It is only in looking back that we can see the essence of an era. We can recognise and categorise the music of the eighties, nineties and even noughties, but it is hard to know the essential sounds of our current era, or even what it will be called (“teenies”, perhaps?). That’s because the zeitgeist of an era is not set by one person alone, but rather from the complex interaction of many actors and it is only when we have gained some distance and perspective that we can recognise it.

The same is true of economic policy. We know the essence of the Thabo Mbeki era: let the private sector grow the economy while using market-based incentives to drive transformation. The Jacob Zuma era has a policy flavour too, even though the reality was large-scale corruption and institutional destruction. Policy swung decidedly more state-centric, with the “developmental state” notion at the heart of an effort to direct the economy from the political centre.

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