Addressing the concentration of the South African economy, shifting the development path towards a more diversified economy and away from the historic industrial base in minerals and energy, requires a strategy to support the development of productive capabilities in South Africa and in southern Africa more broadly, said Prof Simon Roberts, from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) recently.
Prof Roberts is the Executive Director of the UJ Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development (CCRED). He was delivering his inaugural professorial address on 18 July at the Kingsway, Auckland Park campus of the University.
Prof Roberts emphasised four inter-related areas for action in the South African economy.
“Firstly, we need a programme to break down barriers to entry and generate more effective competition in the South African economy.
“Secondly, a programme to address the ongoing structural legacy of the economy. This needs to consider the spatial and sectoral dimensions and cut across the provision of public transport, energy provision and pricing, mining policies, financing of industry and industrial and trade policy.
“Thirdly, a programme for building strong regional value chains as part of development of southern Africa is critical. Narrowly conceived national policies are undermining the competitiveness of regional industries, as may be expected when account is taken of the political economy, including the ability of powerful interest groups to lobby.
“Lastly, a programme to re-shape the rules for markets, taking into account fairness and improvements in well-being, needs to take account of measures to redistribute wealth and build greater social cohesion. The distribution of wealth, broadly defined, cannot be placed to one side in economic debates. The argument that redistribution will undermine the incentives to invest are belied by the outcomes in South Africa, where the ongoing concentration of wealth is stretching the fabric of society,” concluded Prof Roberts.
The main areas of Prof Roberts’s research reflect an ongoing interest in the behaviour, strategies and power of large internationalised businesses, and the policies by which governments seek to engage with and discipline them. He has worked with a number of government departments in South Africa and international organisations on economic development challenges.
He has led CCRED from its inception in 2013 to its current position as the foremost university centre analysing competition and economic development in Africa, with a core staff of 14 economists as well as research fellows and associates.
CCRED combines research, specialised training and expert advice, and support for institutional development across the African continent. CCRED works with competition authorities and economic regulators in a number of African countries including being a research partner of the Competition Commission South Africa.
Prior to joining UJ, Prof Roberts was chief economist of the South African Competition Commission from 2006 to 2012. As a member of the Executive Team he was part of building the Commission to be recognised as a leading authority world-wide and led the analysis for major investigations into sectors such as food, construction, liquid fuels and industrial products.
Prof Roberts has been a Member of the Africa Task Force of Prof JE Stiglitz’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue; a member of the Economic Advisory Board to the Mayor of Johannesburg; and a member of the Economic Advisory Panel to the Minister of Economic Development. He has been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Columbia and Cambridge.
Read his full address here