IT NEVER quite played out the way we had planned. That must be what some of the old guard in the Treasury must be saying to themselves as they feel the fiscal space closing in. It’s a far cry from the confidence with which SA walked out of the 2008 crisis, in the belief that we’d be able to spend our way out.

And spend we did. The country’s fiscal response to the crisis was larger and more sustained than the response of any other economy of a similar size.

But instead of focusing on investing in long-term projects, as most governments did, it was the road paved with re-election gold that was chosen.

Spending has been focused on boosting the public-sector wage bill to offset job losses in the private sector, increasing the welfare bill and bailing out state-owned enterprises such as that albatross, SA Airways.

Without that intervention, I’ll be first to admit, our recession could have been much, much deeper than the "little blip" that we experienced in 2009.

For the additional public servants — not to mention the new ministries created after the 2009 election — retailers such as Truworths, Shoprite and Mr Price have much to be thankful for. (Who said retailers aren’t exposed to government?)

Merrill Lynch, among other global investment banks, made much about a booming retail space in this country in the aftermath of the crisis. Not about the construction shares that would have been beneficiaries of infrastructure spend.

In the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup, they have failed to reignite the same excitement that they managed in the years before the event.

There was always the underlying risk that swelling the wage bill was just a short-term solution, cynically, electioneering.

It’s time for some real talk and maybe to even take a leaf from the book of its Communist Party ally, which once called the Gautrain a project for the bourgeoisie. Maybe a closer examination of government’s SAA investment is warranted down in Jorissen Street.

The rebalancing of the Chinese economy as it shifted its focus to domestic consumption from exports was to take away the last leg supporting the state’s "countercyclical" fiscal response.

China’s changing stance weakened and continues to weaken commodity prices. Platinum and gold are the biggest export earners for the country. Heightened strike activity over the past two years hasn’t helped.

Having boosted the wage bill, pumped up the welfare bill and supported some "strategic" state-owned enterprises, the country now can do no more.

And more is exactly what is needed. More energy and water, better education and health care — factors integral to having a healthy and robust economy.

What is needed right now is for the state to accept that it can do no more.

It’s time for some real talk and maybe to even take a leaf from the book of its Communist Party ally, which once called the Gautrain a project for the bourgeoisie. Maybe a closer examination of government’s SAA investment is warranted down in Jorissen Street.

But I doubt there’s anyone around strong enough in the ruling party, even Number One himself, to take a dramatic change in direction.

If you include all the state guarantees of our state-owned enterprises, SA’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product is sitting around 60%. Not bad, but not as comforting as 40%.

In my world, or rather in Derby’s County, I like to think of capital markets as giant Unidentified Flying Objects. Unidentifiable because they carry no flag and hover over financial capitals for as long as they can be fuelled by things such as growth rates, higher yields and dividend flows. Most importantly, a degree of policy certainty.

Without these factors, there’s very little chance of keeping a "blue chip" UFO hovering above our skies, feeding in to its various asset classes such as bonds, stocks and our currency.

Blue chips being the ones willing to take a 30-50-year bet.

Our docking station looks like a tumbleweed town with a petrol station fast running out of gas.

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