Thursday, September 09, 2010

Affirmative Action Around the World, by Thomas Sowell

And here was me thinking that South Africa was the only country in the world to have Affirmative Action for its majority population.

Professor Sowell's book is a must-read for anyone with strong views on BEE and affirmative action in South Africa. It cuts through the bullshit and presents an empirical study of attemps at AA around the world, from the USA to Sri Lanka to Malaysia, via India and Nigeria (yeh I didn't know they all had it, either) and gives clear reasons why such projects have not only failed miserably, but have incited hatred, violence and economic disaster.

Sowell, himself an African-American and conservative critic of the race-baiting politics that have infested and infected the West, presents startling evidence and clear and concise criticism of AA both as a concept and in practice, and I'll do my best to give a similarly concise summary here.

Did you know that Malaysia has racism built in to its Constitution? neither did I. Not only that, but Malaysia to all intents and purposes practices apartheid, but you don't see "Queers Against Malaysian Apartheid" marching at the Toronto Pride Parade. And on top of that, Malaysia legally favours its Malay population even though no prior discrimination against them has ever taken place nor even been suggested.

In fact, what makes the situation even more insane, is that the British colonial government actualy favoured the Malays too over the hardworking and more successful Indian and Chinese minorities. These minorities even flourished after independence, when the Malays themselves were in charge, so there was never any historical opportunity to discriminate against Malays. And yet, they have been outperformed in every area, from medicine to engineering, by the Chinese and Indian minorities.

This goes to illustrate, Sowell argues, that different ethnicities just perform differently everywhere there are multiethnic societies, and regrets that we have largely come to see these differences in terms of "discrimination" or some imagined past wrongs. Which is not to say those wrongs didn't exist, but that differences between ethnicities would occur even without them.

Professor Sowell notes several important tendencies in relation to Affirmative Action policies for certain groups in his study. One is the tendency for the numbers of perceived victims to expand far beyond the victims of any actual historical harm. So, a Mexican crossing the border into the United States is instantly a "Latino", benefitting from 'recompense' for decades of supposed racism by his group in America. Likewise, Barack Obama receives privilege for his African American status, even thought he is not "African American" in the traditional sense (he is half African and half American), and has never had a slave ancestor.

These examples are mine, but Sowell points out the huge rush to designate oneself a victim in response to special status for special groups, notably American Indians in the USA and so-called "backward classes" in India. No historic sufferings of blacks (in America), he argues, can justify preferential benefits to other non-white groups, or recent arrivals from the West Indies and Africa.

The second trend he observes is for such programmes to last far longer than their originally stated intent. India was meant to have AA for twenty years. That was in 1948 and it's still going strong. It's easy to see the reasons for this. AA programmes never achieve their aims, and so race-baiting politicians are eager to keep them going to win votes and give the appearance of "caring for the poor".

Another reason is because politicians, the architects of AA, claim credit for any successes on the part of the favoured group, perpetuating the myth that the group is entirely helpless without government support (a myth much loved by politicians the world over). As Sowell points out, African Americans largely lifted themselves out of poverty in the 1950s and 60s, but very few point this out. In fact, since AA began in the 1970s, African Americans have stagnated economically (p20).

The third trend he notes is how the benefits of AA accrue disproportionately to the tiniest, wealthiest sectors of the "victim" population, and may even pass by the truly suffering altogether. Not only that, but those who would achieve given a level playing field (i.e. the best and the brightest), but are prevented from doing so, get fed up and leave. A culture of mediocrity invariably ensues.

The fourth trend involves the increased resentment and breakdown of social cohesiveness that follows AA policies, even leading to riots in India and Malaysia. Breaking a country down into ethnic blocks is a trick Western liberals are familiar with, and makes the rabble easier to control. It also increased the power of the State, which can play mommy to an increasing brood of noisy children vying for attention and favours.


South Africa is notably absent from Sowell's study. Possibly because the book was written in 2003 and AA in South Africa had not been around long enough to study, or because it did not exist at all when he began research on the topic - he writes that 30 years of research has gone into his book.

This provides us with an opportunity to examine AA in South Africa in comparison to AA in the other countries in Sowell's study. Doing so at a glance, we can clearly see the similarities. Will we expect similar results?

According to Sowell, there is a strong tendency for both favoured and non-favoured groups to contribute less than their potential. AA, he observes, is not a zero-sum game. Favoured groups work less hard (as can be seen in Malaysia) because they don't need to, and non-favoured groups don't bother trying because they don't see the point. So everybody suffers.

[Why are women, asks Sowell, included in affirmative action programmes? Women, unlike ethnicities, cannot "historically" suffer because they are descended equally from men and women. Surely any historical disadvantage suffered by a female ancestor is balanced by the advantage enjoyed by the male?]

So can we observe these trends in South Africa, sixteen years into full democracy?

Rather than offer an answer to this question, I'll let the reader decide for himself/herself.

Any thoughts, people? I'll try and come up with a "Part 2" to this.

3 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for this. Yes, it is such
pity that South Africans, especially the n
favoured ones, are at large not at all a
of Sowell's books! We could all benefit
richly from it, and possibly find ways of
rebuking the mythology our government
politicians arw pushing so hard. They ar
certainly learning from the overseas Left
people. Why then can we not learn from
people like Sowell as well?


Makutu said...

is it not sad that good articles and blogs such as these have this little following? I have read this book and I must say, it speaks a heck of a of sense. It cuts right through the middle. In summary, Affirmative action does not work. Not in the long or short term.

Unknown said...

Mr.Sowell ... a breath of fresh air!