Competence Crisis

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Does it seem to you that things that should be working well are not. Not everything. And not all the time. Just certain things don’t work the way we used to expect in America. Electrical grids. Supply chains. Our medical system. Airlines and airports. The service in some retail stores.

Am I crazy for thinking this? Not according to institutional investor and writer Harold Robertson, who says, “America’s complex systems are slowly collapsing.”  But why? He explains in an extensive article for Palladium Magazine entitled “Complex Systems Won’t Survive the Competence Crisis.”

“The core issue,” he writes, “is that changing political mores have established the systemic promotion of the unqualified and sidelining of the competent.” By the early 20th century, it had become the norm to emphasize the evaluation and selection of people based on ability and merit rather than on wealth, class, or political connections. We saw the rise of the SAT and other aptitude tests which “revolutionized college admissions” by allowing universities to find the best and brightest.

“By the 1960’s,” he continues, “the systematic selection for competence came into direct conflict with the political imperatives of the civil rights movement.”  Diversity for protected groups became a key priority. In fact, diversity began to trump meritocracy when the two came into conflict. Mr. Robertson says an erosion in “institutional competency” ensued.  He points to “several high-profile enforcement actions against employers” that resulted in their abandoning certain tests and methods of screening potential hires for ability.

Employers turned to degrees from top universities to help them in choosing who to hire. But diversity requirements soon ushered in differing entrance standards for different groups and, increasingly, a lower reliance on standardized tests. Even standards for selecting doctors “have been weakened to promote diversity.”

Diversity requirements are causing America’s interdependent systems, which have brought us history’s highest standard of living, to deteriorate.  We must protect what Harold Robertson describes as the “competency that made those systems possible.” penna's vp small

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