Friday, March 24, 2006

The plague of diminished expectations

Over at Commentary, there is a post about Eskom's affirmative action policies. While I don't know whether the complaint has any merit, it did get me thinking about affirmative action in general.

I recently met a financial advisor, who happened to be black. He was a fairly pleasant person, but he didn't give me good advice. In fact, he didn't give me any advice at all. I still seriously considered giving him my business, because I felt sorry for him, because he was black and previously disadvantaged.

I am sure that there are black financial advisors who are highly competent, and white financial advisors who are totally incompetent. But if a white advisor had given the same level of service as the person who I met, I would not have even dreamed of entrusting him with my money.

Fortunately, I met another advisor who gave much better advice, and I appointed him instead.

I had lower expectations of blacks than of whites, and so I was willing to excuse poor service merely because the person was black. This kind of attitude, perpetuated by affirmative action, cannot be good for South Africa as a whole, nor is it useful for those who truly want to compete on an equal footing.

Which brings us back to Eskom, and affirmative action in technical fields: the laws of physics and engineering are hard and unforgiving and offer no quarter to the forces of political correctness.

In "softer" fields, incompetence can be overlooked in the name of political correctness, but if a road falls apart due to poor maintenance, or a generator breaks down due to negligence it's pretty hard to make excuses, since the mess is visible for all to see.

The hard failures we are seeing in the engineering sector may not actually be related to affirmative action, but they are visible (and very difficult to cover up), and they do highlight the need for hiring only the best, and most competent people, regardless of race.