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 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.