Wrecking Ball: Why permanent technological unemployment, a predictable pandemic and other wicked problems will end South Africa’s experiment in inclusive democracy | National Inquiry Services Centre

Wrecking Ball

Wrecking Ball: Why permanent technological unemployment, a predictable pandemic and other wicked problems will end South Africa’s experiment in inclusive democracy

Why permanent technological unemployment, a predictable pandemic and other wicked problems will end South Africa’s experiment in inclusive democracy

By Stu Woolman
Size: 168 x 245 mm
Pages: 420 pages
ISBN 13: 978-1-920033-72-9
Published: March 2021
Publishers: NISC (Pty) Ltd
Recommended Retail Price: R 325.00
Cover: Paperback

About the book

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Wrecking Ball explores, in an unprecedented manner, a decalogue of wicked problems that confronts humanity: Nuclear proliferation, climate change, pandemics, permanent technological unemployment, Orwellian public and private surveillance, social media that distorts reality, cyberwarfare, the fragmentation of democracies, the inability of nations to cabin private power, the failure of multinational institutions to promote collaboration and the deepening of autocratic rule in countries that have never known anything but extractive institutions. Collectively, or even severally, these wicked problems constitute crises that could end civilisation.

Does this list frighten you, or do you blithely assume that tomorrow will be just like yesterday?


Wrecking Ball shows that without an inclusive system of global governance, the collective action required to solve those wicked problems falls beyond the remit of the world’s 20 inclusive democracies, 50 flawed democracies and 130 extractive, elitist autocracies. Flawed democracies and autocracies that already struggle to produce goods necessary for their own citizens to flourish, are simply incapable of committing to international arrangements that address the existential threats posed by the decalogue of wicked problems.

This then is our children’s inheritance: Dystopias far, far worse than the polities that we ourselves have known. What, if anything, can mitigate the harms that are our legacy?


Wrecking Ball offers, as an answer, a ground-breaking analysis of South Africa’s political economy. It demonstrates that this country’s elitist and extractive political and economic institutions not only make resolution of ongoing domestic crises unattainable, likewise, they make meaningful responses to wicked problems impossible.

Smart people think they have all the answers. Without laboring under any such illusions, Martin Luther King Jr eloquently opined: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ But what will happen, King would acidly ask, if we continue to dawdle, and simply run out of time?


Wrecking Ball similalry operates under no such ‘smart’ pretenses, and undeterred and unmatched ventures into terrrains traversed by truly great political economists: Smith, Ricardo, Marx and Keynes. By knitting together what we all know to be the facts, with cutting edge theory in economics, sociology, history and political science, the book paints an unflinching portrait of where we are, and where we are headed.

Are we ready to be honest with ourselves about the likely future of this overheated, overpopulated planet?


Reviewer's Comments: 
‘[Woolman] marshals a wealth of evidence in support of his argument and has clearly digested and synthesised a very wide range of literature. Indeed, the book reads in part like a modern-day version of the great 18th century works of political economy’.
Professor Theunis Roux, School of Global and Public Law, University of Sydney

About the Authors

Stu Woolman, Elizabeth Bradley Chair of Ethics, Governance and Sustainable Development and Professor of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, holds degrees in philosophy from Wesleyan, London and Columbia, and in law from Columbia and Pretoria.

He is the primary author of Constitutional Law of South Africa, 2nd edition and the author of two monographs -- The Selfless Constitution: Experimentalism and Flourishing as Foundations of South Africa's Basic Law and The Constitution in the Classroom: Law and Education in South Africa, 1994–2008. He is also the co-author/co-editor of several collections: the award-winning The Business of Sustainable Development in Africa as well as The Dignity Jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Is This Seat Taken? Conversations at the Bar, Bench and Academy on the South African Constitution. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Constitutional Court Review

Stu has been a professor at Columbia Law School, the University of Pretoria Faculty of Law, the University of the Witwatersrand School of Business and the University of the Witwatersrand School of Law, and has enjoyed extended stints as a visiting scholar at Columbia, Berkeley and Wesleyan.


The definition of wicked problems, repurposed
PROLOGUE: Predicting SARS-CoV-2, pandemic mismanagement and how COVID-19 has accelerated permanent technological unemployment
CHAPTER I: An exhalation
CHAPTER II: Wicked problems defined and repurposed, problems of collective action distinguished, and the challenges that wicked problems pose to South Africa’s not quite so inclusive democracy
CHAPTER III: The wicked problem of permanent technological unemployment
CHAPTER IV: The consequences of permanent technological unemployment for South Africa
CHAPTER V: Conclusion – ‘Doing the best we can’
EPILOGUE: Doubling down

Order Enquiries

You may contact NISC to purchase this book, however other purchasing options are available. Please see ordering details below:


Order online through from the African Books CollectiveAmazonClarke's Bookshop or order from your local book store.


Order from the African Books Collective.