Is Zambia Seriously Retrying Socialism?

All the signs of the old socialist system that was tried by Kenneth Kaunda and the other post-independence leaders of Africa are back in Zambia. In fact, it seems Mr. Sata wants to go even further than Kaunda.

What are these signs?

Firstly the reintroduction of the Industrial Development Corporation.

I know why Mr. Sata thinks that this failed experiment can work this time. He has developed a strong admiration for China, and has even been sending delegations to that country to learn how they have developed themselves so quickly after being poor for so long. So, all he is doing is look at whatever China is doing and copying it as part of the formula for success. If China has been cracking down on internet dissenters, Zambia will also crack down on internet dissenters and journalists. If China has been teaching its school children in their own language, Zambia will also start teaching school subjects in its own languages. If China has a government corporation(s) that oversees industries, Zambia will also have a big company that oversees its industries.

This kind of blind imitation is extremely dangerous. It would be like going to the United States to see everything they do and just assuming that it is part of the formula for becoming the biggest economy in the world: if the United States gives money to its unemployed, Zambia should also pay unemployed people? If the United States pays poor women who get children from (random) men, Zambia should also pay poor women for getting children?

You can’t just blindly copy policies. Although the United States is a very rich country, some of its policies have created some problems that are now so entrenched that it has found itself failing to dig itself out of its own hole. For example, a lot of young black males have been going around making babies with different women, because they know the government will look after all these children.

You can copy the right policies of a more developed country without mindlessly including its failed experiments.

To do this, you need to depend on your own reasoning. Just because your neighbor is rich, doesn’t mean you should do everything he does. Some of those things are bad. Just because a rich businessman in Zambia beats his wife does not mean that beating your wife is part of the formula for success.

So how do you use your reasoning to know what things you copy? That’s a simple question that we tackled as kids in primary school. Zambian primary schools had an IQ test called “special paper 2″ (I hope it’s still there) which tested spatial logical reasoning. You had three complex shapes and you were supposed to decide what the next pattern should look like. But to do that you had to carefully observe all the given shapes and see where they are going.

Or if you didn’t do special paper 2, you probably also watched Sesame Street on TV. It asked you what thing was different from a class of three or four things — the thing that does not fit into the class (eg: dog, cat, car, elephant). All these tests were training us for real life reasoning; not just to pass school tests.

If you want to know what to copy in order to fit into the class of developed nations, you should not look at one developed country. That can’t give you the answer because there is no pattern from one thing. You should look at many different kinds of developed and quickly developing countries to see what is common to them. Or, as we learned later in school, you should find the Highest Common Factor.

What you will notice if you look at all of them is one simple emerging pattern: they became richer when they became freer. And how do they become freer? The state becomes less involved in the private lives of people, whether it is socially or economically.

The China of today is not very free, but it is much much freer than the China of yesterday in almost all respects. This is the common pattern for every country that developed without merely depending on an abundant natural resource like oil. And even among those that discovered some precious resource, it is those countries that pursued more freedom that gained the most from it.

When most Zambians are asked why Botswana developed so much despite starting off extremely poor, they say it is because of their diamonds. This wrong answer is the result of not examining a wider list of African countries to notice what made Botswana different. There were many other countries that were rich in minerals and other resources in Africa, and some even have oil. But they didn’t improve their lives that much. What Botswana had was a president called Seretse Khama who was hesitant to join in the nonsense of socialism that was popular among the other African countries. He decided to introduce more private freedom while the other countries were increasing state power and therefore reducing private freedom. As a result, Botswana became the fastest growing economy in the world, not just in Africa.

China introduced more freedoms for the private sector by reducing the involvement of the state significantly. Some of its current state enterprises are just the last things to go. Instead of observing what direction they have been going, the Zambian government is imitating the things that are on their way out (if China wants to develop further). This would be like a new country that is poorer than Zambia imitating us by nationalizing its power company since our own ZESCO is in national hands; this new country would not know that our trend has been away from parastatals even though we didn’t finish getting rid of all of them. But that’s how we started halting the bulk of Kaunda’s misguided socialist policies that destroyed all the little wealth we had at independence. For Zambia to now imitate the wrong parts of China is a really stupid mistake.

Mr. Sata will be shocked when he learns that copying China will make Zambia worse than where it is, not just economically but politically (cracking down on press freedom, free speech, etc). Had he correctly observed China in the context of other nations and its own historical trend, he would have seen that he is copying things that China itself has been progressively and systematically reducing on. To learn this, you don’t need to send an expensive delegation to China; the whole history of China is on the web and you could have looked it up from your offices. Here is a summary quote from the Wikipedia page on China’s economy that tells you why their economy has been growing so fast in the last three and a half decades:

“Since 1978, China began to make major reforms to its economy. The Chinese leadership adopted a pragmatic perspective on many political and socioeconomic problems, and quickly began to introduce aspects of a capitalist economic system.”

Zambians are quickly reintroducing more aspects of China’s dying socialist economic system while the Chinese have been quickly introducing more aspects of a capitalist economic system!