Unequal People and the Religion of Equality

2014-01-08 15:23

"Equality" between peoples is widely accepted as being fair and just - and "inequality" as being bad.

It is quintessential of our age that anything that questions the value of equality-at-all-costs or that might condone an "unequal" status quo is presumed to be contrary to just norms, probably in conflict with the popular term "social justice" and almost certainly in need of redress.

One result is that politicians in quest of power and influence argue for inequality to be tackled through artificial means like ensuring equal outcomes in return for unequal (or no) effort; ensuring access to resources irrespective of the recipients' capacity for their useful application; and the redistribution of income and assets irrespective of their sustainable utilisation.  Achieving equal outcomes by fiat or political coercion is considered legitimate because the status quo is assumed to be the result of injustice rather than asymmetries in ability and culture.

Sadly, those promoting such initiatives ignore the simple reality that relative talents, cultural and cognitive predispositions that people have generally got them to where they are in the first place.

They also surmise  by default that injustices have been visited upon some by others and argue that previous injustices should be remedied through coercive means. This makes for great electioneering and wins votes in a political context but carries long term costs that remain concealed from the ignorant and ill informed.

A closer examination of inequality's true causes reveals a very different reality to what many accept without query, and South Africa provides a valuable case study of both this phenomenon at work and the futility of political remedies to address it.

Firstly, the nation's political and economically engineered landscape is in large measure predicated on addressing the negative effects of apartheid and compensating for systemic injustices - but in practice amplifies them.

Inordinate time and effort is spent controlling, policing and regulating activities which - left unattended - would have sorted themselves out and circumvented countless socio-economic ills. Such examples include the plethora of labour and trade union sponsored legal impediments to hiring people who would like to work for a living subject to their own conditions. Not only does the state have to support the involuntarily unemployed to whom there is scant incentive to offer jobs,  but the nation  is rapidly becoming globally non-competitive.

Another is the preoccupation with racial preferencing - where merit selections would bring down costs, improve efficiencies and enable more jobs to be created as a result of competition and economic growth. Poor state education is another area in which political gerrymandering puts interest groups ahead of the youth and adds to the nation's opportunity costs.

Secondly - something that most politicians try desperately to deny: the origins of South Africa's racial inequality have nothing to do with apartheid. Inequality was the status quo ante that the apartheid system codified, institutionalised and used to entrench existing inequalities  to protect vulnerable whites.

It was not it's cause.

Thirdly inequality is defined in our society as a proximate notion rather than one with ultimate causation.

The nation's high Gini coefficient  is parroted ad nauseum as being a problem because it reflects the gulf between high and low income earners. The implication is that some are overpaid, whilst others under remunerated - providing grist to the organised labour mill and supporting trade union demands.

But  neither position is true. Many top earners leave the country to earn more elsewhere and our lowest earners earn too much for South Africa to be globally competitive. All too many manufacturers have ceased to expand operations and our mines close down shafts rather than sink new ones - almost as a matter of routine. This is because earnings are disproportionate to productivity and no half smart business man wants to hire people.

Quo vadis?

Clearly, if the issues mentioned above were addressed, progress might be made. But for that to happen, it will be necessary to abandon the pursuit of meaningless equal outcomes; it will be necessary to cease pointing fingers at apartheid as if it was still around; and  it will be necessary to unlock the door to true equality and permit people to achieve their true worth, personal potential and maximum productive capacity.

For this to be possible will require world class state education rather than window dressed matric results designed to score pre-election points such as is again happening on the heels of years of a devaluing national matric qualification.

The removal of trade union influence from what is an essential service and future national asset would be a good start.

The problem is, quite simply, that inequality between people will remain in place until those who manage the fate of others for their own gain understand that inequality is here to stay without an ethos of integrity and hard work in education and government.

With the ANC likely to win again at the polls in 2014, that means that notion of equality will remain as it is now - no more than a religion to bamboozle unequal people.

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