August 20, 2007

Zimbabwe: Back To Nature

Yesterday, the Telegraoh reported that Western officials expect a complete collapse of Zimbabwe's economic and political systems, by Christmas or even sooner. Today, the Los Angeles Times picks up where the Telegraph left off, explaining in detail the disintegration of Africa's one-time breadbasket. The farms that once sustained the entire region have returned to pre-agricultural times, and manufacturing and retail will soon join them:

A drive across Zimbabwe today reveals a desolate portrait of decline: Aimless mobs of people wait along the rural roads, each with a silent pleading gesture for a lift at every passing vehicle. With fuel almost dried up, unemployment at 80% and transport too expensive for most, movement is almost frozen.

Along the highways, brown grass stands high between the thorny acacias in a stunning vista of what Africa must have looked like before mechanized agriculture made farming Zimbabwe's main export business. Now, most farms lie dormant.

Meat disappeared after the government shut down private abattoirs, transferring all slaughtering to a quasi-governmental organization that cannot meet demand. Fuel supplies dried up after the National Oil Co. of Zimbabwe was made the sole authorized distributor.

In towns, straggling queues form at any rumor of sugar, maize or bread. Most supermarket shelves are empty of basic staples: no meat, no sugar, no maize, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no milk.

This is the prelude to violent revolution. People will not willing starve themselves en masse to save a government from toppling, especially one run by Robert Mugabe. The dictator's only hope is that enough people leave to keep the uprising on the kind of small scale his forces can handle. In that, he's been fortunate; millions have fled already.

That hasn't kept Mugabe from pressing his luck. He has used violence and intimidation to virtually shut down sector after sector of the private economy. Now he plans on going after what's left -- manufacturing and retail. They employ 27% of what's left of Zimbabwe's workforce, and their collapsing under price controls that force them to operate at ever-expanding losses. Those losses got expanded when Mugabe forced enormous wage increases at the same time he imposed price controls. A pair of trousers on the legitimate market now loses over $2400 dollars US; on the black market, the loss is around $7.

Mugabe makes sure that the price and wage controls get enforced. Gangs of police and soldiers raid retail and manufacturing businesses to check on compliance. Even those who comply routinely get arrested, though, and their stores get emptied of goods when the gangs force owners to mark down the prices. The losses have staggered what little remains of Zimbabwean capital, and the arrests have convinced even more to seek their fortunes -- or at least their lives -- elsewhere.

It's a perfect illustration of the end game for statist economics. When state-created shortages threaten the economy, dictators attempt to stamp out the symptoms through even heavier state action rather than cure the original disease. Now farms have reverted back to a pre-agricultural state, and Mugabe has destroyed the resources necessary to recover the industrial economy. The last throes of statism will shortly get played out, in which famine and civil war will compete for the highest body counts. Meanwhile, the African nations around Zimbabwe continue to offer plaudits and approbation to the most incompetent and deadly dictator seen since Uganda shed Idi Amin Dada.


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Comments (27)

Posted by TomB | August 20, 2007 7:54 AM

UN solution in the works: more dollars send fast:

Posted by TokyoTom | August 20, 2007 7:57 AM

Ed, a closer reading would provide more precise insights that are also relevant to other parts of the world. What we are witnessing in Zimbabwe is the use of a state for theft, for the benefit of Mugabe, his family and members of his tribe.

In a similar way, all states are subject to rent-seeking and manipulation of the organs of the state for the benefit of insiders and elites. The more powerful the state relative to citizens, the more likely this is to happen.


Posted by LiveFree | August 20, 2007 8:07 AM

In the late 70's, the people of Zimbabwe elected a leader who I remember as commited to democracy and the free market. He was undermined by Jimmy Carter who supported Mugabe, claiming he would be a great leader. The democratically elected leader was driven from office and, with Carter's help, Mugabe came to power.

Another Carter legacy.

Posted by docjim505 | August 20, 2007 8:14 AM

A couple of years ago, Kim du Toit blogged about Zimbabwe. He is a native of South Africa and hence has some personal knowledge of the region, its people and politics. He had a novel solution: instead of sending money or food aid to the poor people of Zimbabwe (or Darfur, for that matter), send guns and ammo. I think they could figure out what to do with them.

