OPEN ECONOMY: Less nightclubs, more book clubs!

Late last year, a prominent writer in Zimbabwe wrote a sharp critique of how the younger generation – the social media generation – didn’t value reading as widely as it should. He bemoaned the negative effect that a lack of reading has had on political reporting.

I can neither affirm nor refute the accuracy of his observation.

Admittedly, I do not have the most dexterous eye to evaluate great from not-so great political journalism. However, I can say that reduced enthusiasm towards reading rings true far more broadly than the writer let on —including within political classes themselves, especially politicians who end up in positions of economic importance.

Zimbabwe’s Constitution means ministerial candidacy is seriously narrowed down to the pool of MPs.

So it is quite possible that eventual ministerial appointees are not the best in terms of expertise and knowledge in their respective fields.

It then follows that we lack technocratic representation in our economic leadership.

Notwithstanding, this Constitutional disadvantage can be overcome by the competency of reading! Sure, it is a disservice to lack technocrats, but it would be less of a burden if incumbents developed some literary interest.

An immediate recommendation would be “The Essential Drucker”, a collection of writings by Peter Drucker.

Drucker says, “The knowledge society will become far more competitive than any society we have yet known, for the simple reason that with knowledge being universally accessible, there are no excuses for non-performance. There will be no poor countries. There will only be ignorant countries”.

There are two important takeaways here.

First, as information has become widely available, reading becomes the only differentiating factor between competence and ineptitude. Assuming agreement with Drucker’s notion, we must do more to encourage literary interest in many of our ministries. There are far too many instances within our economy which show lack of policy research.

For example, it has been almost six years that the Youth, Indigenisation, and Empowerment Ministry has been fine-tuning indigenisation laws.

Yet, there are references of other countries that have pursued and achieved similar legislation. Countries like Angola began after us and dividends are being realised much sooner for them than we are experiencing here. Likewise, it remains a mystery why the ministry’s flagship empowerment programme is a tent inspiring cross-border trading of clothing.

There are a lot more empowering activities within clothing value chains of which our population can pursue — cotton farming, textile ginning, knitting and so forth.

The impression one gets here is that this ministry is deficient in research and scholarship.

The same is deduced in our Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Ministry.

Economic literature abounds with information on rural-urban migration. Its occurrence was inevitable, yet the ministry has far too often been caught unprepared to expand urban capacity, both in terms of housing and viability of commercial real estate.

An overlapping flaw here is that the Ministry of Economic Planning has not developed policy to ease the excess urban demand from a bulging informal sector (vendors) through assimilating it into more organised formalities.

What we can conclude from all these cases is that as Drucker suggests, little reading of widely available literature may very well be cause for our poor policy formulation.

Sincere ministers would take little offence to this premise as they themselves would shy away from evaluating their respective ministry’s performance to a global competitive scale.

Second, Drucker makes clear reference to the fact that claiming to be resource-deprived is no longer a valid excuse for lacking competitiveness. In fact, holding onto that excuse shows what Drucker labels as ignorance of how best to utilise the little that you have, or creating mechanisms to expand the resources at your disposal.

As some ministers have recently joined social media, a few have wasted no time to express dissatisfaction with supposed resource constraints.

“We know what to do and how to do it in the health delivery system, but give us the resources and we will perform!” tweeted our Health Minister last week.

On this particular point, I’d reference a book by Nassim Taleb called “Anti-Fragile”.

Taleb goes to lengths to explain how it is necessary for a system, institution, or a ministry in this case, to be self-sustaining. He proffers the idea that each ministry must be designed and organised to allow for flexible structural adjustment in order to survive periods of chaos that may threaten sustainability.

Chaos may refer to economic downturns, sanctions, loss of currency, and any other occurrence that may expose fragilities.

Instead, some of our ministers seem to have found excuses in these chaotic factors.

As such, many have resigned to plead a lack of resources and simply offer their hands out to Government for financing. Very few ministers have taken the initiative to assess their respective ministry’s structural design and organisation to ask themselves: How can I make this ministry resistant to chaos and make it more self-sustaining?

How can I make my ministry more anti-fragile? A minister’s responsibility is not just to deliver certain services, but to ensure a resilient ecosystem which sustains adequate provision of services through tough times.

Yes, it is easier said than done, but having medical aid executives paid US$230 000 a month and senior officials at parastatals also paying themselves obscenely makes it that much more difficult.

Those are signs of very fragile ministries.

Conclusively, to create a competitive economy, Zimbabwe must exploit the fact that information in this day and age has become universally accessible. It could be books such as the ones I have prescribed, professional journals, expert consultation papers or academic research.

Reading is important!

It’d be interesting to note that the largest library in the world is the Library of the US Congress. For centuries, Americans have been aware that knowledgeable economic governance is requisite for prosperity.

So, while we can bemoan the youth’s waning enthusiasm for reading, it is evident that the same concern should be broadened to include our economic governance.

At least for the younger generation, however, we can always suggest less nightclubs and more book clubs, but what of our ministers?

How do they use their free time?

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