Elections in Zimbabwe: Once a Breadbasket, Now a Basket Case
Zimbabwe has become a textbook example of how to destroy an economy through heavy-handed governmental intervention in the free market, including forced redistribution of wealth (farms were taken from white farmers to give to blacks) and foolish stopgap measures such as price controls (which not only failed to stop raging inflation but, predictably, created shortages and black markets). Most of Zimbabwe’s current troubles can be laid at the feet of one man: Robert Mugabe.
HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabweans lined up for hours Saturday to vote in elections that present President Robert Mugabe with his toughest political challenge in 28 years in power.
Voting was generally reported as peaceful but were some complaints of irregularities and minor violence.
The opposition accuses Mugabe of plotting to steal the election. Mugabe told reporters he would accept whatever results emerged and rejected the charges that he had already orchestrated his own victory.
“We don’t rig elections,” he said.
The economic collapse of Zimbabwe, once the region’s breadbasket, has dominated the campaign. The opposition accuses Mugabe of misrule and dictatorship. Mugabe, appealing to national pride, blames the West — and charges his opponents as being stooges for former colonial ruler Britain.
In southern Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold, 78-year-old Moffat Simon Mabhena was among many who lined up to vote hours before the scheduled 7 a.m. poll opening.
“The message is very clear: We want to see change in this country,” Mabhena said. “I have been here since 2:30 a.m. and it’s because I want to see Robert Mugabe out.”
Last July, the government of Zimbabwe was imposing price controls in an effort to stop galloping inflation. It was a predictable failure. As I wrote at the time:
Things are going just swimmingly in Zimbabwe, where the very government responsible for runaway inflation is attempting to override the laws of supply and demand by mandating that all prices be slashed.
Yeah, that’ll work. Let’s check in and see how it’s going so far, shall we?
Plain-clothes police sought to enforce Zimbabwe’s new price controls by raiding shops yesterday as President Robert Mugabe’s regime waged a desperate struggle against soaring inflation.
They roughed up shop owners and staff and arrested 20 businessmen. Shoppers swarmed over supermarket shelves in the capital, Harare, intent on grabbing “bargains”.
Ministers claim that the inflation rate of 4,500 per cent – the highest in the world – is solely caused by greedy shopkeepers raising their prices for no good reason. Propaganda tries to portray businessmen as the true authors of the economic collapse – deflecting blame from Mr Mugabe.
But economists say that the prime cause of inflation is the government’s huge budget deficit, which it deals with by printing more money. This immense borrowing requirement is, in turn, the result of the wider economic failure caused mainly by the seizure of white-owned farms.
Instead of dealing with the deficit, the regime has imposed draconian price controls. Last week, the authorities ordered shops to cut basic food prices by 50 per cent after retail prices had risen by 300 per cent in only seven days.
. . . . Shelves in supermarkets across Harare are swiftly emptying and police in full riot gear linger outside.
The new controls force supermarkets to sell food at below its cost from wholesalers. Unless the regime relents, there will be food shortages, empty shelves and, eventually, the closure of all shops.
“We won’t be restocking. If need be, we might have to close shop rather than stick to government prices,” said the manager of one store.
Doesn’t anybody understand basic economics in Zimbabwe?
In October, after having imposed the price controls, Zimbabwe ran out of bread:
Zimbabwe’s bakeries have shut and supermarkets have warned there will be no bread for the foreseeable future as the government admitted that wheat production had collapsed following the seizure of white-owned farms.
The agricultural ministry announcement that the wheat harvest is only about a third of what is required, and that imports are held up by lack of hard currency, came as a deadline passed today for the last white farmers to leave their land or face prosecution for trespass.
The maize harvest is expected to be equally dire and price controls to contain hyperinflation have emptied the stores of most other foodstuffs. The World Food Programme says at least 3 million people – one in four of the population – will need food aid in the coming months. It describes hunger in some parts of the country, which used to be a food exporter, as “acutely serious”.
Around the world, too many on the left still believe that unequal distribution of wealth is the primary explanation for intractable problems of hunger and poverty. They support policies such as heavily taxing the rich and redistributing some of that wealth to the poor. They do not realize that poverty is a symptom of deeper troubles, not the cause. A nation’s poverty is a usually a symptom of bad governmental and economic policies, including laws that interfere with the free market and destroy incentives to produce. Corruption, violence, and lack of basic human freedom don’t help either.
“This is what Robert Mugabe has done to us, turned us into a nation of peddlers and beggars,” she said flatly, allowing her thoughts to then wander off into the future. “If he remains, we will just die.”
Zimbabwe started out as a prosperous breakbasket. Now, thanks to its forcible redistribution of wealth, it has turned itself into an economic basket case. A nation that once helped feed the world has no bread to feed its own people.
There is no surer way to make everyone poor than to take from the rich and give to the poor.
Cross-posted at GINA COBB