Independence reflection; economic patriotism as learnt from a comic

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CHRIS CHENGA 

At the mention of Charlie Chaplin’s name most people fondly smile as the image of Chaplin’s comical look of oversized pointed boots and distinct face paint would appear in their minds. For economic observers and securities analysts a different image would draw familiarity; a more serious look gesturing urgency for a consciousness the legendary comic neither thought to incorporate into an act, nor convey in any context outside of existential veracity. Standing atop a concrete pillar at a sub-Treasury building, without a microphone, Chaplin implored thousands of citizens to buy Liberty Bonds.

Liberty Bonds were a debt instrument introduced by the US government to finance its effort in World War 1. They were the first public debt instrument to be open, and subsequently subscribed by the general population of a modern economy. Before these, financing governments was a closed market to aristocrats and upper class institutions reflecting the fragmented nature of economic interest and accountability that nation’s functioned. A few decades before then, common citizen participation in Europe was still involuntary under systems like feudalism which forcefully expropriated incomes or harvests for governance ventures in which they had no direct say. Not only did Liberty Bonds open a new means for raising public funds, but they shifted the dynamic to where capital raises by governments would require conviction and support to specific initiatives to be financed, by the common citizen with an income to invest. This presented a new age for governments to motivate citizen impulses to directly respond with economic patriotism; and a government to be accountable to it. Like any generic security they would yield an interest, but the risk and return context was secondary to actual implementation of a national project being financed.  Liberty bonds sort of asked the common citizen, “How much are you willing to chip in to finance a national cause?” Bond subscription was seen as a direct metric to which to measure public buy in to a national cause.

39 years after Zimbabwe’s independence, questions have to be asked whether or not the impulses of economic patriotism have been tapped into? It seems that over the last several years, matters of profiteering, arbitrage, externalization, and other self-interest impulses have befallen an administration that once suggested restoring a legacy. What was that legacy? While the legacy was never articulated, reasonable interpretation would suggest that an equitably growing economy seen over by just governance was the promise of Independence. The nation’s trajectory had strayed from this covenant. Any improvement in easing vices such profiteering, arbitrage, and externalization may be a result of legitimizing this covenant again to the common citizen. Social contracts between citizens and their administration precede regulatory reforms and structural enforcement; what progress has the elected administration shown in enriching social contracts with citizens?

Slogans such as “austerity for prosperity” are a question to citizens of how much they are willing to chip in to finance a national cause. Mantras of “Open for Business” ideally implore domestic investment for a national cause. But is it truly a national cause without clarity and restitution to why citizens are being asked to do so? Citizens express their confidence in a national project by their responsive impulses. It seems every week Government shows discontent in the prevalent impulses on the open market; foreign currency preferences, profiteering and arbitrage. Domestic investors are divesting into regional securities, under a guise of expansion, yet more truly an escape to domestic realities. Perhaps an astute administration can be inwardly reflective as to why economic patriotism is clearly running low. What was the covenant of independence; and is there enough conviction and support by the common citizen to chip into that national cause?