It will clearly take more than a recession to get the mainstream to talk about how to make the economy work for South Africans. For a moment last week, there seemed a chance that news of a recession would trigger serious discussion on how to begin fixing an economy that has underperformed for decades for those inside it and has hardly performed at all for the rest. Instead, there was a familiar recitation of oft-repeated remedies. Some said the government must be friendlier to formal businesses, others that it needs to take them on. The government said nothing was really wrong with the economy that could not be fixed by a stimulus package. All these responses assume that the only economic actors who matter are the insiders, who do business in glass and concrete buildings. And so they ignore the economy’s core problem — not using the abilities of many of its people, and the changes that will be needed to fix that. The people whose energies are ignored are those who do not earn an inc...

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