Ngomakurira – A time for building

The time for reconstruction is not far away. It is true we are still
descending ever deeper into the pit. But the time for climbing out of it is
close upon us. Many people are thinking about that and the sort of Zimbabwe
we want to create. Among all the ideas that compete for attention t

question of property is central. This is the opinion of Craig Richardson in
a paper he calls Learning from Failure, which he devotes to a close
examination of what caused the collapse of Zimbabwe.

Many reasons have been put forward, he says, for our descent into poverty:
persistent droughts, foreign sanctions, lavish spending on veterans and
irresponsible macroeconomic policies. But the one that lies as the hidden
concrete foundation of the building, that has come crashing down – and which
is ‘virtually invisible to [the] inhabitants,’ is property rights. The
argument is simple: if you are not going to own the product of your labour
you are not going to work.

Since 2000 the government of Zimbabwe has persistently destroyed the right
to private ownership, and Richardson believes that if the example of
Nicaragua, where something similar happened, is anything to go by we are in
for a long haul to restore it. He defines secure property rights as
promoting (i) trust that my investment will be secure, (ii) ‘land equity,
which allows wealth in property to be transformed into other assets,’ for
example, as collateral to secure loans and (iii) incentives. These have been
withdrawn and ‘watching Zimbabwe’s economic unraveling is chillingly
reminiscent of watching a building collapse in slow motion after a series of
timed explosions.’

The hasty decisions of 2000 have had huge ripple effects far beyond the
small white community at whom they were originally directed. Deep reflection
in the twentieth century repeatedly reaffirmed the importance of ownership
at a time when it was under attack from various manifestations of Marxism.
Pope John XXIII wrote in 1961, ‘history and experience testify that in those
political regimes which do not recognize the rights of private ownership of
goods, productive included, the exercise of freedom in almost every other
direction is suppressed or stifled. This suggests, surely, that the exercise
of freedom finds its guarantee and incentive in the right of ownership.’
To affirm that a government should respect property rights is not to say
these rights have some absolute value. The common good of all the people
requires any government to ensure that some do not become excessively rich
while others barely survive in grinding poverty. As many countries have
proved, provisions can be made that safeguard the interests of the poor
while at the same time respecting the general right to ownership. Incentives
are built into the first page of the bible (Genesis 1:28) and no one gets
anywhere without them. They are the foundations we have to restore in our
farms and towns.

Post published in: Opinions

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