Jobs worries cloud the big picture around 'bullshit economy'

28 November 2013 - 12:11 By Bruce Gorton
An unemployed man on the side of the road. File photo.
An unemployed man on the side of the road. File photo.

One of the major issues which afflicts our economy is that we allow bullshit, because we are afraid that if we don’t, we will lose jobs.

A classic example of this is in our hunting lobbies.

According to the president of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association, Fred Camphor, hunting contributes more than R9 billion a year to the economy.

Meanwhile the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, says that income generated from hunting decreased from R901 million in 2011 to R811 million in 2012.

I am not strictly speaking anti-hunting I enjoy eating meat and all of that jazz.

That said, Camphor’s figure comes off very much as bullshit designed around exploiting our fears of our economy losing jobs if we take too close a look at the hunting sector.

And this happens a lot when you look at South African industry.

In April we read about how Witbank’s air is the dirtiest in the world, and includes one heck of a lot of poisonous gases which have definite health effects.

It is now November, have we heard a single word about anything being done about this? Well, no because actually enforcing environmental standards may threaten jobs, as if lung cancer was such a wonderful boost to the economy.

In October the Bench Marks Policy Gap report took a look at Lonmin’s environmental standards.

What they found was that Lonmin would make promises regarding the environment, fail to live up to them, say sorry and then do nothing to live up to their next round of promises.

And they also found that when Lonmin failed to meet regulatory environmental standards, there was a tendency for government to relax those standards.

After all, Lonmin is a big employer.

A lot of our micro-lending industry operates in a less than legal manner, and with how easy it is to get an emolument attachment order a lot of our workers end up taking home much-reduced pay packets.

Rob Jeffrey, presenting an econometrix report on the issue, cautioned against a ban on these orders, because it would cost the economy R3.2 billion and close to 24 000 jobs.

According to Stats SA, strikes in the manufacturing sector slashed our GDP growth to about 0.7% in the third quarter of this year.

We allow our fear of losing employment control too much of our policy – and I suspect the paralysis this induces is ironically one of the reasons why our unemployment figures tend to hover between 20% and 25%.

Threats to employment have become an easy way for various industries to bull through almost anything – and maybe it is time we stopped, calmed down and started asking questions about how valid any of this really is.

We tend to think of doing nothing as costing nothing – and this is an error. Every now and then we need to stop worrying about how much action may cost us, and start considering whether we can afford to maintain the status quo.

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