Johann Rupert recently made several questionable statements regarding this current generation of youths according to TimesLIVE.
According to the report, Rupert, who according to Forbes is the man behind the Franschhoek Motor Museum, claimed that young black people never save, and spend their money at Taboo and on BMWs.
The museum highlighted the BMW 502 as recently as November.
Considering disco, a form of music specifically created for dance clubs, came to South Africa in the 1970s, and we already had a lot of dance music long before that – well the jol wasn’t invented in the 1990s.
Commenting on the lack of leadership amongst the youth of today, Rupert claimed Steve Biko would never have been caught in a nightclub.
In 2017, BusinessLIVE ran an article marking the 40th anniversary of the Black Consciousness Leader’s death. In it they spoke to people who actually knew Biko.
Chengiah “Rogers” Ragaven had this to say about the late leader, “He mixed with the arts students, like myself. We were very close and for a year or two we spent all our time together. Man‚ in those days we used to jol all the time‚ any excuse for a party after the hard work!”
Mandla Langa, remembered this about his friend Biko, “Steve taught me to never fear — for the simplest reason that the enemy is more afraid of you. ‘Face issues head-on‚ enjoy life’‚ he would say.”
Now I’m not an anarchist, nor am I dancer, and yet, I still agree with Emma Goldman’s idea that a revolution without dancing isn’t worth having.
What struck me about Rupert’s statements, wasn’t the racism, it was how old they sounded. A memory of the past which doesn’t quite line up with what was actually going on back then.
No, there is nothing particularly unique about this generation.
Rupert is not a self-made man, he got his wealth the most reliable way anybody can, he inherited it.
Further a lot of the growth in his family’s fortunes occurred during an unprecedented global boom period – in which the welfare state was the reigning economic paradigm.
A bit of history, this is a bit oversimplified but this is a blog post not a book:
When Rupert was young, the world had just come out of WWII with a plan to make sure we never got another Hitler. The idea was to prevent the economic malaise that led to the rise of fascism by any means necessary – complete with a focus on maintaining low unemployment.
This focus led to higher and higher wages – and productivity rose at the same time as worldwide manufacturing got serious about mechanising. By the time of Nixon’s presidency – there was talk in America of a four day week.
The unions were strong, they could fight for better pay – but eventually things hit a wall, companies could no longer compensate for higher wages by using more machines so they simply increased the prices they charged. Inflation happened.
And the population of the first world was getting older. When you’re young, inflation isn’t such a big deal because first off you’re in debt and if the money is worth less, that just means your debt is worth less, and second you’re nowhere near a point where you have to survive on savings.
The first world got older – and the major voting demographic in the first world is from the baby boom. They voted to protect their assets – and thus you got inflation targeting, the unions got broken, and global trade deals took the place of reasonable local regulation.
Global trade means that if you have problems with unions in America, you can just open a factory in India – and pay much lower wages.
Not only that but ratcheting provisions within these deals generally reduce their participants abilities to go back to older market protections once they get rid of them.
Mechanisation didn’t stop either.
South Africa had already started to adopt that asset protecting mentality under Apartheid, and unemployment climbed to 20% by the time Nelson Mandela became president.
Mandela had spent most of his adult life in prison, and when he came out he was elected president. Revolutionary rhetoric is all very well, but the prevailing economic wisdom of the era was still founded in the first world, where the majority of voters were interested in protecting their assets.
And while there were plenty of leftwing cadres pushing for a different economic approach, who would you have believed in Mandela’s place? A bunch of radicals whose chief experience was trying to bring down a government, or the people who ran the world’s biggest economies?
The upshot of all of this being: Rupert’s business is mainly focused on importing luxury goods. the time he hearkens back to so fondly, was a time in which the standard economic approach was to make sure the have-nots could actually buy those goods.
Now we’re in an era where the haves are more concerned about protecting what they’ve got, and the have nots don’t have the money to buy fancy watches. The haves meanwhile already have the watch they like, so the market isn’t there.
The problem isn’t some nebulous lack of leadership in our current generation, nor any lack of work ethic, they’re just broke.
Debt to income ratios have been going down for about a decade now – the problem isn’t that our people aren’t saving, it is that they aren’t spending and they aren’t spending because they don’t have it to spend.
We’re not going to solve our economic problems through virtue economics, in which we have one of the world’s richest men, who owns a sodding car museum, tut tutting the current generation’s love of BMW.
We’ve got to actually look at what our current set of economic policies are designed to do, and what we need them to do.
- Picture courtesy of the Franschhoek Motor Museum.