4 February 2007

Made Man

Today is the day of the first 2007 meeting of the SACP Johannesburg Central Branch. It is at 10h00 in SATAWU office, 13th floor, Old Mutual Building, 29 Kerk Street, between Loveday and Harrison.

Following the Thursday revelation of a huge and dodgy deal involving Saki Macozoma by Rob Rose on the front page of the Business Day, we speculated on the nature of such vast enrichments, and what their raison d’etre (their function within the system) might be. In passing we remarked on the book Executive Pay in South Africa - Who Gets What and Why, by Ann Crotty and RenĂ©e Bonorchis. Ms Bonorchis objected to what was written here about that book. She wrote:
‘I need to point out that Ann and I at no point in the book ever just 'put it down to greed'… We looked at the lack of independent directors, the lack of clear disclosure, the lack of shareholder activism, the growth of cronyism, the lack of transformation and much much more in order to try and explain growing levels of wealth in the top echelons of the corporate world.’

So the book was obtained and read. Indeed it is true that the word greed is not noticeable. So to that extent Ms Bonorchis must prevail. But let us look a little closer. Her statement shows the way. The book examines a number of “lacks”. Even the presence of cronyism appears not as an end, but as an enabling circumstance.

In other words the book is much stronger on the lack of restraint than on the nature of the force that needs restraining in the first place. Concerning that force, the last words of the main text are about as close as the authors get to a description, or a definition. They say:

“It would seem that in the vagaries of the human heart, there is no such thing as enough money and that pay, in a broader perspective, has little to do with true worth.”

It is quite easy to read “the vagaries of the human heart” to mean greed. Or not. In fact the statement itself is literally vague. To cover this, the authors have in the first part of the final chapter (Chapter 11) created a fantasy of the life of a male chief executive officer. They work out that the poor fellow probably needs a salary of at least R8 million just to get by. But then, because of “the vagaries of the human heart” he might want a lot more. This is how the book’s line of thought proceeds.

In South Africa at large the topic of who gets to be a real capitalist is quite widely discussed, and particularly in relation to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). But in this book the difference between a chap who is getting and spending R8 million per year (or even more), and one who has actually joined the ranks of the people who personally possess real, “serious” capital, is ignored. Capital does not mean the possession of a mansion, or even of many mansions. It means the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

To compete or just to coexist with the big-scale owners of inherited wealth requires an enormous, sudden, and heroic accumulation. From reading the business pages of newspapers over time it is possible to see that a few people do graduate from the ranks of the merely salaried to the ranks of the true bourgeoisie. It is even possible to see this as a necessary part of the system. It is also possible to see the great advantage that attaches to inherited wealth.

Crotty and Bonorchis do not even consider the transition from striving “piker” to serene “made person” as a relevant part of the answer to their question “Who gets what and why?”. This is a major weakness and a failure to recognise the compulsive driver of the capitalist system, which is the urge to be a capitalist. To earn money is not really to be free. But to have capital, in a capitalist system, is to be as free as you can be under capitalism. The name of the game is capital. This failure makes the book more like a titillating, ephemeral piece of gossip than the tremendous Shakespearean drama that it could have been, like a modern Macbeth, or a Julius Caesar.

Speaking of poets, below you will find a link to Ron Press’s excellent latest.

Click on this link:

A poem for reason, Ron Press (poem)


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