How fragile we are...

Articles a few years old but still thoroughly relevant:

The first is by that famed predictor of hidden troubles, Nassim Taleb, in which he (and a co-writer) discuss the indicators of national fragility:

The Calm Before the Storm

And in this article, the writer applies these ideas to South Africa and concludes that we are fragile indeed:

Quote #1:

For countries, fragility has five principal sources: a centralized governing system, an undiversified economy, excessive debt and leverage, a lack of political variability, and no history of surviving past shocks. Applying these criteria, the world map looks a lot different. Disorderly regimes come out as safer bets than commonly thought—and seemingly placid states turn out to be ticking time bombs.

Quote #2:

Indeed, research by the scholar Yaneer Bar-Yam has shown that states that have well-defined boundaries separating various ethnic groups experience less violence than those that attempt to integrate them. In other words, people are better next-door neighbors than roommates. Thus, in countries riven by sectarian divides, it makes more sense to give various groups their own fiefdoms than to force them to live under one roof, since the latter arrangement only serves to radicalize the repressed minority.

Our one strong point is that we have survived many past shocks. We also seem to be navigating our way through the Covid thing without collapsing as I had feared. So maybe there are underlying, invisible factors here that make us more stable than we look. But on most of those points, SA fares badly: we have an obsessively centralized government, the government is obsessed with forcing different ethnic groups into one another’s arms under the banner of “unity,” catastrophic levels of debt, a single party that completely dominates the scene (plus an opposition party in meltdown, that did not actually have significantly different policies to begin with, plus another opposition party of uneducated, beret-wearing thugs), and our economy is not as diversified as it should be.

Possible non-apparent things that may help us here:

  1. The country may not be as centralized as it appears. The ANC sure WANTS to hold all power centrally, but their very incompetence is to some extent our saving grace: to a significant extent, people here do whatever the hell they please, whatever the government says.

  2. The constant turmoil and protests help people to blow off steam so that the thing doesn’t quietly build up to a massive, single explosion. We should perhaps not get too worked up or worried about things like the recent Clicks protest, as much as one wants to lay into those thugs with a whip.

  3. Despite government efforts, there is still a significant amount of “natural apartheid”; different groups tend to stick to their own, which is actually a good thing if it is not centrally enforced.

Seems to me though that all the good things we still have here, we have despite the government rather than thanks to it, which means it is becoming imperative that we get our current bunch out of power - it hardly even matters who we replace them with.