February 4, 2019
A recent forum sponsored by Brookings Institute in Washington DC entitled: “Top priorities for Africa in 2019” produced a healthy discussion that alluded to important fundamental conceptions of economics. Although the deeper principles of what should be called economic science were not elucidated, issues raised in the dialogue serve as a useful starting point for further elaboration of that subject.
The event was organized to present FORESIGHT AFRICA, a new publication by the Africa Growth Initiative. Representative from the International Monetary Fund-(IMF), and Mo Ibrahim Foundation, joined Ambassador Linda-Thomas Greenfield, and Brahima Coulibaly, director of the African Growth Initiative, for a wide-ranging discussion on the future of Africa to a packed audience.
Members of the audience challenged the prevailing assumptions of the International Monetary Fund. One participant raised the inadequacy of the IMF’s rigid macro-analytic approach, when what is needed, she said, is a fine-tuned micro-economic intervention to deal with the scope of the challenges facing African nations. Another suggested the need for a state-funded public sector job program to put the millions of unemployed youth to work—a proposal which the IMF representative categorically rejected. The IMF’s hostility to state sector involvement belies the several hundred-year historical record of the modern economy, which is replete with successful and indispensable interventions by the state to foster economic growth.
Measuring Real Economic Growth
While the Brookings report, FORESIGHT AFRICA, provides some relevant statistics, its analysis rests on erroneous axioms of what comprises economic growth
The commonly accepted notion that African nations today are experiencing “jobless economic growth” reveals the fundamental antagonism between the analysis of the IMF and its co-thinkers, and proponents of real i.e. physical-economic growth. Jobless growth is a moronic oxymoron. Real*economic growth augments the productive power of society to increase its surplus of tangible wealth in order to sustain an expanding population at a higher standard of living. The IMF pretends to measure growth by adding up monetary values such as the price of extracted resources and real estate, stock market gains, etc. The aggregation of prices is not a measure of the economy’s growth. The only true calculation for economic growth is the result: an improvement in the living conditions of the population.
Creating Real Economic Growth
An excellent example of this defective thinking is highlighted in the article from the Brookings report entitled “How Industries without smokestacks can address Africa’s youth unemployment crisis.” Author John Page reports that Africa has not only failed to industrialize, but shockingly, its share of global manufacturing today is smaller than it was in 1980! He forecast that Africa’s working age population (15-64 years of age) will grow by 450 million between 2015 and 2035, and that “20 percent of new employment for wages will be in the service sector, and only 4 to 5 percent will be in a wage paying job in industry.” His conclusions for the future of youth employment in Africa are ill-founded and deadly when he states that since: “industry has declined as a share of output and employment…over the past four decades…Africa may not be able to rely on industry to lead structural change…”
Page then proceeds to dangerously postulate the equivalence of employment in manufacturing with tourists and service jobs. He writes: “The same forces that limit Africa’s opportunities in industry, however, are also creating a growing number of tradeable services—such as tourism and remote office services…”
“Growth in tourism is outpacing manufacturing in many African countries… It has the potential to create some of the millions of formal sector jobs Africa needs each year to employ youth entering the labor force…”
This is not an academic question for the people of Africa. We should all be level-headed about the implications of this prognostication: without industrialization Africans will die. African are dying every day due to lack of infrastructure, a diminutive manufacturing sector, and an inefficient food-producing industry. The industrialization of Africa with a massive expansion of its manufacturing base is not an option, but a life-or-death necessity!
Nor is this conjecture on my part. From the standpoint of economic science of physical economy there is no equivalence. Manufacturing, by transforming nature and producing needed goods, contributes real value to society; tourism and services do not. A variety of services are required for a functioning society, but this sector should not perform role of a primary employer for new entrants into the labor force. Tourism serves no vital task except to promote the natural beauty of a county. No new wealth is created by tourism; it is essentially collecting other people’s earned income.
Service-related jobs, whether useful or not, will never lead to real economic growth for one elementary reason. They do not contribute to the creation of new wealth. A properly organized economy would only have a relatively small percentage of its employed labor in the service sector. To do otherwise, as some African nations unfortunately are, is not sustainable, and will lead to calamity. To equate non-goods producing employment with manufacturing jobs is a grave fundamental error that should be rejected by serious economists and leaders.
