After a life time of being disappointed by governments in Africa and their ineffectiveness in lifting Africans out of poverty as done on other continents, namely China and India, I have become an economic libertarian. I celebrated this by writing an article titled: Libertarianism: Nigeria’s unwritten economic policy. This has been in circulation for a decade but I seem to remain the only libertarian in Nigeria. A decade down the line and with the passage of time, I am more than ever convinced that the practice of libertarianism can be used to successfully address the developmental goals and needed transformation of the continent. It can act as a panacea to solve Africa’s developmental issues. This article is written to show/argue how libertarianism defined as minimal government meddling in economic life, would bring direct benefits to the continent.
Please note that the word was used originally to describe socialist on the left, it is used today to describe promoters of laissez faire capitalism. Meanwhile the old word liberal is used today to describe left leaning, government intervening politicians.
This article is about pragmatic economics as reality has shown that pragmatism delivers. For example, Japan’s economic recovery after the second world war was aided by a strong dose of central planning under the auspices of their Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) yet under American capitalism. Chinese renaissance and overtaking Japan as second economy was done using market capitalist forces under the communists party of China.I am pre-empting the communism/capitalist ideological debate. Just plain pragmatic tools to move the African union agenda 2063 to an agenda 2033
Curbing corruption: This is a direct consequence and benefit of libertarianism. Corruption is fuelled by government largesse, government expenditure and government budget. Libertarianism will take the oxygen out of corruption or put in another way, wean the corruption-addicted government officials off their fix as done to addicts in rehab. This time government officials, bureaucrats and politicians, are the addicts and the money they claim to spend for us is the abused substance (they consume it). Remember most government services and functions can be and are being provided by individuals in the private sector and informal sector. The few exceptions being armed forces, police, administration of justice and law & order. Even in these areas we have alternatives such as vigilante groups, neighborhood watch in policing the society. Traditional ruler courts and quasi grass roots courts also administer justice. Currently the integrity of our justice system has been questioned and doubted.
Separates politics from economics: Libertarianism, will separate and insulate the economy and pure business decisions from politics and politicians. Projects will be sited, not by political balancing, but for purely economic viability. Manning of vital businesses will no longer be by federal characters. Take a look at federal businesses or parastatals, for example, Ajaokuta aluminium smelters, several refineries, just name it, all laid prostrate by politics. Even education is said to have been destroyed to allow the North to catch up. Let’s do a comparison. While in Nigeria our developmental dreams were pinned on parastatals in South Korea, they achieved their transformation from third world to first world in a span of a generation by use of individuals in the private sectors like Daewoo, Hyundai, and Samsung and so on. That is the difference. Find 10 ‘Dangotes’ for Africa rather than the 55 governments to deliver the transformation of the continent.
Libertarian posture addresses the core crisis of the African race which is, retention, sustenance and remnants of the slavish mentality. I wrote an article on this inspired by Bob Marley’s words “Emancipate Yourself From Mental Slavery”. Libertarianism nurtures a free can do, can go anywhere (Mars) spirit in opposition to the dependency psycho-cultural spirit (slavish mentality) that currently afflicts the people of African descent continent. An extreme libertarian does not even expect the divine to do any other thing for him. He appreciates that God has put in man God’s creative spirit. Stemming from this is an abhorrence of governments doing this and government doing that. He becomes a free spirit, freedom hugging citizen and vehemently opposes government intervention or largesse in people’s affairs. It is on this spirit America (USA) left the Latin American countries behind & overtook Europe. You can see this spirit in George Bissel (initiator of the petrol industry), the Wright brothers (flight) and Elon Musk (adventure to Mars). This spirit is so rigorously entwined in the DNA of the Americans unlike the Africans.
INFLUX OF FOREIGN INVESTORS
Libertarian posture would attract more direct investment into a nation that accepts the policy, leading to industries, infrastructure, jobs and rapid poverty eradication (possible in a generation twenty five years). Business persons will see and deliver more than bureaucrats or career politicians even in welfare sectors like health education and security. Investors will see more profitable opportunities than that dictated by government bureaucrats. The removal of public in PPP and allowing 100% private ownership and conceptualization will open a floodgate of investors both local and foreign as happened in telecoms industry.
This goes for provision of infrastructural services as well. The mentality posture must change. Operating now is a “government sitting on its high horse and deciding which project to concession” to a partner and wanting to call the shots. Concessions are given and then withdrawn. Signing an agreement with government counts for little as such agreements are torn when a new administration comes. A liber policy means government getting off its high horse and liberalizing the provision of infrastructural services from power to communication to transport and on and on.
