By Brian Sedze
There is such a concept as “carrying capacity”. The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water, and other necessities available in the environment.
The birth-rate in Zimbabwe was roughly 24 births per thousand people in 2000 and that number reached a high at 32.47 births per thousand people in 2014 – and yet there is something close to 95% adult people out of the workforce. The economy has shrunk to the 1962 level when then the population was less than four million people. We no longer have capacity for an unguided population growth.
Far from trying to make a moral judgement or some sort of misanthropic, Malthusian calculation, it is actually something interesting to consider having a policy that reduces the production of offspring’s beyond what is necessary and that which matches economic growth. Prosperity allows the production of as many children as is wished .In poverty there should be a penalty for siring children who can’t be financially supported by the individual and or the tax payer and or the economy.
Short of a miracle, the Zimbabwean economy is not likely to register economic growth enough to match population increase in the short to medium term. We are a country in which the majority is already wallowing in poverty. Burdening the country with a population increase will make a bad situation worse. I estimate that one employed person (including vendors) and diaspora are responsible for the upkeep of not less than 10 family members. Such a burden on an individual results in abject poverty and almost no savings.
The likelihood of South Africa having a radical change to its migration policy is a scary prospect which will result in over three million Zimbabweans having to track back home to stare poverty in the face. South Africa will not accommodate illegal migrants forever whilst sacrificing the economic health of their citizens. Such a radical shift in South African policy will stretch the country’s capacity even more.
A country with a GDP of just above USD 13 billion, a per capita GDP of about US$800, an annual growth rate of not more the 2% and ranks as one of the poorest country in the world must have a cautious approach to encouraging population increase until more viable and sustainable conditions are projected. The government should not incentivize the increase of the human raw material supply through the production of offsprings beyond what is necessary for replacement and to match growth. It is better to try catch up with the rest of the world in standard of living before we decide to breed without restraint.
It is a common business strategy for a struggling company to allow natural attrition. It cannot be so different with a struggling country’s socio-economic strategy. Zimbabwe is likely to be in an economic abyss for a long time and population growth is not our exact plate of food. Let’s not be fooled that a large population attracts investment. What attracts investment is increase in demand. And an increase in demand is not desire to consume production but more an ability to consume. The large proportion of Zimbabwean population is broke.
The idea of “everybody should go to college” would seem to also fit in the same line of thought. The brave new world of pragmatic policy making will avoid the delinquent and strategically misaligned proposition of churning hundreds of thousands of social scientists and arts graduates. These social sciences and arts qualifications are important skills but presently irrelevant to a struggling economy. The skills are out of sync desired economic outcomes of production, national success and job creation. The degrees being churned have additional disadvantages of having limited export market value.
The brutal and sordid truth will be that most graduates will need re-education. Not everyone must go to college. There should be a ceiling of student population per area of study. There should be an emphasis on studying qualifications that drive economic growth rather than just anything. It helps no one for our children to go to tertiary institutions to study just anything that comes their way.
The bare fact is that the laws of supply and demand are not just applicable to the production of goods and services and the associated transactions brought about through those activities – they are also applicable to human existence itself. To any industry human beings are a limited resource and the less human input to production the more prosperous an industry.
We do like to think of ourselves as consumers but we are also the consumed, the raw materials economies are built upon. Jobs aren’t exactly a benefit but a cost of production. If present companies destroy jobs and increase productivity they would actually be defined as successful. Without a country strategy to invest in alternative industry but pander to the whims and caprices of lobbyist present industry our carrying capacity will not increase. Zimbabwe is being misled by lobbyist in present industry and it’s economically going astray as a result.
There is a fixation with jobism and a misplaced belief that protectionism as exhibited by Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 will create jobs. It is not true that this will create jobs. Professor Richard McKenzie opined that such a public policy is mistaken. For example, if we outlaw the tractor and modern farm equipment tomorrow, it would create thousands of new farming jobs. If outlawed robotics and other advanced manufacturing processes tomorrow, it would create thousands of new factory jobs. If power tools and modern equipment for road building and construction, it would create thousands of new jobs.
In as much as job creation is our leader’s favourite goal it is folly to believe and act on it without incremental (new players) investment in present industry and or radical propagation of new untapped industries. As the present industry increase productivity due to protectionism and possibly obtain the attendant profitability the right corporate strategy for industry will be to invest in automation and artificial intelligence.
Automation and implementation of artificial intelligence will result in job losses than gains. As an example during Margaret Thatcher’s reign, the economy grew by over 29.4 per cent but manufacturing sector lost over 1.9 million jobs. So it’s just a lie that import restrictions will create jobs. Import restrictions will just create profits for the shareholders.
What will create jobs for Zimbabwe is investing in incremental or new ventures in present industries and or radical new industry propagation and or disruptive industry germinating from some sought of an innovation funnel. All this will require not only a new mind set outside lobbyist present industry but more investment in gazelles. Whats unfortunate about the investment in the “new” is a requirement for a new “brand Zimbabwe”. In the medium term without rebranding or having “new” politics it’s not likely to have sustainable job creation. Our national capacity will be so strained such that we can’t afford an unplanned population growth.
There will not be sustainable economic growth. The country is not investing in an innovation funnel. There is no investment in brand Zimbabwe. Our politics aren’t exactly right. We will not have new jobs and new industry. We therefore should breed with caution. Our capacity is overstreched.
Brian Sedze is the President of Free Enterprise Initiative. He can be contacted on [email protected]