Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

On the edge of the road

Posted by Simon Halliday | Saturday, July 01, 2006 | Category: |

So, I drove for 9 hours today to be with my family in Grahamstown. It is it's usual rambunctious, yet charming self (yes I am anthropomorphising the city, sue me). I arrived while my folks were still in a show, so we got together afterwards. During that time I popped to the Village Green and procured for myself a program of the events in the festival. There is a plethora of wonderful goings on here and I am looking forward to engaging with as much of it as I am physically and emotionally capable. Granted, that capability is somewhat sub-par at the moment, but I will do my best.

I was struck by a number of things while I was taking my trip up here and also once I had arrived here. Firstly, along the N2 I was looking at these queues of people along the N2 waiting to be picked up for some kind of work. There are various funny models in economics about 'queuing models of unemployment' when there are a number of people at the same skill level in the same geographical location competing for a fixed number of jobs (or equally a number of jobs growing at at a fixed rate possibly lower than the labour force growth rate). That's not really the point. I just saw these men (as most all of them were men) and so many of them looked like one of the people who attacked Amy and I. Now, I have purposefully not brought up descriptions of these people because I inherently dislike the propagation of perceived stereotypes. Nevertheless, the parallels for me were frustrating and illuminating simultaneously. Xhosa, short to average height, slim to thin, most likely unskilled or semi-skilled (I was convinced that the guy who attacked us had no real idea of how to use a firearm) and wearing a beanie, a jersey of some sort, but predominantly nondescript and normal. The kind of guy you often pass in the street, could be poor, could equally be living in Rondebosch, but be adhering to specific social cues. Difficult one. So the ubiquity of it is frustrating, moreover it highlighted for me the ubiquity of the problems with which we in South Africa are faced.

I am working in Economics, focusing on development economics in some attempt to alleviate poverty in my own way in 'the long run' (whatever that turns out to be). However, the crime-poverty relationship is rather like the aids-poverty relationship, not only do they facilitate one another, but they each worsen the impact of the other. What this then means is that for us to solve 'the crime problem' we equally have to be solving 'the poverty problem' (and most likely 'the AIDS problem') simultaneously. We can't presume to attack one, then the other, then the other, people and social groupings don't work that way. There are such massive lags in many situations that trying to actually say, “We've done this and it should have an impact in, say, 20 years.” that is insufficient. Hence, my argument for a multiply pronged attack on all three. This also goes hand-in-hand with the problems of the education system, but I will classify that as falling under the ambit of 'the poverty problem'. I am not entirely sure how government should go about doing this yet, but I am convinced that something more dynamic than is happening now MUST occur lest all of the problems feed into one another – for example, I have AIDS, but no work and no education, what do I do to get meds and survive? I steal... From whom do I steal? Anybody really, other poor individuals, the relatively rich, there are many, many people and because of such poor police infrastructure (you don't want to hear how annoyed I was with the fingerprinting guys who were meant to come before I left). All of this feeds into the extant social problems that plague (and I say plague pointedly) our society. Something drastic must be done and it will have to be massive and involve 'buy-in' (I hate that term) from so many 'stakeholders' (another consultant speak term that annoys me). All of this is valid though.

Anyway, apart from this queueing thing I was watching, when I arrived in Grahamstown, I saw two poor black children (torn, dirty clothes) with a BB gun. I think that they had barely any of the bullets because they were meticulous about picking them up. They were unmistakeably going through a mock-fighting interchange. The guy who had the gun wielded like he was some gangster from the hood in a movie on American Ghetto behaviour, he then pointed it at the other guy menacingly, stuck out his chest do the 'you soeking with me' act and shot the other kid. He'd then pick up the BB that he had shot and they'd re-enact it. Stance, 'soek', shot. They looked like they were trying to fulfill something that they had seen played out by adults, which obviously worried me even more. Who were they watching? What were they learning from these people? Were they learning to target people? Were they doing this to impress people? Ah well... back to my multiply-pronged attack on a social infrastructure that needs dramatic reformation.

Other than all of that, James' show was good. He was well-received. It was fun. I am tired though, so I didn't stay for the next show that they are going to at 10pm.

I turn 25 in a few hours time (I was born at 8am after several hours of labour). Should be interesting. I have Amy's gift with me. For whatever reason, on the evening of the attempted highjacking the robbers didn't try to take her gift to me from us. A votive for small blessings such as this.

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