I need to sound a note of caution. Our bureaucrats love formulating policies be it economic, industrial, social or otherwise. However, our policy makers have consistently got it wrong, but what it is appalling is that we still look up to them for direction. From the cement armada to wrong exchange rate policies. From unbundling power to wrong automotive policies – CKDS. Even government generated education curricula has damaged education. A lot of ideas should be allowed to be spawned germinate, no hemming in. The world is into the fourth industrial revolution and we (Africans) didn’t do well in the earlier ones because of too much government oversight. We should note that global Nigerian industries sectors like Nollywood, music, comedy, even sports and fashion had no government policy behind them, I advocate the same for the larger economy. Let the entrepreneurial spirit that drove the creative art industries drive our economic and social welfare sectors and leapfrog us into 4th and 5th industrial revolution. This potpourri of entrepreneurial effort from both local & expatriate players will lead to diversification then synergy which then enthrones a virtuous circle leading to double digit growth and economic transformation from the present consumer economy to a contributing economy.
This “anti libertarian spirit” or mentality of leaving the “commanding heights of the economy” for government has caused so much damage and stifled dreams. Reverse it so that our youths can dream big and aim for the stars. Libertarianism would help us shed our psycho-cultural “can’t do” mindset to “I can do it” mindset.
Governments in Africa have simply become a burden to development. They are now the real cause of underdevelopment. Governments in Africa have indeed become the main obstacle to transformation of the African continent. From formulating hydra-headed policies to literally putting up mental, administrative and physical obstacles to development. They put up regulations & archaic laws just to receive kickbacks. They crowd out the private sectors from loans by government over borrowing. For each $100 government spends for us we get less than $50,other times as low as $10 even zero – looting. Government have never been for wealth churning activities and Nigeria’s experience with government proves that. Peoples like Tata, Toyota, Mittel, Dangote, Olatunde Agbatos are the real wealth creators. Even the simple cocoa farmer whose wealth governments now cream off. Yet it never entered the bureaucrats’ head to move up the cocoa value chain and export chocolate. No, they have kept the poor farmer down to exporting cocoa beans. At best government are for wealth redistribution through progressive taxation of the wealth creators – a caveat on this though.
Governments should avoid enlarging itself. To foster a new environment they have to demote themselves and enhance/protect wealth creators. Of course there are roles for government. A new move from current top-down governance that came with colonization – Queen to empire to colonies to independent countries to national to state to local government -a bottom-up communality can be fashioned; Individual to ‘Individual in community’ to community in local govt area to subnational to national to regional to continental. There could be a role for enlightened traditional rulers at community level and a good dose of servant or serving-master mentality at the traditional level to counter the politicians Master/slave mentality.
HISTORICITY OF LIBERTARIANISM
Do we have any country that has practiced this policy? Yes, the US. American founding fathers were highly influenced by classical liberals (libertarian philosophers) like John Locke in fashioning the enduring American constitution. They were called liberals then not libertarians. “Libertarian” was originally reserved for socialists on the left spectrum of political ideologies. Contemporaneously, the word libertarianism is used for the American version of minimal government.
The US practiced libertarian economics of the minimal government type and allowing individuals to provide for themselves for the 150 years of their existing leading to the Laissez Faire posture that held on to the 1930s and the great depression. With this revolution in political thought they were able to catch up with Britain and Europe and leave the Spanish and Latin American nations behind economically. These other nations still clung to the overwhelming Central Authority. Keynesian economics reversed this policy in US efforts to exit the great depression. Since the thirties the US government role in their economy has grown and grown. However the US have never lost their “can do” libertarian spirit and so we have current aficionadoes like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and oldies like Wright brothers and Graham Bell. A counter argument can be made that “communist” China is set to overtake the US economically. This happened when Chinese leaders allowed individuals in the market to thrive – ‘it is good to be rich’ – Deng, former Chinese leaders who was brought in from the cold when Mao died. A thoughtful thinking and disciplined political Chinese leadership has separated the economy from state meddling and central control to release the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese and explosion in growth.
Africa does not have this caliber of leaders, only rapacious leaders and elite. So the need for libertarianism that does not expose our resources to these leaders/elites and their foreign cohorts. Liber might be the only game in town for renaissance or transformation of Africa since its antithesis collectivism. Statism, communism have impoverished the continent and left it prostrate. Writers and philosophers like Augustus Hayek (Road to serfdom), Aryn Rand (Atlas shrugged) had predicted that ultimately “governments and their cohorts rape the governed but this was lost to African intellectuals. Since ideas actually rule the world be it capitalism or socialism I hope one day Liber becomes the Mantra of the African Union (AU) and if by stretch of imagination this happens then slavery and its mentality will really end in Africa and our young will stop dying in the Mediterranean as they died 400 years ago in the Atlantic and across the Sahara to a greener pasture, which can so readily be developed here at home. If only we all embraced libertarianism.
Written by Dr. Jerry Jaiyesimi