On Prof Grynberg’s ‘average’ question

by Dr Asoka Seneviratne

On Prof Grynberg’s ‘average’ question

After publication of “Sir, What is an Average?” by Professor Roman Grynberg in The Namibian on May 6, 2016, he wrote “Economists at 10 000 metres” on May 27, 2016 in the same newspaper.

Usually, I am keen and interested to read what he writes to learn something new. But when I read “Sir, What is an Average?” I was lost and confused, as it does not offer anything new to learn.

When students come to us, we need to educate them. In fact, all students are not with the same level of knowledge and understanding.



As a principle, we should not write, “Sir, What is an Average?”  to demoralise the student population and undermine the system of education in Namibia in general.

Hardly, can we expect 100 percent perfection in any system of education in the world. In light of the above, as educators, our responsibility is to accept students as delivered by the system of education and educate them to meet the expectations of the labour market.

I read many times “Economists at 10 000 metres”. I cannot understand the focus or purpose of the above. Professor Grynberg writes about (a)  “when the king hires a poet, he always chops off his tongue (it seems to me very brutal), (b) the UN, where bureaucrats are paid the sort of stratospheric salary that most of people in Africa only dream of (why not Asia as well?), (c) In the UN, one was constantly reminded that you do not speak your mind, because you had what UN staffers called “the golden gag” (then the purpose of establishing UN seems to be lost), (d) When I was working for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, I commissioned a brilliant Nobel laureate, named Joseph Stiglitz, to work for us (new information where once Professor Grynberg used to work and about his authority), (e) having read much of Stiglitz’s work, one knew pretty well what the results of the report would be (we are not aware of this report, as it is exclusive to the Commonwealth Secretariat), ( f), consultants are by and large only hired to reconfirm and provide further evidence of your own prejudices (first time I heard this sort of thing), (g) Professor Stiglitz flies a great deal and would almost certainly have more frequent flyer points than Santa Claus (very good bookkeeping by Professor Grynberg), (h) various leaders wish to have his sage advice (I pray that various leaders in the world wish to have advice of Professor Grynberg as well), (i) Namibia, like neighbouring Botswana, is very-high cost location to produce anything (just a statement without proven data or  evidence) and ( j)  only way to break the high cost of structure is to bring in competition from skilled professionals from throughout Africa (then this may affect industrialisation throughout Africa, except Namibia?).

It seems to me that from (a) to (h) and most of other sentences are also about Professor Joseph Stiglitz. All the above may mean to undermine Professor Joseph Stiglitz. In fact, I do not know what readers can learn from (a) to (h). Professor Grynberg, as an intellectual may be angry, unhappy or jealous of Professor Joseph Stiglitz, another intellectual.

It may be personal. But there is no substance or value in the above (a) to (h) to the public. Freedom of expression is a democratic right in Namibia.

However, hardly anyone in Namibia would approve or accept what Professor Grynberg writes about Professor Joseph Stiglitz. In other words, if Professor Grynberg is unhappy and angry with Professor Joseph Stiglitz, writing to the public about Professor Joseph Stiglitz will not be helpful for Professor Grynberg.

As I see references to (i) and (j), they are for industrialisation or transformation of the Namibian economy. Professor Grynberg’s analysis and prescription for industrialisation are not conclusive, because apart from what he explains as economic fundamentals there are many other economic fundamentals, such as the small size of the domestic market (i.e. this prevents large scale production that lowers unit cost of production for competition), utilisation of cheap sources of energy, lack of skilled labour and implementation of National Human Resources Plan 2010-2025 are important.

Furthermore, the Namibia Investor Roadmap (2006) focuses on administrative, regulatory, and procedural issues that may impede or slow the investment process towards industrialisation. In fact, (i) and (j) are useful topics, including “until the government develops a real policy,” of Professor Grynberg.

In fact, the readers would have been happy to hear from Professor Grynberg about a detailed analysis of the constraints to investment or industrialisation and the role of the concept of “Growth At Home” in the context of industrialization, based on Prof Grynberg’s “until the government develops a real policy”.

Basically, my understanding is that there are sufficient policy descriptions in Namibia (e.g. the Namibia Investor Roadmap of 2006, Namibia’s Industrial Policy – this is part and parcel of NDP4) for industrialisation. But what is lacking is effective implementation of the targeted or planned activities to generate the expected results.

Prof Grynberg’s reference to “until the government develops a real policy” may help for the above, as well. Indeed, it may be useful for government to hire Professor Grynberg to formulate “a real policy” with terms of reference that the government wishes to hear from him.

We should appreciate and value the opportunity provided by the government to listen to Professor Joseph Stiglitz and learn from him. Many people had heard about Professor Joseph Stiglitz. But only few people knew of his book, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1%”, among many of his scholarly works.

“The Great Divide” contains many of his scholarly articles and many people wanted to buy the book after his presentation at the Safari Hotel. Hardly people knew that both inequality and poverty have increased in the USA over the last two decades when the rest of the world witnessed notable reduction of poverty and also reduction of inequality to some extent.

In Namibia, both inequality and poverty reduced substantially over the last two decades. But the opposite has been in the USA. Professor Joseph Stiglitz indicated that increase in inequality is a choice in the USA and he gave the reasons for that effect.

One of the main reasons for the choice is that “pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas”. In other words, this is about utilisation of labour in the USA, instead of workers overseas.

In Namibia, inequality is not a choice at all. Namibia creates employment in other counties (i.e. exports employment) along with rising imports, of which the majority (i.e. consumer goods) can be produced locally.

In other words, it is a matter of utilisation of local labour, so that it will help to reduce inequality and poverty. The above may be seen as two different scenarios in the USA and Namibia. But both countries do not use their labour systematically, so that it affects the reduction of inequality and poverty in both countries.

In other words, among many things, reduction of inequality and poverty is related to employment creation, as well (i.e. inclusive growth).

Listening to Professor Stiglitz and reading “Of the 1%, by the % and for the 1%”, I understood that a similar situation prevails in the USA and Namibia on the basis of utilisation of labour and inequality. It means that if both USA and Namibia can utilise their labour, it will help to reduce inequality and poverty.

In the light of the above, “In the final analysis, no amount of glossy policy papers and advice from Nobel laureates will change the facts on the ground in Namibia,” is the very harsh conclusion of Professor Grynberg.

It would not matter about the sources of advice (i.e. whether it is from a sage or not) as far as it is relevant, useful and practicable to address and resolve the economic issues in Namibia. In fact, what is on the ground is in the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP). Now it is a matter of committed and effective implementation of HPP to generate the expected results.

I strongly believe that Professor Joseph Stiglitz helped us to expand our horizon of intellectual thinking in the context of Namibia and the rest of the world. In other words he gave us the knowledge and understanding to think rationally, strategically and logically about the main economic problems in Namibia, by citing the US examples and providing global experience.

Now it is for us to use the knowledge and understanding that   Professor Joseph Stiglitz imparted. It should be noted that imparting knowledge is not an advice. And knowledge or wisdom has no substitutes.

Our perception and response to Professor Joseph Stiglitz should be humble. As a result, we will be able to accommodate his scholarly thinking and insight for the benefit of the people and the country.

Indeed, we have been fortunate to listen to him and learn from him. In light of the above, we should not create any negative perception or cite damning comments about Professor Joseph Stiglitz, because it may reflect on us badly and the nation where we reside.

* These are personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

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