Africa’s Youth Bulge Is Not A Curse
FORESIGHT AFRICA estimates that today 60% of Africa’s 1.25 billion people are under 25 years of age. That amounts to 750 million youth, a majority of which are unemployed or mis-employed in the pathological informal economy. It is projected that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, the youth population will expand by 522 million, and comprise one-third of the world’s youth by 2050. Thus, making Africa the continent with the youngest population, and potentially the largest workforce on the planet.
While these figures are striking, they do not justify enforced population reduction measures, as extremists advocate. Human life is intrinsically sacred because it is endowed with the divine spark of creativity. Contrary to popular misguided opinion, human creativity is the underlying source of all wealth; not money or even natural resources. Paleoanthropology shows us that millions of years ago before the emergence of homo sapiens-sapiens (wise-wise man), proto-humans, homo hablis, (handy man) designed tools first in the mind’s eye before shaping rocks into useful implements that were used to transform the environment for the benefit of mankind. Africa is not facing a crisis of too many people, but rather the urgency to formulate the best policies today that will incorporate millions of youth as productive members of the labor force.
What African nations most desperately need, and which will have the greatest impact of their economies, is infrastructure, infrastructure, and more infrastructure. It is not hyperbole to state that the lack of infrastructure is responsible for millions of deaths on the continent. The dearth of on-grid energy, arguably the most crucial component of an industrialized-manufacturing society, is preventing African nations from attaining the levels of economic growth required to sustain their populations.
For example. If we desire, as we should, that Africans enjoy the same relative living standard as Western nations, then each of the 2.5 billion Africans in the year 2050 should have access to at least one kilowatt (1,000 watts) of power every day. That would require, starting immediately, erecting enough power plants to generate 2,400 gigawatts of electricity. Itemize the bill of materials to build that many thermal, hydro, and nuclear power plants.
Now contemplate the number of workers that would be employed in this endeavor. Extend the same mode of thinking to constructing hundreds of thousands of kilometers of high-speed rail lines to connect the major cities, ports, and manufacturing centers across this vast continent. Add to that the number of new roads, hospitals, schools, libraries, and water ways that need to be built to provide an adequate standard of living. How many tens of millions or more youths will Africa need to employ in just the construction of primary infrastructure projects? Imagine how many additional jobs will be created in the spin-off industries.
Africa’s Future Begins Today
Trillions of dollars of long-term low interest credit must be made available to fund these projects. Only state-issued public credit will suffice for this scope of investment. The private sector, investments funds, or any other fund that is motivated by seeking high yield and quick financial returns on their investment will never, ever, underwrite the credit necessary. The overriding concern of the nation state is not making quick monetary profits, but the welfare of its citizens living and their posterity. The IMF thus far shown itself to be mentally, emotionally, and ideologically incapable of comprehending the true economic needs of Africa, or how to fund them. Those who are blinded by their erroneous view of evaluating an economy by its monetary worth, will forever be incompetent, and are not qualified to give advice, much less diktats to developing nations.
Credit issuance by the nation state is not a new or novel concept. The success of United States’ economy, which was maintained with ups and downs until its decline over the last five decades, emanated from the accomplishment of President George Washington’s Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. It was Hamilton’s understanding of credit and the central role of manufacturing that created the basis for U.S. economic growth from thirteen indebted colonies. Over the last 230 years, those leaders, in the U.S. or abroad, who were wise enough to comprehend and apply Hamilton’s understanding of national banking and credit, have been successful in stimulating economic growth for their nations.
Africa’s future does not begin in 2050; it begins now. It is incumbent on Africans, with the assistance of their friends and allies, to prioritize crucial transformative infrastructure and related projects that must be built and funded. This cannot wait. This is a war to eradicate poverty, hunger, and disease, and secure a productive life for billions of Africans living and yet to be born. Thus, this campaign should be conducted with a military-like commitment to achieve objectives and goals each month and each year. Hence, we are not waiting for the future; we are creating the future in the present.
*real and true are interchangeable terms signifying a physical (non-monetary) improvement in the economy.
Lawrence Freeman has been involved in Africa for over 25 years as a writer, analyst, and consultant. He teaches courses on African History in Maryland. In 2014 he was appointed Vice chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Lake Chad Basin Commission.