On Handicapping the Economy

Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world – making the most of one’s best. Harry Emerson Fosdick US...

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Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world – making the most of one’s best.

Harry Emerson Fosdick
US clergyman (1878 – 1969)

Handicapping, as applied in sport, is a system that attempts to give all participants a better chance to win.

The proficient individual player is disadvantaged in favour of the less proficient individual player. Such handicapping is applied to known and measurable individual characteristics, relevant to the sporting code. An example is to be found in horse racing. Horses that have been consistent winners are handicapped, by carrying extra weight, in order that punters and owners have a better chance of winning. Grey horses or black horses are not handicapped; the handicapping is based on the individual horse, carefully calculated on set and known criteria. Many sports codes use variations of handicapping.

The real joy of sport is, that despite this process there will, nevertheless, be winners and losers. For participants, spectators and the punters, victory and defeat are essential ingredients of the game’s drama.

But the economy is not a sport: It is the real world, a world in which individual ambition, proficiency and entrepreneurship are rewarded and inefficiency is punished. Competitiveness is the rule, within the rule of law. The law is applied equally to all participants.

Black Economic Empowerment is a form of handicapping that ignores individual characteristics of prowess, whether actual or potential. It assigns to all whites handicaps where no blanket handicaps are logical or moral, and it assigns advantage to all blacks where no blanket advantage is logical or moral.

The black consciousness dogma that espouses being first black, secondly a professional is a form of negative self-handicapping. It is used to excuse failure as an individually-produced outcome by generalising it to a shared (past) condition: Apartheid. It also qualifies success by adding the rider ‘in spite of’ to any single individual’s merit or achievement. It becomes a self-feeding cycle of blame and entitlement. Being a ‘black professional’ is very different to being a ‘professional black’. The former connotes merit; the latter a deep sense of personal inadequacy. Remove the word “black” and there is no difference; you have only ‘professional’. Race is only important if it is made so.

BEE ingrains such self-handicapping. Individual merit, today, is traded off for (and in favour of) a past shared condition. It drags an unmeritorious history into the present so that the future is determined by an afflicted history. Rather than ‘enabling’, it entrenches social and economic ‘disability’. The handicapped thus becomes the handicapper; the abused becomes the abuser.

National sporting teams are a metaphor for a country’s success and when they win their games we are all gladdened. In spite of pressure from some quarters, we have for the most part resisted the handicapping of our sporting teams through racial quotas. The sheer joy of seeing players of any race embracing each other’s success on the playing field or the cheers from increasingly multi-racial supporters on the stands, should provide us with a living example of what could be, if our economy was a like a winning team, a team without handicaps.

That would be an economy that ‘makes the most of our best’.

Author: Tim Bester studied economics, political science and public administration at Wits where he also served two terms on the SRC. Tim is now retired after a successful career in advertising and marketing research.

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  1. T'challa Reply

    I think I’ve seen about 1000 versions of this article before. The most quoted being: “South Africa is the only country in the world where affirmative action is in the favour of the majority who has complete political control. The fact that the political majority requires affirmative action to protect them against a 9% minority group is testament to a complete failure on their part to build their own wealth making structures, such that their only solution is to take it from others”

    Yes yes we get it. We should all just forget about the past leave race out of it and judge based on merit alone.

    This is like the mantra of the South African Alt-Right.

    Yeah, we get it. We just disagree. And at this point I doubt anyone’s gna convince any1 else to change sides on this issue.

    We’re just starting from two diametrically opposed vantage points.

    People seem blind and silent when it comes to all the privileges they have while being ever vigilant and loud when it comes to any disadvantages they face ( real or perceived)

    This article is just another echo in the ever expanding echo chamber. No attempts to interrogate your own position or see things from other people’s points of view were made here and frankly this isn’t going to change anything.

    And lastly, when you said: “Being a ‘black professional’ is very different to being a ‘professional black’. The former connotes merit; the latter a deep sense of personal inadequacy.”

    I think this point (which I disagree with) reveals a lot more about the author of this piece and less about professional blacks and black professionals.

    1. Thomas Edison Reply

      Your arrogance is astounding. Why should a poor white person pay for the privilege of a rich black man. You are either an outright liar or an astounding idiot if you believe that a poor white man is privileged and a rich black man is under-privileged.

      1. T'challa Reply

        No1 said a poor white person is more privileged than a rich black one.

        I said PEOPLE seem blind and silent when it comes to all the privileges they have while being ever vigilant and loud when it comes to any disadvantages they face ( real or perceived)

        I personally believe that humans of all races fall within the category of “People” and I’ll do you the courtesy of assuming u do 2.

        For the sake of clarity: I was speaking to the fact that the author of the article can clearly see how BEE and the like disadvantages white people but from the article I can’t say I’m sure he acknowledges the privileges he might have.

        1. Thomas Edison Reply

          And what about the privileges you might have, like getting admission to med-school with marks 25% lower than a white person if you are the right shade of black and that despite the fact the you come from a rich family and the white person from a poor family.

          The fact is than any legislation to disadvantage people of the wrong shade is plain wrong. It was wrong under NAT apartheid and it is wrong under ANC aparthate. If you cannot understand that you are truly a fool, and further argument is useless.

