Talk right, walk left: How Leon Schreiber exemplifies the DA's left-wing policy preferences

While Schreiber has managed to finesse a conservative reputation, his ideas, and those of his party, have more in common with the ANC

Robert Duigan


Robert Duigan


Apr 19, 2024

Talk right, walk left: How Leon Schreiber exemplifies the DA's left-wing policy preferences

Since his rapid promotion through the DA ranks five years ago, Leon Schreiber has managed to acquire a reputation as a conservative, due to his defence of Afrikaans at the University of Stellenbosch, and his opposition to the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment.

Somehow it has managed to escape common knowledge that it was the DA who applied pressure to the Elsenberg agricultural campus to abandon Afrikaans, despite 100% of its staff, students and coursework being Afrikaans. Only the few conservatives who remain in the venerable institution’s orbit will remember much, and they aren’t writing about it in the papers.

The other issue often missed is the DA’s systematic protection of its most corrupt elements, including Memory Booysen, Conrad Poole and Eleanor Bouw-Spies, or even Malusi Booi, who was protected from public scrutiny for four years despite multiple complaints for his relationship with the 28s gang, right until the police raided his office.

But these basic hypocrisies are par for the course. What is much more substantial is the general strategy of “talk right, walk left”, which forms a deeper pattern in the DA across all its policymaking organs. And Leon Schreiber is a prime example.

Schreiber has done little more for his party’s base than hold a few blustery speeches. But what he put on his CV in order to get such a cushy placement on the party list is more instructive.

First among these was a book which narrativised the studies conducted by Frans Cronje's research colleagues which demonstrated long-term declines of ANC support, and opened the question of a DA coalition with the ANC. It was a relaxed and optimistic piece which lavished praise on the DA, and laid out bright prospects for the party's future.

But the throughline for all of Schreiber’s policy analysis is that the ANC’s policies are perfectly sensible, and that the only problem with them is corruption and inefficiency. For Schreiber, land invasions, socialism and unrestricted spending are all fine and dandy, and the only thing that is truly problematic about the current state of affairs is systemic corruption.

For a long time, he has promoted the almost inconceivably corrupt leader of Brazil, Lula da Silva, as the ideal to model to copy in South Africa. The idea is to give away enormous amounts of free stuff to the poor, unconditionally.

In general, he promotes the indefinite increase of welfare on the same trite grounds as any leftist - that the immediate effects of welfare on the quality of life of its recipients is positive. But that isn’t in doubt. Clearly, having more money or alternative sources of income broadens your options, reducing the likelihood of a person choosing exploitative labour conditions.

But this isn’t his main motivation - what he takes as the most glowing intellectual endorsement of Brazil isn’t the empirical benefits or drawbacks of their policy system, but their resemblance to the “Third Way” philosophy of the Fabian Socialism school, made famous by Tony Blair, whose hijacking of the British political system in the late 1990s has led to terminal decline and a dictatorial civil service unaccountable to any elected official.

His background as a left-wing policy advocate begins with some brief stints at the Naumann Foundation (a German-government affiliated DA donor) and the Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth, the Western Cape Government and the DA’s policy department, all within the space of 9 months.

But his main body of work was for Princeton University’s near-communist research body Innovations for Successful Societies, where he promoted, in several articles, the means for ensuring “land tenure” and free stuff for land invaders.

As Brazil heads toward land reform laws resembling that of Venezuela, in which “abandoned” land is free for the taking, we can start to see a more threatening aura around Schreiber’s romance for Latin America.

He lamented the fact that land invaders were vulnerable to eviction, and insisted on a program of incentivising land invasions by handing title deeds and free public service to anyone who seized public or private land illegally, calling eviction of land invaders “arbitrary”. He touted a Maimane-era policy which did exactly this in Cape Town as an ideal policy, whose only flaw was its limited scope.

But we all know what these policies have done to the fair Cape - turned it into a violent garbage tip.

Schreiber also considered the ANC’s unbounded free healthcare spending to be an unqualified success, and deemed it to be such a success almost entirely on the basis of how much money they spent, concluding the article with praise for the Western Cape department (whose political leadership was ANC for most of the period the quoted official ran it).

Schreiber’s manner of analysing policy is extremely short-term, and narrowly-focused, never taking into account long-term structural effects.

But he is hardly alone - this has become the gold standard for Western policy research at large, so that considerations of the indefinite increase of public spending and civil service departments is now utterly taboo, and the only solution to the inefficiency this creates is to extend contracts to a parasitic public-private-partnership ecosystem bolstered by NGOs stuffed with workaday leftwing activists.

This model, which has exploded and permeated the whole Western world since the 1990s, is the essential substance of the Third Way which he so celebrates. Combating any forces critical of this massive sclerotic blob that can tolerate no barriers to its growth, the establishment has taken on an increasing debt burden and accelerating money printing to extend its lifespan.

This particular combo has meant that the West has entered the shallow end of the same drowning pool that other populist socialist governments have in the past.

The filthy secondhand sticking plaster used to staunch this sucking wound has been the use of mass migration, to dampen conservative voting sentiment and ramp up property prices, keeping retirees, donors, employers and financial institutions happy by inflating their assets and depressing the cost of labour.

