social consequences of living within inflation and currency substitution. People back home cling on to cultic superstition because they want some form of hope which our government sees for the most part as ‘culture’ when in reality it’s a bizarre set of norms that has emanated because of hardship.
The ordinary man on the street will believe anything he is told that contains some level of authenticity and with a show of authority. In addition, the majority of the time, prayers are centred on public services and the desire to have a decent life. What is significant about John’s prediction was that, he made both an economic argument and a social argument. I had an epiphany when my sister highlighted that, our cousins, who are 22 this year and all the children born after 2001 in Zimbabwe, would not know what a life without inflated prices, scarcity and corruption really looked like.
Despite this very well-documented argument set out by Keynes, Economists are not analysing the social consequences of the nation’s inability to meet its obligations and to pay its debts; the impact of living in wide economic disparities, what it means for a youthful population and most importantly, what it has done to our notions of reality. Furthermore, there is so much emphasis on the political nature of the socio-economic reality and although the political arguments are relevant greater importance needs to be put forward for the socio-economic consequences of the choices we are all collectively making.
Economists and those that matter need to make us informed about the full extent of the social consequences of living in such scarcity. Forget the foreign investment argument touted by most people. The impact of bad policy implementation will last another three generations.
At the present moment, our social fabric is being torn to shreds because of the corrupt nature of everything. We have become a nation of people who can be easily swayed by West African Charlatans offering a base and sometimes shallow religious order. We are a society that is driven by envy because of the very visible social disparities. I think what’s most disappointing is our unwillingness to learn coupled with public apathy, which ultimately means nothing is going to change for a very long time.
For myself, it’s the lack of a well-articulated debate on issues that affect us all because they have been too politicized; the only rational but illogical response is to assign it to the heavens. The lack of true intellectual debate on social issues that has resulted from the nature of our political situation means that, most people put aside critical thinking and surrender to a singular set of ideologies.
Asking for pluralism in social discourse should not be limited to a matter of “fairness”. It is a matter of intellectual development as well as ensuring that a future can be created that not only generates order and ideas but, a future that has the capacity to harness all talent.
In addition, from a bigger picture perspective, one might add that, societies that debate different intellectual ideas as well as social concepts from a diverse pool and from everywhere around the world, inevitably churn out the sharpest and most informed, critical and analytical populations with a great deal of compassion and enormous positive drive, making them the most creative and dynamic group.