          1. T'challa

            Oh I understand it perfectly. Which kinda proves my point. We can all see the advantages of others and our own disadvantages.

            It’s the introspection part that’s missing.

          2. Thomas Edison

            You need a little introspection too. You may not be half as clever as you think. All you present is a non argument – Please tell me in plain language why discrimination on the basis of the colour of your skin is OK under a Black ANC government, and it is wrong under a white NAT government.

          3. T'challa

            Firstly, I agree, I’m not excluding myself from what I’m saying.

            And secondly you’re right again. I’m not trying to simply argue. we’ve all heard these arguments 100 times from both sides. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any1 change their point of view on any of these issues by being insulted in a comments section.

            And lastly, I don’t believe for 1 second that u don’t understand the arguments in support of BEE and other restitution policies. Because I definitely understand the arguments against it. I just think the pro’s out way the cons. And I’m sure you disagree with that, which is fine.

            What worries me is if every1 just refuses to acknowledge their privileges and other peoples disadvantages we’re just gna keep talking past each other and polarizing everything further, which is gna result in a Trump situation.

            And what that looks like in a South African context is a Malema presidency.

          4. Thomas Edison

            BEE is as bad as apartheid at it’s worst. There is no positive argument for BEE.

            How difficult can it be to unite us when we all agree that poor people should be uplifted ? That those who have privilege of a higher income should make a contribution to the upliftment of the poor through their taxes? That those taxes should be utilised efficiently for the stated purpose?That people should be selected on merit ? That is the only definition of social justice. There can never be social justice in a race based system.

            This solution, which is not based on the colour of you skin, is the only solution that will be long lasting. Any solution that is based on the colour of your skin can only lead to division and ultimately to war.

          5. T'challa

            i think it’s interesting how different our point of views still are on alota this stuff

            Because you seem to believe that BEE is just as bad as Apartheid, which I’m guessing means you feel like you’re living in an Apatheid state right now.

            But if you were to drive across town to a black area and ask the average black man if white people are living under an Apartheid form of oppression, they would literally laugh in your face because from their point of view white people are still living large as if nothing changed in 94.

            I completely agree about the poor and taxes etc.

            The merit question is a little different because I think every1 thinks we should pick based on merit, the real question is whether we should pick based on merit Alone?

            Because even the BEE policy says the employee should be sutably qualified. So merit is certainly a factor it’s just not the only factor.

            Even companies who don’t use race based policies don’t chose employees based on merit ALONE. They shortlist based on merit (i.e. Qualifications and experience) then they have an interview because there are alota factors that have nothing to do with your qualifications or experience that come into the decision such as; do you fit into the organizational culture?, are you well spoken?, do they like you?, and other X factors that each company may value in an employee.

            Now if we’re looking to keep the masses relatively content in post-Apatheid South Africa, one of those factors will need to be reversing the wrongs of the past by helping the previously disadvantaged.

            Now if you really believe you can convince the majority to accept a merit only system without any racial policies; well good luck man, you’re really going to need it, because nothing’s gna change unless the majority changes their minds on this issue.

            Lastly… War? Really? maybe I’m just too much of an optimist, but I can’t see that happening. And certainly not as a response to BEE.

            I barely see white people marching In the streets over this issue, so it would be quite a quick escalation to go from tweeting about an issue to killing over it.

          6. Thomas Edison

            Most white people will just move on because they realise that war does not solve anything, just like race based policies does not solve anything, They pick up their things and go. I know an eye specialist that is the best in the world in one sub-field of his speciality – he just took up Canadian Citizenship and is lost to SA forever. And so the story goes.

            Then there are others who have no special skills and nothing to lose. They will fight for what they believe they should have. Do not underestimate them – in 1899 to 1902 they fought the British empire and although the lost the war, they played a big part in destroying the might of the British Empire.

            The day is around the corner were young white people will start asking why they can be treated like dirt for things they had no part in. They will not listen to your sophistry. They will fight for the right to be treated equally before the law. (the only form of equality that can ever be achieved.) BEE creates an new privileged class that are more equal. Do you really believe it is sustainable?

          7. T'challa

            Yup, brain drain has certainly been a consequence of the direction the country is going. I guess it is easier to rather leave for better opportunities then trying to change or fix things.

            i certainly think that if the government started forcefully taking people’s land then some people with nothing to lose would fight back.

            But if the government just carried on doing what they’re currently doing in terms of BEE, then I don’t really see white people rising up and trying to over throw the state or anything.

            1899 was a very long time ago.

            The main problem with the white people, with nothing to lose, is that they’re in the minority of white people. I can’t see the average white people that actually have decent jobs and nice houses in the suburbs (inspite of BEE) throwing that all away so they can take up arms and sacrifice their lives over BEE.

            I personally don’t think BEE is sustainable though. At this point over 20 years after democracy we have to evaluate the effectiveness of BEE; either the policy has worked or it hasn’t.

            If the policy worked, then we can get rid of it since the problem is solved.

            I personally think it didn’t work to the extent we wanted it to. So either way it should be removed. But if the problem it was put in
            place to fix still persists then it should be replaced by something better.

            I just don’t like the idea of getting rid of it and not replacing it with anything, because in a sense that is an endorsement of the status quo.

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