This is the second of three articles about the New Growth Path (NGP) Framework released last week by the Ministry of Economic Development.

One of the architects (I must assume) of the NGP, Neva Makgetla  (an economist long associated with Cosatu and now deputy director general in the Department of Economic Development) recently examined both the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy and the ‘industrial development plan’ alternative usually advanced (in my opinion) by members of the SACP.

Writing in the September 2010 special issue of the African Communist (journal of the South African Communist Party designed as a forum for Marxist-Leninist thought) Makgetla spells out what she thinks are the problems with both polices are.

Her views of what has gone before are interesting because the new policy tries to marry these frameworks by taking only the best of both.

Someone should have warned them that in policy marriages, as in human ones, you take the good with the bad … but more about that in the third post about the NGP which I will probably only get to by Monday.

The ‘anti-poverty framework’ associated with GEAR

“In effect, the transition to democracy built an implicit social compact: business would retain its property rights, and by extension its wealth and standard of living, while government would use its tax revenues increasingly to address backlogs in services for black communities left by apartheid.”

Makgetla sees the 1996 GEAR policy framework as having left in place the basic structure of the Apartheid economy.

Path dependency meant mining and finance continue to dominate and that property relations and inequality remained unchanged.

But the strategy, according to Makgetla, was attractive to successive ANC governments because it was quick to roll out and provided immediate benefits for the poor (particularly through social grants), while (hopefully) stimulating production and generating employment as the poor consume more goods and services.

“(The major benefit of the strategy) from the standpoint of the state was that it did not require explicit intervention in the economy. It relieved the government of responsibility for transforming the economy, with the associated risks of failure and potential conflict with business. Instead, government could focus on the more agreeable task of improving the lives of constituents through the more conventional public functions of providing basic services and housing.”

The risks were largely in lost opportunity – not achieving “new kinds of economic growth and by extension enhanced employment”. Because the strategy was dependent on state revenues, it was ultimately hostage to the booms and busts of the global economy.

Her key assessments of the policy are:

1. the transfers remained too small to provide the hoped improvement in the conditions of life of the poor and therefore the expected increase in demand and economic stimulation;

2. the relatively strong rand meant that new demand for manufactured goods, especially clothing, appliances and household furnishings was largely met by imports, and

3. the poor were ultimately dis-empowered and demobilised by top-down hand-outs that are central to the strategy.

Industrialisation strategy – SACP alternative

This is the policy proposal that ‘stands in’, in Makgetla’s assessment for the traditional left contribution to the policy debate. It is best revealed, in her opinion, by the Industrial Policy Action Plan (1 and 2) of the Department of Trade and Industry.

These strategies are designed to encourage production of manufactured goods, especially for export.

The industrial strategy has the potential, in her opinion, to access larger markets in order to drive mass based production, which in turn will secure more rapid growth and higher employment.

Crucially, the approach is modelled on the relatively rapid development experienced in Asia especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

The version of the strategy she deals with – which is the version in IPAP2 of the DTI – explicitly requires government to change which parts of “capital” it supports i.e. government would need to collaborate more closely with “industrial capital”, while reducing support for mining, farming and finance.

The state should focus its support on conventional manufacturing especially of capital goods, transport, electronics – and to a lesser  degree “light industries” like clothing, food processing and minerals beneficiation. The policy tends to assume that services and production to meet domestic demand are inherently less competitive “and hence less desirable.”

Makgetla thinks there is high political risk for government in this strategy. The chances of failure in such an unequal society are high and if government adopts a strategy largely dependent on its effective intervention in the economy, it will get the likely flak along with the less likely kudos.

Risk is increased because the strategy is hostage to global demand for manufactured goods and RSA will be competing with China and almost every other developing country that sees this kind of strategy as central to their development path.

Finally, the industrialisation strategy supports long term economic growth but not employment and equity, which are not automatic consequences of growth. It ignores labour intensive activities like agriculture, services and construction and often leads to proposals to hold down wages to support competitiveness – she was prescient about that, but then she did help write the NGP!

On Monday I will spell out more specifically what the NGP proposes to do and I will make an assessment as to whether the policy will ever be implemented by this government and if it is, what it’s likely consequences would be.

If any of you are still with me by then, I will be surprised and you will probably be slightly sick of grandiose government policy making.