Releasing Africa from Economic stagnation – a key element
25 August, 2017
I wish to commence this article by emphasising that what I write is motivated by the search for truth and goodness. I am not trying to define an end point or provide a solution. I am rather attempting to find concepts that will lead things forward. They will have no effect unless others test them out and try to work with them. Others will find them sound or not sound. Either way, they will move forward in their clarity if they take the trouble to invest earnestly, along with well-intended thoughts.
Having recently returned from an overland trip to Nairobi, Kenya and back, I was struck by the relevance of Dr Steiner’s clear concepts of economics and the Threefold Social Order. Had I not read these and internalised them somewhat already, I would have driven past the things that were there and admired them or disliked them in a very self-indulgent way. With these concepts however, I could see what the realities were telling me in a much more relevant and real way. Relying on my version of Plato’s Cave, I looked at what appeared to me in the physical as we passed along the roads of Africa. When one sees the same thing in principle repeated over thousands of kilometres, it makes things easier to grasp – nothing else appears so the repetition of the same thing has quite an impact.
The economy as we know it is a man ‘made’ reality. It is quite different from a Nature economy. Nature has a way of providing for itself. Grass provides the base for many bird nests. Elephants eat fruits and the seeds of these can only germinate after having passed through the digestive system of the elephant. There is no commercial transaction in either of these. The ecosystems just function in Nature. There is no sense of value changing hands in Nature when a Nature transaction takes place. The grazing animals do not ‘reward’ the grasslands or the trees. The birds do not reward the tree for its branches. The earthworm does not reward the soil or the water. This is all just part of the ecosystems in nature. The essence of these activities is that they are pure and part of how things are. Each party takes only what it needs for its own survival. What is completely absent from these Nature transactions is a consciousness that I am doing this for others. There is no ‘I’ other than in mankind. This is one of the fundamental concepts put forward by Dr Steiner in his Economy Lectures.
The economy as we know it comes about when human beings place a value on what another has done for him. In the transaction of buying or selling, people come to express a value of what the one has and the other needs. In this way an economy comes about as we know it. So what happens when human beings operate very close to the nature economy and only produce enough for themselves? All their effort never gets into the market or the economy as we know it. This is made even more clear by the fact that nobody but direct family gets to appreciate the value of the others’ work. There is never a value placed on the transaction and therefore never a transaction that crosses over into the economic sphere as we know it today. Let me be very clear about this. Everything we do for ourselves, therefore, never gets to be valued by another other than perhaps in a thought of appreciation, never enters the economic process as there is no objective exchange of value between two people. Subsistence farming is then what? It is farming for oneself or ones’ family. Only the excess, if there is any, that is made in subsistence farming, could possibly end up in the economic sphere and hence generate something towards GDP and tax. The takeout from this thread of logic described above has to be that Africa needs to be made aware that it has to make things for others and not for personal needs. In this way, much of the work being done would fall into the real economy. I will take this further below but first I need to add a few more concepts to enable the logic to be followed.
Dr Steiner says that value comes about when nature is guided by human labour or when human thinking guides human labour to make it more intelligent and practical. These are the two sources of value creation. Throughout earthly existence, nature is busy doing what nature does – trees and plants are growing, rocks have been formed, it rains, there are rivers and lakes, animals are reproducing. When a human being chops a tree, grows maize, takes an egg from a chicken, slaughters an animal, in all of these, his labour is managing nature in some way. In Africa one sees a lot of this and I list some real cases – bags filled with charcoal, chopped wood in many forms, tomatoes, maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, mangoes, water being carried, some fish, and a few more – yes, a few more. This is nature plus labour. The fact is that these activities are everywhere in Africa clearly visible along the roads. There are thousands of tomatoes. Tomatoes are the easiest thing to buy in Africa. There are tomatoes and more tomatoes; charcoal and wood come next. When people are doing this on a subsistence basis and all doing the same thing, how much of all this effort gets into what is the real economy rather than the nature economy? This is a very serious question.
The second source of value creation is where people do things, exercise their labour, with intelligence. Intelligence is their humanity. So, instead of riding your bike to get fit, you attach a power generator to it so that you charge a battery for example. Another example would be that you beneficiate farm produce or other nature produce. For example you make tomato sauce or tomato jam from tomatoes, or cheese from milk. Still further examples would be that you run a transport for charcoal rather than carry your own to the market on your back. There is only a very small amount of this second form of value creation going on in Africa and this mainly in the few large towns and cities of each country.
The question then becomes, what does Africa need to do to bring more of the activities of its people into the real economy as opposed to bordering on the Nature economy? Well, in my view, it needs to encourage the understanding, by as many as possible, of the concepts expressed above. Africa needs to get consciously out of the Nature economy and understand this as they go about it. In my next article, I will give a picture of how this could be done. Africa needs to encourage beneficiation of nature plus labour product value creation. It needs, through this beneficiation ideal to seriously encourage more commercial scale activities with the clear understanding that when we work for others we are in the real economy and away from the Nature economy. Africa needs to ask for a Tri-cameral or Tri-partheid government structure rather than the current unitary state ideology that has failed everywhere on earth in some major respect.
Only when we can think clearly will things that need changing have the necessary impetus to be able to change.