But I guess the UN solution is to get them into "refugee camps" where they can become permanent wards of the international community... or just die quietly along the roadsides. No fuss, no muss.

Posted by kingronjo | August 20, 2007 8:27 AM

the only good news for the US is that it would take longer than Hillary's 8 years to use her socialist policies to do this to the U.S. Assuming, of course, that Hillary doesn't borrow from another leftist friend and just abolish term limits.

Posted by Dale Michaud aka TexasDude | August 20, 2007 8:27 AM

The UN solution is to have them killed.

Posted by MarkW | August 20, 2007 8:45 AM

I thought the UN solution was to have them raped?

Posted by Dave in Pa. | August 20, 2007 8:55 AM

"Meanwhile, the African nations around Zimbabwe continue to offer plaudits and approbation to the most incompetent and deadly dictator seen since Uganda shed Idi Amin Dada."

Ah, Robert Mugabe, the "George Washington of Zimbabwe". He's the guy who got cheers and a standing ovation at the UN from the African contingent at the General Assembly that boo'ed Colin Powell.

That pretty well encapsulates their mindset, which is why they basically haven't made any societal/economic progress in the half century since independence and why a trillion dollars plus in Western aid since end of WW2 has mostly disappeared down a rathole of corruption and incompetence.

Posted by Bennett | August 20, 2007 8:59 AM

I guess we know where the Wahhabi Muslims next mission field will be.

Posted by Neo | August 20, 2007 9:07 AM

UN solution in the works: more dollars send fast to Robert Mugabe's Swiss bank account.

... but that doesn't help at all .. does it ?

Posted by Kojiro Vance | August 20, 2007 9:20 AM

Zimbabwe - a preview of Venezuela in 10 years.

Substitute "Chavez" for "Mugabee" and "Venezeuela" for "Zimbabwe" in the paragraphs that mention government responses to the economic collapse and you could move the dateline to Caracas.

Posted by unclesmrgol | August 20, 2007 9:38 AM

Do you think Anne Rice understands this?

Posted by Sue | August 20, 2007 9:44 AM

Homo sapiens are determined to see history repeat itself endlessly. Or, maybe, that is the homo sapien way: allow destruction. I have seen so much destruction around the world, repeatedly, caused by dictators oft times abetted by our own government that I just shake my head. It used to be that I thought we should "do something", but the "something..."tried by do gooders, never work. I truly hate to come to this, but let what will happen happen and let us stay out of it!

Posted by eaglewings | August 20, 2007 9:46 AM

Agree Kojiro. Rwanda (I won't call it the socialist crap name foisted upon it by these genocidal commies) was a great powerhouse that was ruthlessly destroyed and the blood is on the hands of Carter and Kerry and all the other moonbats who urged the West to boycott the prior government of Rwanda in the 70s and then cut off support for a true reformer in order to hand it to the commies-same script Carter and the lefties have always followed. By the time Reagan came in it was too late (and we didn't have the internet, so all the news was left liberal apologists for these bloodsucking commies).
Now the script is playing out in Venezeula a once beautiful country that is well on its way to President hell for life. The USSR had the same people's paradise with no goods of any value and a comatose work force, that started to revive after the worst commies were ejected, but are now back to old school and only a matter of time before Putin puts the country back into the graveyard oil revenue or not.

Posted by John Lange | August 20, 2007 10:08 AM

I agree both about Venezuela and the USSR but they will come after South Africa goes in the toilet. They are already far along the trail. All they need to do yet is to nationalize the diamond mines which effort is already underway. Their only problem is how to defeat the private army that DeBeers has guarding their property. But they will find a way. Idiot despots always do.

Posted by kpu | August 20, 2007 11:13 AM

Robert Mugabe should get himself a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Posted by RBMN | August 20, 2007 11:16 AM

Sociopaths like Mugabe are attractive leaders at first, because they're absolutely fearless. But the sociopathic leader is only "fearless" because he has absolutely no conscience or empathy. As long as he can thrive and protect himself, nothing else matters. To him, it's everyone else that's selfish, because they're not thinking of his needs--only their own empty bellies.