This is a system that replicates South Africa’s transformation over the past 50 years on a global scale.

Because the governing system relies on party competition, parties only survive by giving more handouts to donors and voters, and the occasional bit of populist rhetoric and selective persecution (carrot & stick) to dampen criticism.

Because of the structural relationship with popular democracy, no party can afford to reverse this trend. And because of its longevity, the entire financial system is dependent on its perpetuation. This means that, as with the hapless and naive Liz Truss, any attempt to rewind profligate government spending, even by as little as 2%, will be punished by market sabotage by the central banks, civil service and mainstream media.

The number of states that have ever reversed this trend anywhere in history without a dictatorship can be counted on one hand. Argentina is the only one present today.

This thinking is so entrenched that Schreiber, when analysing tax systems, whether in Palestine or Uganda, never considers the possibility of cutting expenditure, but insists on finding ways to squeeze taxpayers or foreign donors for more revenue.

So why Brazil? Well, it’s not because Brazil is well-run. It is viciously corrupt, violent and stupid at every level, and is busy spending every ounce of its political resources giving amnesty to grand theft from the left, while attempting to throw every member of the opposition they can get their hands on in prison and censor any and all critics.

I suspect it is because Schreiber likes the model South Africa uses, but believes it will be fine if we could (naively) “just get rid of corruption”. He just needs a country with similar priorities that doesn’t have an imploding economy in order to justify continuing it, and one only needs short-term trends to convince policymakers of this stuff anyway.

This is not entirely unfounded - as the most sophisticated study on wealth and income changes in democratic South Africa shows, almost all wealth created below the 95th percentile is due to wealth redistribution.

But what this demonstrates is not that distribution is good, but that it is unsustainable. It means that the vast majority are not turning welfare into new prospects, but merely subsidising a low-class lifestyle with it. A tiny portion of the nation is responsible for working for the benefit of the majority, who despise and resent them, and vote only for their destruction, while the quality of life for the productive and skilled classes stagnates or declines, and brain drain ensues.

It is not as if Schreiber is alone - these redistributive, technocratic approaches are par for the course, and have become the settled model for the party. Gwen Ngwenya, Geordin Hill-Lewis, and all of the other luminaries of Helen Zille’s school of political grooming have headed in the same direction, boasting of “sensible” compromises with black-national-socialism.

These at the DA believe that this is literally the only way to govern. You can’t take free stuff away from the poor, you can’t evict land invaders, you can’t prioritise the interests of your voting base over black people who want to predate upon them. But it will all work out, because they are immune from corruption.

This is not true, as I have extensively covered on this paper - search for articles on Drakenstein or the Garden Route. The governance of the northern metros in Gauteng also leave much to be desired.

They promote massive free services subsidised by massively hiking municipal rates up across their constituencies in the country, several points ahead of the rate of inflation.

They often boast that they redistribute more wealth than the ANC, using 75% of the provincial budget for free housing and other services to the poor, putting land invaders first on the list.

At the top end of the scale, where their donors are concerned, they focus on driving up property prices and auctioning off prime real estate to the international market while incentivising the rest of South Africa to come and settle here, none of whom (to any degree of statistical significance) vote for the DA.

The DA are leaning into the general trend of decline. And with them openly considering a coalition with the ANC, the notion that they will challenge any aspect of the ANC’s system is beyond ludicrous. The DA tout themselves as “better than the ANC”, but all they have managed to demonstrate is that they promote a model that ensures decline at a slightly slower rate.

By my own estimates from about a year ago, South Africa has until between 2028-2035 before it is hit with a fiscal crisis caused by unsustainable spending. I was happy to see that I am now joined by actual respectable institutional voices now too, like Andre Duvenhage, who quoted 2030 as the horizon just a few days ago, and Dawie Roodt, who uses much more sophisticated analyses than I do (I just projected existing fiscal trends forward within reasonable parameters).

One must understand the Laffer Curve to understand why squeezing the public for more is stupid - the basic idea being that if the state takes zero tax, they get zero revenue, but if they draw 100% tax, they also get no revenue, because nobody can afford to do anything in the economy. So the optimum necessarily sits somewhere between the two.

Very few studies have been done on South Africa in this regard, but the last one I found (from 2009), showed the optimum tax rate over GDP to be 18%. We are well on our way to 30% now, and the margin is only increasing, as economic growth stagnates.

With the fiscal cliff looming, South Africa will have three choices - structural readjustment (i.e., retrenching the civil service, selling state assets and cutting welfare), defaulting on its debt, or printing away the problem. All three of these are going to be extremely nasty to live through. But the DA has no solutions, and just wants us to worry about the EFF, who will bring about the same end anyway - not even the DA can stomach any real cuts, as their governance of the northern Metros demonstrates.

What Schreiber ultimately misses when he writes about the dynamics of coalition politics, is that factional haggling is already par for the course within the ANC - it has only recently been externalised with the spinoffs of COPE, EFF and MK. What the DA is doing, is modelling itself after the moderate factions of the ANC, and by engaging in negotiation with the ANC for sharing power, is turning the whole political landscape into an eternal ANC party conference.

Not much of a choice, really.

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