They say every silver lining has a cloud and that every cloud has a silver lining. Which of the two phrases do you prefer? Surely, it depends on whether you are of the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty persuasion. Your preference may also depend on the topic under consideration.
With this in mind, it might well be a bit cheeky to ask you to consider the South African economy. You could argue, and successfully so, that the South African economy is not a singular entity, but a collective of considerations.
Before considering your opinion of the South African economy, you might want to take a moment to consider the true meaning of the word ‘economy’. I do not want to sound patronising, but, in my experience, too often, we use words whose meaning we do not fully comprehend. ‘Economy’ is a collective of the Greek words οίκος, which means ‘household’, and νέμoμαι, which means ‘manage’. Economy literary means managing the household.
The economy is concerned with the production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by individuals, businesses, organisations or governments.
So, what are the ‘silver linings’ of the South African economy? Are there any ‘silver linings’ at all? The only condition when you consider this question is that your observations must be realistic. It must also be balanced, with doses of both optimism and pessimism.
If you are stumped to start, you might want to resort to the electronic equivalent of phoning a friend – that is, Googling. My own search returned a singular silver lining identified in June 2018 by JP Morgan, which was reported on by www.businessinsider.co.za: “South Africa occupies a relatively comfortable position when it comes to global debt levels.” The criticism that this attracted was that it did not take into account the cost of servicing debt and the fact that South Africa has to pay much higher interest rates because of its weaker credit rating.
Are there any other silver linings for the South African economy? No. But, truth be told, the second and only other 2018 reference to a silver lining was in a publication of one of the two institutions comprising the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The publication, the ‘South African Economic Update April 2018’, states in the section titled ‘Jobs and Inequality’ that “[a] silver lining in this very challenging social, political and economic environment is the evolving nature of inequality in South Africa, on which policy interventions could further build.”
Worringly, there are no ‘silver linings’ for the South African economy relating to the production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by individuals, businesses, organisations or government.
The positive international sentiment towards the South African economy will obviously continue to fade if it is not supported by decisive government policies and the implementation of those policies.
I set out to uncover and discover the ‘silver linings’ in the South African economy, inspired by Jeff Beck’s song from the album Definitely Maybe, the title of which I borrowed for this article. Well, not quite – his is hi-ho, not heigh-ho. So, why did I change the ‘hi’ to ‘heigh’? Heigh-ho expresses the fact that you cannot change a situation, which means you must accept it. Thus, the title is one of irony.
What concerns me greatly about the South African economy is that it is everywhere and nowhere, just as in the opening verse of Hi Ho Silver Lining, with which I take my leave: “You’re everywhere and nowhere baby, that’s where you’re at; Going down a bumpy hillside, in your … But I won’t make a fuss, though it’s obvious …”
PS: Interestingly, the idiom every cloud has a silver lining can be traced back to 1634, while every silver lining has a cloud is traced, without real certainty, to about 300 years ago.