Affirmative Action, Death and Ruin - A Toxic Cocktail of Cause and Effect

2014-06-20 06:40

The controversy around the S.A. Institute of Race Relations’ (SAIRR) associating Affirmative Action with children’s hospital deaths is an interesting one. More comprehensively, it also links AA to general government incompetence - a no-brainer to most with the gift of reason but cause for indignation in some quarters.

The debate is characterized on the one hand by adherence to the standard South African “PC” taboos and mealie mouthed indignation on the part of government, its supporters and aspirant beneficiaries of AA, pitted against supporters of individual merit and non-racialism. It brings us up close and personal to the gut realities of many avoidable South African failures.

Recalling the words of Ayn Rand, the Russian-American philosopher of the late 20th century the issue encapsulates how an assault on free individual choice and personal merit can have sad outcomes. They are the result of confiscating from a productive minority (whether that entails the confiscation of wealth, money, equity, opportunities or jobs in the name of “restitution” or “transformation”) in favour of a largely inept or incompetent employee corps appointed on race.

Rand contended that political coercion of such a nature invariably results in a cost to society. She wrote:

“when you see -

• that trading is done not by consent, but by compulsion;

• that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing;

• that money flows to those who deal not in goods, but favours;

• that men get richer by graft and pull than by work - and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you;

• that corruption gets rewarded and honesty becomes self sacrifice –

you may know that your society is doomed.”

Affirmative action has a long history dating back to Kennedy’s attempts to eliminate discrimination and is not always necessarily bad. He said “it is the plain and positive obligation of the United States Government to promote and ensure equal opportunity for all qualified persons, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin”. His new policy of “Affirmative Action” penalized discrimination on the basis of race or colour. Kennedy left much to common sense and the marketplace.

It was Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon who subsequently amended the original affirmative action concept by instituting market distortions, arguing that there was ground to be made up for past discrimination. And those feeling entitled to more climbed on the bandwagon.

So sadly, today’s affirmative action reality is a coercive and politically charged tool used by ambitious populists and dishonest or cognitively limited politicians. It has resulted in some nations paying a heavy price – as spelled out in American (Black) academic Thomas Sowell’s book “Affirmative Action Around the World – An Empirical Study” (2004). Taking from many case studies he relates how AA has not only failed to uplift the poorest but has caused social problems – some of disastrous proportions.

Ironically, and to illustrate AA’s unanticipated outcomes, South African affirmative action has proved particularly effective at empowering whites. As Frans Cronje, the SAIRR’s CEO points out, it has encouraged white entrepreneurship, since whites, and especially males, had fewer corporate and state job options available to them despite their qualifications. So with nowhere to turn other than to emigrate, a class of largely – but not exclusively – white, entrepreneurs has emerged.

To make things worse for a government desperate to show economic progress and growing employment, this group does not generate jobs in any great measure. Small, low overhead family businesses are common, as are IT and internet startups, service providers and skilled artisanal ventures with strong disincentive to hire people en masse or even formally. There is after all no incentive to grow to a point of having to face organized labour or comply with business unfriendly legislation and red tape.

Indeed, many long established businesses now lack an appetite for growth and prefer to downscale.

And so, yes – in much the same way as the SAIRR can make a valid link between dead babies in state hospitals and affirmative action, so too can our obscene unemployment levels, bad education and desperate economic prospects be linked to affirmative action; as well as to its ideological cousins - “BEE”; laws penalising initiative and sound business practices; a ruling party that protects the incompetent and inept from censure; excessive trade union power; and an all pervasive inability to connect the dots.

But hey - now that some babies have tragically died, maybe someone will wake up and smell the coffee?

And – far-fetched as it might seem - might some in government not start asking tough questions like why smart people, regardless of their complexion and race are not being hired for the really important jobs they are qualified for - like saving babies’ lives?


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2010-11-21 18:15

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