Tuesday 17 January 2017

My dream for SA in 2017

By Trevor Watkins

If you were to believe the press reports, South Africa in 2017 is more nightmare than dream. And yet life is pretty good for the vast majority of us.  Fifty years ago we were involved in a bitter and largely unknown war in Angola and Apartheid was in its heyday.  Seventy five years ago we were involved in a struggle to the death with the Axis powers. 100 years ago we were embroiled in a bitter world war which consumed our sons in vast quantities.  By comparison, a corrupt president and his venal but largely ineffective government are small potatoes.

We are not at war with anyone (except perhaps each other), we are a (more or less) respected member of the world community, we have 3 Nobel peace prize winners in our recent history, we have a constitution which most of us respect and some of us obey. Add to this one of the most beautiful countries in the world, rich in resources, with vast open spaces, ample but not excessive population, and a history of enterprise and entrepreneurship. What could possibly go wrong?

Successful South Africans share a large amount of their wealth with their more challenged brethren, despite having large chunks stolen by the ruling kleptocracy. Thankfully, most of the millions of seriously poor citizens spend their time struggling to improve their circumstances, rather than launching the communist or socialist revolution which so many other failed states have done. And the reasonably large middle class just get on with their lives, largely ignoring the twittering political classes, enjoying their rugby and soccer.

My dream? Let's take what we already have and make more of it. Let’s ignore the people endlessly telling us what to do and how to do it, be they corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, pundits, or carpetbaggers. Let’s start businesses without all the paperwork, let’s employ people without all the certificates, let’s pay them without telling the vultures, let’s produce despite all the plans. Basically, let’s take the Italian approach to government, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Without government getting in the way, this is actually a pretty good place to live.

Friday 13 January 2017

Trump: Forrest Gump or offensive grinch?

In 7 days Donald Trump will be inaugurated as 45th president of the United States, bar any unexpected catastrophes. He is by far the most divisive personality to fill this post in recent times. This is a good moment to consider who he is and what his likely impact upon the world will be.

Is he a boorish Forrest Gump, naive but honest, who calls things as he sees them? Or is he simply an offensive, old, racist, misogynist, stupid grinch who is going to spoil Christmas and everything else for everyone, as the main stream media(MSM) and most liberals portray him?
The answer, as ever, is way more complicated than the question.

Is he stupid?  Well, he keeps telling us how smart he is, which is a bad sign. And he refuses to change that hairstyle, which is just dumb. But you don’t become a triple billionaire AND president of the United States by mistake. He is a past host of a very successful reality TV show. He has written a best-seller book. He read the mood of the American electorate better than anyone else. He leveraged the electoral college system to his advantage despite losing the popular vote. He used the MSM like a boss during his campaign, ensuring that he was top of the news cycle virtually every day. Cunning, manipulative, borderline unethical - but definitely not stupid.

Is he naïve? He has said some profoundly silly things, both in the distant past, and in the last few days. I don’t think he cares. He speaks his mind, without much filtering, damage assessment or regard for consequences. As a politician, this IS naïve, but it is also wonderfully refreshing. I have the feeling he is more likely to call a spade a bloody shovel than virtually any other mainstream politician in America, excepting Ron and Rand Paul. He says that many Muslims sponsor terrorism, because they do. He says that illegal immigration is illegal, because it is. He says global warming is a scam, because it is. He isn’t always right, but he is not shy to say unpopular things that are true. That’s a rare thing in a successful politician.

Is he old, racist and misogynist? Yep. If you judge a man by what he says (in private and in public), then he is guilty on all 3 counts. But if you judge him by what he actually does, then the indictment is not quite as clear.
He received more support from black and Latino voters than expected (8 percent of African Americans voted for Trump, 2 percentage points more than for Mitt Romney in 2012). There are no accusations of racism relating to his business enterprises. There are at least 10 black Republicans who will be working within his administration.
His wife appears to be a free agent, often criticising Trump in public. His campaign manager was a women (KellyAnne Conway) and is now part of his team as counsellor to the president. He has appointed 2 women to senior cabinet posts. He has taken a liberal stance on most women’s rights issues.

Is he offensive? Oh yeah. There is hardly a single identifiable group in America whom Trump has not offended. Many people just can’t stand his overweening conceit and continuous braggadocio. He is the epitome of the alpha male who has got it all, and loves rubbing that fact in everyone’s face. His name in gigantic letters on just about every building he owns is deeply disturbing. No doubt his therapist has a field day with the feelings of inadequacy which this behaviour reveals.  But it seems that a lot of Americans like this in-your-face triumphalism, this telling it like it is. When Muhammad Ali said he was the best, and demonstrated the fact, most Americans applauded. Not so much for Donald Trump, but still enough to get him elected

So what can we expect in a Donald Trump future?  I think he will move fast. I think he will be more businesslike than political. He does not have many beholden interests to satisfy. He has been and will continue to be his own man with his own style and agenda.

I think he truly cares for America's disaffected middle (now lower) class. I think he will pass bad legislation to raise tariff barriers and undo free trade agreements. This is a disaster for free market capitalists, but will probably lead to short term job growth and wage increases. He will probably live to regret this.

As promised, he will start dismantling Obamacare from day one. I think there is a real chance he will replace it with a more market-friendly, less coercive system. However, he will need to break the power of big pharma and big medicine before any real improvement in American healthcare occurs. This is a lobby big enough to defeat him, if not kill him, so he will have his work cut out.  His appointment of Jim O'Neill, Managing director of Peter Thiel's Mithril Capital, to head the FDA is a very good start.

I think he will take a more pragmatic, America-focussed view of world affairs. Where American interests are threatened he will take rapid and ruthless action, no doubt with much attendant collateral damage. Where American interests are not threatened, he will leave it to the foreigners to get on with it themselves without too much handwringing. The UN, NATO and SEATO might be early casualties of this approach. Expect US aid to 3rd world countries to be reduced. Expect the military budget to remain much the same.

I think that several entrenched American institutions such as the CIA and the Federal Reserve may find their hegemony threatened. The CIA has already fired the opening shots in their war with Trump, although they are rather piss-willy. Nevertheless, the same agencies that have much to lose from this new president are also the ones entrusted with protecting him. If I was Trump, I would hire the best private security available, and have them watch the presidential guard very, very closely. I am endlessly hopeful that this new, independent, unbeholden commander-in-chief might reveal some of the dark secrets that previous presidents have kept hidden, but I am also resigned to the limits of even this elevated office.

I believe that as a businessman, Trump will be good for the American economy. He may reduce taxation, regulation, government expenditure. He may reward the workers and deny the takers. This will make liberals hate him even more. As ever, I don’t think he cares. Is he big enough and ugly enough to defeat the entrenched power elites, the unions, the banks, the universities? Probably not, but I think he might give them a serious fight.

I think Trump will govern in the style of Reagan and Thatcher, just without the humour and finesse. I think he will boost the American and thereby the world economy, finally bringing the 2008 slump to an end. I think he will shake several American institutions to their core. I think he will horrify America’s allies, and enrage her enemies. No doubt there will be some as yet unforeseen event which will threaten to cripple his presidency. We will only know for sure in 4 years whether he is a great or a second-rate president.

People versus Power

Humanity is  subject to two great imperatives - the power of love, and the love of power. These are the bookends of our brief earthly existe...