Whether inspirational or disappointing, I usually get something interesting from the State of the Nation address that speaks to the interests of my industry. This year, however, it was really hard work to find something that has not been said or promised before. The sad part is that disillusioned South Africans probably didn’t expect much from the President’s annual speech either. At least, some of the commentary left me with food for thought.
A recent radio show about SONA, referred to the broken window theory. Introduced in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, the theory is that if a broken window is left unfixed, more windows in the building will soon be broken. The moral of the story is that you should address problems when they are small and the radio interview suggested that as much of the greater schemes usually announced during SONA had little effect in the past, perhaps we should start with the small things. This is not a new idea. During the 1990’s, a similar proposition was introduced as part of the New York policing strategy. The thinking was that when windows are fixed and sidewalks cleaned, people would have a sense of ownership and that this would reduce anti-social behaviour and eventually even major crime.
There’s some similarity in Rwanda’s mandatory Umuganda programme where citizens have to spend the last Saturday morning of every month doing community work. While it has resulted into a considerable improvement in the cleanliness of Rwanda, it also had an economic, environmental, governance and social impact. (Read more) Is this something that can work for South Africans or have we become too blasé about the state of the nation? Will we be able to do the small things right – clean our streets, drive at the speed limit and follow the rules? And if we do, will less disorder influence our crime rates and everything else that is dysfunctional?
While this is a tough question to answer when it comes to our country, it is an easier one for the wine industry. SA wine might struggle with profitability, but it functions well and I believe there is a lot to be said for how such success relates to the people within SA wine – their sense of ownership and their attention to detail.
But this is not my only window story for the week. There’s also the Parable of the broken window. Introduced by French economist Frédéric Bastiat in 1850, the theory illustrates why destruction, and the money spent to recover from destruction, is not actually a net benefit to society or the economy. (Read more)
Let’s take the example of the 2021 riots in Kwazulu-Natal. The clean-up and reparation required afterwards stimulated the economy as new building materials and contractors were required. Does that mean the riots were a good thing? Of course not, those hours and money spent on mending, could’ve been spent building something new and not just recovering what has been damaged. Maintenance is one thing, but when you’re spending all your resources on repairs, you can’t develop and grow. Eskom is a textbook case.
Without forcing it, this theory also applies to wine. To ensure growth, you need new development. That doesn’t necessarily mean planting more vineyards or building more cellars. It means applying our minds, being clever about what we do, finding opportunities and creating new avenues for growth and development.
Perhaps my takeaway this year is to think big, but first get the small things right. I’ll think about it a bit more.