King Canute took on the waves to demonstrate the limits of his power to his subjects, who asked him to do the impossible.

Robert Mugabe is the kind of authoritarian who thinks that the waves ought to obey him, and if they don’t, he’ll send his thugs to beat them until they will.

A lot of people are predicting that it’s the endgame for Mugabe’s rule. I’m not sure I see things as being that inevitable. There are still possessions and resources for government forces to steal and still room for violent coercion of people, and until they completely run out and the cupboards are truly bare, I think events can still spiral further downward. Arguably they can spiral downward until most of the country’s population has fled to neighboring nations or dies of starvation and abuse.

The one thing I think people interested in the situation need to understand is that the inner circle of power is now relentlessly and exclusively focused on their own immediate survival.

A lot of the reporting on Zimbabwe has had a tone of amazement in its recounting of the recent round of anti-inflationary measures, which consisted of capping the price on goods sold in stores, which then led to the stores being ransacked for everything useful (in many cases by police, military or ZANU-PF officials) which then led to the stores having no inventory and having no means to acquire more inventory. The government has now threatened manufacturers, telling them to keep producing goods even though they’re no longer able to pay for the materials to produce those goods, and now that many of the sites of primary production of those materials are no longer making anything near the amounts necessary for the economy.

Observers are asking, “Are they serious? Don’t they understand you can’t beat inflation by issuing a decree that there shall no longer be inflation? Don’t they understand that where they’re heading with factories is having to use forced labor?” Yes, they’re serious and no, they don’t understand. Except maybe about the forced labor part. The people now inside the circle of power who have ostensible responsibility for economic policy honestly don’t know the first thing about how 21st Century economies actually work. Or if they do, they dare not admit that they know. I think Mugabe may seriously believe that he can just order inflation to stop, and he’s now surrounded by yes-men who would probably tell him he could stop the sun from rising if that’s what he said he wanted. In the short term, they’re even correct. You can stop inflation from being a visible public reality if you banish all commodities from public sight and force all exchange to happen within an informal or underground economy. There is no more inflation in Zimbabwe because there’s nothing left to buy out of a store with the official currency except for dog food.

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5 Responses to Anti-Canute

  1. Withywindle2 says:

    Not that I particularly favor it right now–but would you support a unilateral, armed American intervention to remove Mugabe?

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    No. Because it wouldn’t accomplish anything as well as have immediately destructive (and expensive) consequences. You can’t fix what’s wrong just by eliminating Mugabe.

  3. Doug says:

    A random comment from someone whose area is Germany: Things can always get worse.

  4. Withywindle2 says:

    And as Zimbabwe descends into mass famine? At what point does its present become worse than all possible consequences? … but I put on my Russian hat: If not that, then What Is To Be Done?

  5. Minivet says:

    The people now inside the circle of power who have ostensible responsibility for economic policy honestly don’t know the first thing about how 21st Century economies actually work.

    From your description above, they don’t know how 19th-century economies work either.

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