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I’ve always been opposed to anything resembling positive
discrimination. Positive or negative, it remains discrimination on
inappropriate criteria and should hence be opposed on moral grounds
and on legal ones (it breaks equality before the law). What’s more, it
is totally ineffective and has negative side-effects. The biggest of
these is that positive discrimination undermines the credibility of
the ones favored by it. Typically, if the law establishes a quota of
20% of black students in university, people will logically come to
believe that blacks with a university diploma owe it only to the law
and hence don’t deserve it. This might be true of some: these are the
ones “advantaged” by the law, but the advantage is neutralized by the
prejudice I just described. So on their side of things, nothing has
changed: they have a university diploma, but nobody takes it
seriously, which is the same as having none at all. But the other
ones, those who got through university out of sheer hard work and
talent, those who didn’t need the law in the first place, will suffer
from the prejudice that they succeeded only thanks to the law. Their
situation is hence worse off than before the law.

The second, more obvious, side-effect is that, if the resource given
out (here, university diplomas/grants) is rare, the people evicted to
the “advantage” of the “favored” minority are purely and simply
discriminated against. They have been barred from university only to
favor other people. Excuse-me?

People and European politicians don’t seem to grasp that yet, since we
periodically hear of using positive discrimination in European
society, even though the US have been testing it for 30 years,
noticing it doesn’t work because of the negative side-effects I have
described, and moving away from it.

But it does seem that the reasoning is starting to catch on a bit in
the field of another useless positive discrimination: the one that
forces political parties to present only electoral lists with 50% of
women on it. While for years everyone was ecstatic about this stupid
idea, this article at last starts to state the obvious: this only has
negative effects.

First and foremost, many parties have a tough time fulfilling the
obligation. This entails that they ask each and every woman possible
to be on their lists. The direct consequence of this is that a serious
proportion of these women don’t really care about politics or about
being a politician. Hence they don’t help the campaign. More
importantly, despite what they want, these women might be elected,
even though they don’t care or aren’t competent at all. This is bad
news for the quality of the (in this case local) government. Many of
these uninterested women give up their political mandate as soon as
they can, which is unsurprising.

So what we have right now is many women who are not interested or do
not really think themselves competent on electoral lists. On the other
hand, many men have been asked not to be present on the electoral
lists even though they were deeply motivated and/or competent, because
room had to be made for the uninterested women. So at the end of the
day, the men on the lists are only the most motivated/competent of

If you are a rational person, you can only conclude one thing from all
this: if in doubt, always vote for a man. He is most certainly
motivated if he managed to be on the list, whereas the women most
likely weren’t. Hence, it is highly probable he’ll be a better
politician than the women. In the end, if voters are rational, these
legal rules should prompt them not to vote for women.

The most amusing of all this is that these rules were totally uncalled
for. There have been, in belgian and international politics,
high-profile women for quite a long time, which is proof enough that
there are no significant barriers for them to be successful in
politics. In Belgium, just think of Laurette Onkelinx, Annemie Neyts,
Isabelle Durant, Joelle Milquet, Evelyne Huytebroeck, etc. It is more
likely that the explanation for the weak numbers of women in politics
is something we all notice everyday (and which is proven by the
electoral list fiasco): women are in general less interested in
politics than men. So what?

P.S: I have, for the sake of argument, considered it possible that
politicians be competent and that government be “good”. I doubt both
these assertions. Nevertheless, those who believe in these stupid
rules believe politicians can be competent and that government is a
positive thing and it was thus usefull to work inside of their frame
of reference. For the record, I consider politicians useless and
basically parasites. But I am still enraged by bad rules in how to
pick them, because they can only make things even worse. The fact that
things are bad (we have an extensive government) shouldn’t be an
excuse to let them get even worse (the people who get to govern us are
the worst of the possible options).


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] A prime example of this concern was the nomination of the President of the European Council and of the High Representative for foreign affairs. During the build-up to the actual nominations, it was frequently stated that a major goal during the nominations was to ensure correct gender representation. And this, in turn, greatly impacted the choice of the person for the latter role. The consequence of this is that the nominated person might be representative of her constituency, but is just not fit for job – she doesn’t have the credentials to do it right. Aiming for “representativeness of representatives” can only lead to mediocre representatives. […]

  2. […] and gender balance issues that have filled the (must-read) blogs of my friends Chaos Theory and Yozzman. That post will be written at some point but not […]

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