By Kwadwo Afari
There is so much fear, apprehension and anticipation going on now about the economy after the elections and… we really need to step back to get a better picture of exactly why many people voted to change the previous administration. As in any “purification” process, several things comes to mind. So, for starters… who decides what “change” is and what is not? You or the politician? Who?
Speaking of the economy and change, the main aim of production is to create wealth which will lead to the well-being and flourishing of citizens. Job creation is the means to that end. A country or a government makes a mistake the moment the object is simply to ‘give jobs’ or create projects simply to put people to work. Some of the mistakes from the past was the creation of jobs through schemes like ZOOMLION, GYEEDA and YEA which were considered wrongfully, a mark of genius at the time.
Now there is nothing wrong with job creation. Employment gives people the chance to create wealth. So stampeding the new president on job creation is an understandable one, even if it is mischievous. But then again it is easy for critics to forget that creating more wealth through productive activity is what we really want to accomplish, and jobs are merely a means to that end. We don’t have to forget that elementary fact or people would easily be duped by arguments that elevate creation of public work jobs to an end in itself.
And this leads us to the title of this piece; “…more than jobs and the economy!” While things like jobs and the economy surely are important to us all (this is what puts food on the table), we seem to be deliberately closing our eyes to the most important question in the conversation: what is the most important qualities of a society that allow economic prosperity to take root? A change in political leadership or government control of the commanding heights of the economy? Naturally, there are conditions to be met for real change to happen and to attract investment dollars; we may think, beginning with economic freedom built on the rule of law, but above all, discipline and social trust, which is a prime requisite for wealth creation and development.
Real change and growth will happen basically from the bottom up, not top to bottom; from the economic sectors that most people work, in our case, the informal and agricultural sectors. In fact, job creation is not that difficult. The poor have created jobs, even if it is “kpa-kpa-kpa” as is known in street parlance. The teeming army of hawkers, sorry salesmen and women, on our streets attest to the fact. But, these ‘entrepreneurs’ operate in a hostile environment and outside the ambit of the law, execute their own business contracts and make their own financial arrangements; with mostly no known addresses, and no stable and universal ground rules in establishing trust and coordinating human conduct; mostly, no protection from the law, that permits the enforcement of property rights and the adjudication of contracts.
Most people would not honour the credit extended to them, or willfully default on a goodwill? Suppliers will conveniently deliver faulty goods and misrepresent goods they are selling. Even remotely formal documents are forged regularly and bad cheques are given with impunity. Meanwhile, the public sector agencies which are supposed to help coordinate business and ensure that contracts are enforced are even worse. The public treasury is pillaged with impunity while the police and bureaucrats solicit bribes openly and the judiciary is too weak and corrupt to enforce rules and protect private property. All these creates a paralysing lack of trust.
Today, nearly 60 years after independence, the indiscipline and the rot in the informal Ghanaian economy, employing about 70-85 per cent of the population, is increasing thus making it not conducive for wealth creation. Businesses and individuals that operate in the sector suffer high degree of mistrust and vulnerability.
Our historical abuse of power at multiple levels: government, business, civil society, trade unions, and sadly even the church has become an albatross around our necks. Unfortunately, the label free market capitalism has been thoroughly twisted by modern day ‘second-hand dealers in ideas’ into the defence of economic gamblers and promoters. In this modern age of globalization, lack of trust and lack of the rule of law can push capital across national borders so easily, and investment funds can be pulled from one country to another instantaneously to respond to new business opportunities. The more individuals one can trust, the greater is the potential for business to prosper. For our economy to thrive, thousands of trust-based transactions should form the engine for change, wealth creation and economic prosperity.
Our problem then, is not the lack of jobs or unemployment, but ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’, ‘truthfulness’ and business practices would help create productive work and distribute wealth. While we need jobs that will help us to create wealth, the right environment, besides money, should be created. Creating and maintaining a culture that embraces wealth creation therefore is critical to the long-term prosperity of our citizens. The real question then is not how many jobs the new administration can create, but an environment with a strong rule of law and how much property will be protected to increase production? What would be our standard of living?
This election, and the call for change, as said earlier, should not only be about ‘jobs and the economy;’ it should be about a return to sanity… and morality; teaching the citizens a habit that may surprise many: honesty. People may have to confront the possibility that their vices prevent them from having better lives. The type of political and business climate, where crime, corruption, nepotism, lack of trust and impunity thrive and, governance a bidding process for partisans is the reason for the poverty and lack of jobs in the country. Given a stable democracy, there should be the cultural climate of trust and its inseparable counterpart of trustworthy people who would turn this country into a whirlwind of economic activity that will stimulate the level of growth we hope to witness.
In the quest for change and prosperity we shouldn’t forget one crucial thing. Wealth is not given; it must be created through enterprise and innovation, trade and experimentation; by disciplined people who need the freedom to try, unfettered by a predatory, regulatory and confiscatory state. This doesn’t happen just because our party or the nice and popular guy won. It happens because the institutions are right and disciplined enough to make the laws work.
That most simple lesson should not elude all citizens. Instead of asking for new vast regulations, passing the ‘best’ welfare reform, creating industries for the boys, we should go the other direction. The grassroots in this country has never been about welfare. Life down there has always been about what can be achieved by individuals, and together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-determination.
In spite of all the highest hopes, best aspirations, and vast public support for this new administration, the people of this country cannot achieve anything without an environment conducive for economic growth. Thrift, hard work, tenacity and honesty and the rule of law are conceivably on top of the ingredients for wealth creation and economic development. We should all remind ourselves that an economy is not a concept, something any one person or group can redesign to create a certain outcome. So while the new President promised to create jobs, these: ‘honesty,’ ‘integrity,’ and truthfulness,’ are the only promises Ghanaians should hold him accountable and everything will fall into place.
But if Akufo Addo can’t help, why did we vote for him? The answer, my brother is very simple. We may first want to confront the possibility that our vices prevent us from having an economy that works and the prosperity we seek.