Can we ever stop talking Left and walking Right? Diagnosing the economic debate in the age of Radical Economic TransformationDate Released: Tue, 17 April 2018 16:15 +0200
The series is run by Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.
David Fryer a political economist at Rhodes University, where he teaches macroeconomics, microeconomics, and political economy & labour. He is an Associate of the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU), and was on the steering committee of the Political Economic of Restructuring South Africa (PERSA) research programme. He is an editor of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies and has research linkages with the HSRC’s recently-formed BRICS Research Centre. David’s research interests include labour economics, global macroeconomics, development economics, and economic methodology.
South Africa’s transition to democracy is a classic example of a conservative transition. Radical intentions to redistribute wealth and to alter the economic model were replaced by IMF and World Bank compliant policies. Not only this: pressures from below for a shift to a more radical dispensation have repeatedly been contained and defused. The piecemeal progressive reforms that characterise the post-apartheid period (including social grants, shifts in the funding of education, BEE) are by definition not radical: they have not changed—indeed they have often served to reinforce the core development model, which remains neoliberal. It seems likely that contemporary calls for Radical Economic Transformation will meet a similar fate. This paper argues that one of the main causes of this pattern stems from the poor quality of the economic debate. Describing and diagnosing the ills of neoliberalism is one thing. Imagining alternative economic strategies is another. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the transition to democracy is that even if politicians have the will and power to redress social and political ills, they will not implement policies they believe will fail. In a world where revolutionary rupture appears utopian, the Left is often much stronger on critique than policy. Where it does offer plausible policy advice it tends to be centrist and reformist more often that it is ‘radical’. This paper argues that the left should embrace rather than be embarrassed by Keynesian/social democratic economics, and tries to show how such an economics would work.