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A trip to Europe is sobering: experiencing airports (and whole developed economies) grinding to a halt because of a lack of labour is a new perspective on supply side constraints to growth.

It is even more sobering returning home via OR Tambo airport. The airport is dirty and tatty, loose ceiling boards are crooked and grimy, and it takes more than 90 minutes to get luggage off an Airbus A380. In contrast to Europe, at OR Tambo none of this has to do with an unresolvable labour market issue.

OR Tambo highlights how SA creates its own problems. We ignore the destructive force of labour market over-regulation that excludes low-wage workers from tapping into opportunities and market needs. We accept the total incompetence of the Airports Company SA and its shareholder (the ANC-led  administration). we are indifferent to the state’s utter failure to deliver acceptable standards of public infrastructure.

But never mind wasting our demographic dividend in a time where it is becoming relevant. How will a country that can’t keep its most important port of entry clean tap new sources of growth or convince investors to leave their money here?

There are many parallels to this story. Take Greece, which is marketing warm winter stays to Central Europeans who are worried about gas shortages and a cold winter. We should be competing — but then again, I’m sure Greece also offers other basics of civilisation, including reliable electricity supply and a low murder rate.

Rolf Endres

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