At best, efforts by European, American and Japanese policy makers to spur growth may only succeed in slightly slowing down the pace of the approaching western economic depression. The economic woes being experienced by these countries are as a result of extensive rot occasioned by unchecked systemic greed left to fester for decades. Western styled, ultra-individualistic, extremely competitive, consumerism-extolling form of capitalism has been severely discredited and there is need for a new paradigm.
What is next, is the question no one is asking because no one knows the answer. When it thrived, Western styled capitalism promoted democracy with one hand, but had no tolerance for freedom of thought and speech where its theory and practice were concerned. The subject of Economics ought long ago to have been renamed Western Capitalism, for rather than the genuine exploration of different methods of economic management, starry eyed students were indoctrinated, from high school through Ph.D. level, to believe that there is no other alternative to western styled economic liberalism. In the classrooms, board rooms, and meeting rooms, western economic thinkers and practitioners regurgitated on their narrow economic knowledge, shutting out other voices and patting themselves on the back, in the name of exchanging ideas.
The few peripheral voices from Africa, Asia and the rest of the world who advanced other ideas were mostly ignored. Oblivion, or worse still, public denouncement threatened the western economist who in the point of research stumbles upon, and dares to acknowledge principles, theories and practices – outside of the western liberal paradigm - of economic advancement. To be accepted in the circle of the eminent, one must mouth western styled liberal lexicology, and snub every other point of view. Most importantly, a ‘well trained’ economist is easily identified by his unfamiliar grand sounding words and phrases, especially when in the company of the uninformed, as if to remind them that economists rule the world and are granted access to its inner workings.
It became lost in this maze of civilizational arrogance that capitalism is not a western concept, but a human concept. In Africa, for example, Walter Rodney asserts that before European intrusion in the mid-fifteenth century, state supported economic activities thrived among the populace. He writes that “guilds of merchants travel long miles, criss-crossing the continent, to sell commodities and productions: cotton, millet, wheat, corn, peppers, yams, rice, peanuts, kola nuts, honey, onions; and transformed products such as fine leather works; silver, gold and copper made jewelry; ivory, cloths, basketry, straw hats, iron, lead, copper ware, mats, jars, pots, pans, soap and dried and smoked fish” (Rodney 1974). Capitalist systems of government existed in several societies across sub-Saharan Africa, one example is Opobo kingdom in South-south Nigeria under King Jaja.
But the west would rise to declare itself the “discoverers” of capitalism. Capitalism became synonymous with its western style, and its practice an either /or issue; you either subscribed to western styled capitalism, or you are communist. No; capitalism is a human and not a western concept.
The challenge for the rest of the world who have practiced capitalism since the beginning of time is the promotion of a fresh perspective to this age old theory and practice of economic relations.
Worse still, is the fact that western styled capitalism has been deceptive in its portrayal of its roots. Often left out of the Economic textbooks and minds of students is that the foundation and sustainability of western styled capitalism is accumulation by dispossession; the global poor must often be further impoverished for the global rich to be further enriched. From slavery, the genocide against the Amerindians, through colonialism to the present day era of unchecked economic exploitation especially where clueless leadership thrives, as found in most of sub-Saharan Africa, western styled capitalism has left tales of underdevelopment in its pursuance of increased profit.
Built and sustained by greed, the system soon began to unravel as the habit of exploitation initially targeted at weaker economies became internalized and used to exploit weaker citizens. The collapse of Enron and Worldcom, the Lehman Brothers, the Bernard Madoff and other similar scandals, the Greece and Spain crisis and delusionary bailout, the perpetual Euro zone crisis and so much more all point to the extent of internal decay prevalent in western styled capitalism.
Greed fuelled western capitalism has proven unsustainable, even destructive. But before embarking on a hasty search to anoint a new – Chinese, perhaps - model for the herd to follow, a careful, detailed, and meticulous study of the successes and failures of western styled capitalism must be embarked upon. Yes, it did succeed in certain instances, and these must be researched and improved. The shortcomings, which are numerous, must be discarded as hot charcoals upon one’s hand, but its successes, should be clutched like a piece of diamond.
The new variant of capitalism must be founded on the simple, age long principles of trade. Bring this visible thing and take that visible thing. The deceit of building castles in the air in the name of sub-prime mortgages and related terms must be eschewed. The new perspective of capitalism must recognize the human propensity to cheat when no one is watching, and therefore, ‘someone’ strong and tough must always watch; proactive regulation will be critical, but not to the extent that it will suffocate innovation, creativity and growth.
Very importantly, African countries must quit copying the west. Africans must learn to quit teaching Business and Economics students a failed model that has brought much misery to its originators, practitioners and the world at large. Policy makers in Africa should look to establish indigenous systems of trade that will work to strengthen the existing culture of hard work and brotherhood that thrive across the continent. In short the time has come for a new economic system to emerge, and having been insulated by the global economic crisis, the continent of Africa is placed in an excellent position to lead the rest of the world.
* Chika’s articles can be found at www.chikaforafrica.com