Posted by rbj | August 20, 2007 11:16 AM

The moonbats will be happy with this -- one less country contributing to global warming!

Posted by hunter | August 20, 2007 11:21 AM

Chavez is taking notes on how to keep a country intimidated, and Venezulans had better take note on what is really at stake by tolerating the imposition of thugocracy.
Freedom is not free, and liberty is not easy.
But here is the alternative, staring us in the face.

Posted by reddog | August 20, 2007 11:39 AM

Listen closely and you can hear the creaking of the axles on the caravans of the Voortrekkers, as they make their way, once more, across the Orange Free State, across the Natale, through the Transvaal. We are coming, Rhodesia.

Listen closely and you can hear, once more, wafting on the evening breeze, the hymns of the Dutch Reform, coming from the Laagered wagons on the morning of the Sabbath. We are coming, Rhodesia.

Do not despair Rhodesia. We are coming again, with our families and our flocks. We will clear your roads, mend your bridges, work your mines, sow your fields. We will make you home once more.

Posted by dixie68 | August 20, 2007 11:50 AM

The do-gooders in this country should be very proud of the part the United States played in turning a very productive country into this desolation. The same people have done the same thing to the southeastern part of the United States through racial quotas, affirmative action that has placed incompetents in charge of everything, and outright graft and corruption. Our third world mayor has been convicted of bribery, his brother is serving time in a federal prison, his son is serving time for one of the largest drug busts in the U.S., our third world county administrator has just been sentenced for bribery and kickbacks, and now our third world county supervisor has been implicated in a kickback scheme. Their election victories were achieved through outright voter fraud, but still we could not convince the U. S. Justice Dept. to send federal poll watchers for our election. It is all part of the plan.

Posted by Bill | August 20, 2007 12:05 PM

Dont worry, the Chinese are about to take over the entire continent of Africa, they have bought up almost all the oil rights continent wide and have technicians in most every country buying up all commodities , natural resource for China. They will eventually be "nice" and explain to these dowdy old line Marxist dictators still there the the Chines will now run things and they need to go away....or more likely the Mugabe's of the world will simply disappear into the jungle.

So they can move to speak.

Posted by hermie | August 20, 2007 12:32 PM

Maybe Mugabe's grand scheme in his destroying all manufacturing, creating severe shortages of fuel etc, is so that Zimbabwe can sell billions in 'carbon credits' to the 'global warming' crowd.

Posted by kingronjo | August 20, 2007 12:47 PM

thats right about the Chinese. They may spout communism but they are the only true capitalists on the planet. Plus they will take the long picture, not like our current leadership, esp the Dems (if its good for Bush, its bad, even if its good for America). And if any tinpot dictator gets in the way, he will be on the wrong end of a coup, and let the French do something about it HAHAHA!

Hey Dixie68, where are you talking about?

Posted by minuteman | August 20, 2007 4:10 PM

More accurate terms than "black market" and "legitimate market" are "free market" and "government controlled market".

Posted by TokyoTom | August 21, 2007 4:53 AM

dixie68, you have a good point, but it goes a bit further, doesn't it?

Look at our federal government, the unchecked police powers it contiunues to take and assert, the corruption and compliance of Congresscritters and the special interests who loot it. We are marching firmly down the path of becoming a kleptocracy.

Posted by MICHAEL DOOLEY | August 21, 2007 5:37 AM

Interesting the left--particularly the religious left--have either run for the tall grass or posture for the poor in Zimbabwe. It was precisely the religious left that had been demanding the overturn of the previous government for its moral failures and injustice (and those failures were serous and real). The problem was not the desire to replace a minority white rule with a democratic government. The problem was the left wanted to replace white rule with little thought to anything beyond black rule. That many warned what would happen with Mugabe counted for little. Now the left wants to obscure that fact that it was they who set the table for what is happening now. I would be very careful to not let the same people come to the rescue again.

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