From most perspectives, 2016 is threatening to be a tough year. Most pundits are having a field day predicting all sorts of economic pestilences that are to be visited upon us. This is particularly harsh for us hard-working and industrious folk, who whilst working our butts off, have to look on in frustration at a profligate government frittering our taxes away. Even harder to stomach is the business and investor unfriendly policies that these economic illiterates have foisted upon us.
Thus, it is in desperation that we tend to look for silver linings, and when we do come across some positive news and views, we cling to it like a marooned sailor. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, which means that the more female economists we have the better, because I have noticed that female economists tend to be more positive than their male counterparts. And from my viewing point, I have noticed that there are more and more female economists being appointed to senior economic positions. This must be a good thing, because their more positive outlook must create a more upbeat environment.
This recurring thought was reinforced at the Ford media breakfast on 3 November 2015, which was the last such breakfast in 2015. I love the Ford media breakfasts, because I always walk away with a spring in my step, as the news for the past two years has been very upbeat, what with Ford doing very well globally, and shooting the lights out in South Africa. Ford always invites an economist to these breakfasts, and their presentations tend to be like a curate’s egg, being excellent in places, but always with some caveats about the South African economy. But on 3 November we had the pleasure to get a slightly different perspective from Gina Schoeman, Citi’s South African economist. Whilst Schoeman did warn that 2016 will be a lost year for South Africa, she told us that we must hang in there, as 2017 and 2018 look more promising. I do not have the space to go into the details of her presentation, but the gist of her argument is that South Africa’s institutional strength will see us through the bad times, and will even contribute to us avoiding the junk status tag. One can only hope that our government does not destroy this outlook with some more damn fool moves!
Then, just as I was preparing to enjoy a well-deserved year end break, I read another female perspective in the Financial Mail of December 3 – December 9 2015. This time it was Danelee Masia, Deutsche Bank’s economist. What really scared the bejesus out of me was her admission that “this is the first time I really don’t have confidence that things will get better.” Her concern is that wage growth has been faster than output growth for quite some time, which is unsustainable. She is particularly concerned about the proposed national minimum wage, which she predicts will devastate corporate profit growth.
Let us hope that Benjamin Disraeli’s jibe about "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" applies here. And what about my favourite definition of an economist; “someone who is inaccurate to the third decimal point.” Let’s get 2016 out of the way.