Prof. John Stackhouse sitting atop his endowed perch as Regent College’s Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology, wrote:
You certainly make it clear when dialogue is a waste of time. Your rage and bitterness simply render conversation impossible. I’m frankly glad you’re not in the academy where you can influence people. I hope you’re good at making people money as the “righteous investor” you advertise yourself to be, but I think we’re done listening to you on this subject.
Well, now that I know that I am not welcome in North America to teach, once again, I asked Dr. Daniel Kambou if he would have me at the francophone graduate school that he is planning to found in Burkina Faso. He accepted my services without first asking me to get professional counseling for my rage and bitterness. Since Kambou lives next door, I think he knows me better than Stackhouse.
In any case, Stackhouse’s pronouncement will not result in a global ban of my teaching services. I often think about how academics and economics can be harmed by reverting to rewards systems other than meritocracy. I’ve expounded seriously upon the failure of affirmative action but here are some other reward systems that are available both here and in other countries:
(1) Nepotism: Students told me in Africa that they could take an aptitude test for a foreign scholarship and do well, but the president will send his nephew in the place of the high performing student. It should be noted that nepotism in a privately held business is usually not unethical–but it can still frustrate other employees. But in public companies, churches, universities, and public service, nepotism is extremely dubious and usually unethical.
(2) Sleeping one’s way to the top: When, e.g., a woman sleeps her way to better grades. One manifestation of this is the exploitation by male professors of women, but it can sometimes be ruthless women who use their sexuality for advancement.
(3) Old boys’ club: To get into Harvard, e.g., it is helpful to be a child of a graduate of Harvard university. Or in business, if you have the right connections, you can get the jobs.
(4) Affirmative action: This seeks to redress perceived historical injustices by preferring certain aggrieved groups in the decision making. The problem is that it most often leads to a quota system and to a watering down of quality.
(5) Tribalism: All the best jobs go to a single tribe or coalition of tribes; this usually leads to jealousy and resentment and sometimes to war and genocide.
(6) Plagiarism: If not punished when caught, plagiarism allows unqualified students and professionals (e.g., journalists) to move up the ranks.
(7) Quotas: This leads to the limiting of the number of qualified people of an identifiable group from attaining admission in schools or from being hired for jobs. It was widely used in the 20th century to limit the number of Jewish people accepted into certain universities and is likely being used today to limit the enrollment of Asians. The idea is that if a group is only 5% or so of the population, it is necessary to limit their numbers to something proportionate to their percentage in the general population. Affirmative action often becomes a quota system in practice.
(8) Blacklists: An individual may be temporarily or permanently banned because of bad behavior, but not always: it could be because of a personal vendetta or an attempt at censorship. Blacklisting may be accomplished by attacking the character of the person, such as by saying without justification that they are angry and therefore not suitable for a job. Blacklists are usually not published, and the blacklisting of a person could in some circumstances be illegal in Canada under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The fear of being blacklisted discourages whistle-blowers.
(9) Corruption and bribery: The wealthy and powerful have the means of buying themselves and their friends jobs and offices and this will not depend on their actual ability to perform the function. This may take the form of a quid pro quo. For example, if you help the Chinese government by divulging state secrets while you are president, they will pay you a million dollars to give a speech or two once you are out of office.
All such systems clash with a principled meritocracy that rewards talent, ability, hard work and results.
To ameliorate past injustices, such as apartheid or segregation, or a lack of qualified leaders in a diverse group, it may be necessary to promote education among certain groups more than others. So, for example, we started a scholarship program for evangelical francophone Africans to help promote theological seminaries in that region. But then this isn’t necessarily inconsistent with meritocracy. I have no problem saying that Dr Daniel Kambou is more qualified to teach in Burkina Faso than say, Prof. John Stackhouse–he was actually more qualified from day one with only a Master’s degree–this is by virtue of his ability in French and his intimate knowledge of African culture, he is much more qualified to teach in that region than the most prestigious of North American born and trained scholars.
But one of the major failures of affirmative action is that it has largely passed privilege from white men to white women. That does very little to correct past injustices. So imagine that you decided that you would correct the injustice of apartheid. You would just simply give white women the jobs that are held by white men? How does that help? Didn’t the white women also benefit from apartheid, or was it only white men? As an Asian man, I am unimpressed with affirmative action’s correction of past wrongs because it is still mostly white folks that have jobs, it’s just that more of them are women today. And this gets to the heart of the unfairness. If you are going to try to correct past wrongs using the above systems, you will likely create new wrongs. Meritocracy is therefore superior to all the other reward systems listed above.