Opinionista Ivo Vegter 16 April 2019

Why my national vote will go to the ZACP

There’s a new political party contesting the national elections, committed to classical liberalism, individual liberty and free markets. The Capitalist Party of South Africa (ZACP) is an amateur outfit, but there are good reasons to vote for it and few reasons not to.

Three months ago, I wrote that I would hold my nose and vote DA. The arguments I made were primarily based on the party’s record in the provincial government. There is no doubt that DA government in the Western Cape, where I live, has proven to be much more effective and much less corrupt than ANC government has been elsewhere in the country.

For the upcoming provincial elections, the DA, despite being weakly led, disunited and unmoored from its liberal principles, remains the best choice. This is true, especially where it can win (the Western Cape) or where a strong showing might enable it to lead a coalition government against the ANC (Gauteng and Northern Cape).

My arguments did not, however, apply well to the national election. The DA will certainly remain the official opposition, but whether it gets 18%, 20% or 22% of the vote really doesn’t matter to anyone who isn’t on the DA election list. At the time, however, there was no other party that really tempted me to vote for them instead, so I left it at that.

Enter the Capitalist Party of South Africa, which has adopted the acronym ZACP in a pointed dig at the South African Communist Party (SACP). (Disclaimer: I am not in any way involved or associated with this party, although I do count some of its members among my personal friends.)

Founded by veteran journalist Kanthan Pillay, legal consultant and podcast host Roman Cabanac and technology entrepreneur Neo Kuaho, it brings together a diverse group of people, each with a strong background in business. None are career politicians. They espouse principles that generally coincide with mine: Individual liberty, equality, freedom of speech, property rights, the rule of law, free markets and free trade, and a small government limited to protecting the rights of others.

It has registered with the Independent Electoral Commission to contest the national elections, but not the provincial elections. Its symbol, the purple cow, signifying prosperity, will appear on the national ballot.

The DA has led its disaffected supporters to believe that voting for smaller parties would split the vote, and thereby weaken the opposition to the ANC. This is true only at the provincial level, and then only in provinces where the DA has a realistic chance of unseating the ANC or keeping it out of government. (This is a good reason not to vote for the secessionist Cape Party in the Western Cape, for example, even if secession were a practical political objective, which it is not.)

In the national election, the idea that a vote for a smaller party would split the opposition vote is absolute hogwash. Whether a seat in Parliament belongs to the DA, the ZACP or any other party that opposes socialist policies and corruption makes no practical difference to the strength of the opposition.

As long as the party you give your vote to espouses principles in which you believe, it can make a valuable contribution in Parliamentary debates. It is arguable, in fact, that a party of principles such as the ZACP could be more effective than the official opposition, whose principles have been watered down by the need to appeal to what it calls a “broad church” of voters.

The ZACP offers a list of 10 principles it promises to promote. It is neither the most detailed nor the most polished manifesto, but it outlines a society in which individual rights are respected and capitalism is unabashedly celebrated. As it should be. Unlike socialism, it has brought untold prosperity and freedom to most of the world’s population, including the poor.

The party seeks to build a society that works, in which low growth and high unemployment are the most important issues to resolve. Besides its foundational principles, it has also proposed 10 solutions for practical problems, including fixing education, improving policing and replacing social welfare payments with a negative income tax.

I’m not convinced that all of their solutions will work. In fact, some seem a little naïve, simplistic or impractical. It would, however, be great to have a voice in Parliament that raises innovative proposals for debate and is willing to introduce ideas that have worked in other countries.

There have been criticisms over the ideological purity of the party’s ideas. One critic laid into the negative income tax idea, calling it socialist rather than capitalist. That is arrant nonsense, however.

A negative income tax sets a threshold income, above which you pay a flat rate of tax, and below which you earn the same rate as a subsidy. The exact threshold and tax rate would be set to ensure an unemployed person would receive enough to meet their most basic needs, and the government receives enough to fund its operations.

The advantage of such a system is that it offers a social safety net without significantly undermining the incentive to find paying work.

Critics who say this amounts to socialism do not know what socialism means. Under socialism, the means of production are owned collectively — that is, by the state — and a central government plans economic activity. Under capitalism, the means of production are privately owned and the interaction between supply and demand in the open market determine when, where and how goods and services are produced.

Simply taxing the rich to give to the poor does not in any way undermine the private ownership of the means of production. It might offend hardcore libertarians, but the ZACP claims to be capitalist, not libertarian. It is certainly not anti-capitalist to provide a social safety net.

In fact, the liberal welfare states of Scandinavia, often touted as great examples of “social democracy” or “democratic socialism”, are actually based on free, capitalist economies. Norway and Denmark are in the top quarter of the most economically free countries in the world, and Sweden leads the second quartile. Denmark is 16th out of 162 countries, while South Africa languishes in 100th place.

Other countries with extensive welfare systems, such as New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, are all in the top 10 on the economic freedom rankings. Their governments might spend liberally on healthcare, education and social welfare, but free-market capitalism produced that prosperity in the first place. South Africa would do well to learn from these countries, and could use representatives in Parliament enthusiastically promoting such examples.

Endorsing the ZACP does not imply that I agree with everything its members ever said or thought. It is inevitable that one will have disagreements, even with a party that largely aligns with one’s own principles.

One of its members recently came under fire for appearing in a video chat with a number of far-right racists. While I’m happy to accept that mere discussion does not constitute an endorsement, and that it is better to engage extremists of all persuasions openly than to suppress them, I agree that it raises concerns. It certainly emphasises that the ZACP is not made up of experienced politicians, who would have been more alert to appearances.

However, the principles of individual liberty actually insulate society from extremism. There is absolutely zero risk that anyone would abuse the power of the state to impose racist policies on the rest of us. By contrast, the power of the state is routinely abused for self-enrichment, to reward incompetence, to restrict freedom of expression and thought, and to impose socialist policies on everyone.

A party that advocates for limiting the role of the state to protect others from harm cannot hope to impose objectionable views on unwilling citizens. The ideals of free markets and individual liberty inherently promote diversity and combat fascism and oppression. They do not prevent anyone from expressing their opinion, living their culture, or catering to the needs of niche segments of society, but they do prohibit imposing opinion or culture upon others.

I in principle agree with the party’s position on gun rights, but I do not think celebrating gun culture is a strategically sensible hill to die on for a foundling capitalist party.

According to the IRR, two-thirds of South African voters believe the country is moving in the wrong direction, as the ANC’s socialist policies and rampant corruption drag us further down the slippery slope down which Zimbabwe and Venezuela most recently tumbled. Although a majority approves of Cyril Ramaphosa personally, even more voters are dissatisfied with the performance of the ANC.

An unashamedly capitalist party that fights for individual liberty would be a breath of fresh air in Parliament. It would introduce new ideas and could stand up against socialism even at the risk of offending voting blocs that the official opposition is trying to win.

I welcome the purple cow to our political pantheon. On 8 May 2019, I’ll hold my nose and reluctantly vote DA, provincially. I am relieved that nationally, I can happily vote my principles by placing a cross next to the ZACP. I hope a few hundred thousand others will join me in doing so. DM


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