Capitalism Melds into a People’s Ethos

It has become fashionable to describe capitalism as a brute force that drives the lust for profit through all our fine sensibilities like a pig on heat during holy mass.

Yet, contemplate the Ghanaian ‘public transport’ sector which is actually made up predominantly of privately owned vehicles, whose drivers have constituted themselves into a ‘union’ not to bargain up their wages but to interact with the public authorities on matters of pricing and standards.

And, yet, this is not a cartel per se (not that we have any real awareness of anti-trust matters in Ghana) but a moderating influence on price inflation in the transport sector.

That is how come it costs $10 to ride a bus more comfortable than a US greyhound on a 300km journey in Ghana. And this is the high end. Over the last 5 years, the price growth has barely crossed 50%. Over the same period, buffet prices at any of Accra’s 4-star hotels have almost tripled.

To ride a bus over a similar distance, say from New York to Boston, will cost you about 10 times that amount. And this will not be at the high end of the market.

I acknowledge that more evolved public-private transport partnerships in Africa, like Kenya’s saccos, do succeed in capturing more value for capitalists. But the more intriguing point is how Ghana’s system delivers value for consumers.

Relying on an interesting blend of cooperation and competition, Ghana’s private transport owners continue to pool risks and resources to boost comfort and safety in the long-distance segment (yes, road accidents in this segment is down) without corresponding investments in regulation and passenger terminal infrastructure from the state.

Capitalism adapts to the ethos of the system.

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