TAKING STOCK: Charity must only be private

One question which comes up when I attempt to convince someone about the need to downsize government is, ‘what about the poor?’ Am I being hard-hearted ignoring the starving millions, whose only sin is being born poor?

No, I unequivocally reject such criticism.

Remember that the government runs on taxes and there is nothing voluntary about taxes. Apart from the immorality of forcing you or I to part with our money against our will even if it is to help someone, is there any other consideration?

Yes. Redistribution of wealth does not work. There is just not enough of it to go around. It has not worked in any country be it the US, the former USSR, or India.

Irving Kristal in June 28, 1978 issue of Wall Street Journal said, “In such (developing) countries, alleviation of poverty is utterly dependent on economic growth. There is never enough money among the small number of wealthy citizens to make a significant dent in the poverty of the masses.” This remains as valid today as it was when first said by Kristal.

India, under Indira Gandhi, attempted to redistribute wealth by taxes which often exceeded 90 per cent of the income of the rich. Tax collections did not go up, businessmen just hid their incomes and secreted their wealth in Swiss bank accounts. When no country has ever succeeded in satisfactorily redistributing wealth, can Nepal do so? No, it should not even attempt it.

Before we have khasis in every pot, there have to be enough khasis to go around. What is said of khasis is true of electricity, housing, cars, telephones, TVs, refrigerators and capital. There is just not enough.

The way to salvation for Nepal lies not in shuffling income around – for every time this shuffle is effected a significant percentage is consumed by its bureaucracy – but in leaving people alone to earn and to keep their earnings.

Allow Nepalis to have economic freedom and private enterprise will produce enough wealth bringing prosperity to all. The only hope for today’s impoverished masses lies in an exuberant free-market economy.

Lest you think that I am against charities – no, I am not. Charity is part of the human nature, which has been suppressed by government interference in two ways. Firstly, when government takes over the obligation of helping the less fortunate, the individual neglects to do so, with a clear conscience.

Secondly, even if the individual wants to help, taxes deprive him of resources. He is needy himself. Taxed out of existence are many of Nepal’s entrepreneurs who might have emulated Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Private voluntary charities are far more efficient and beneficial than government ones. They are moral, for they have not used force to extract dues from an unwilling public. The interest of men who found and fund these is to ensure that the funds are wisely spent and the maximum number of people benefit.

When government gets involved in charity, the amount it takes from us is far in excess of what it gives back to us.

The rest goes to fund administration, bureaucrats’ fat perquisites, and to those who understand and beat the byzantine system, not to those who really need help.

Hindus believe in rebirth and karma. What we do in this life is supposed to affect our fortune in the next.

If we are charitable in this life, others will be the same to us in the next, so my grandmother believed. Beggars and the others on her dole could have managed without her help, but I have my doubts as to whether she – determined to achieve Nirvana – would have managed without them.

With a religion which strongly espouses giving above all, we should have no doubt that voluntary charities will be formed, and will take care of any person who might still be in need, after a free-market revolution. I am fully for such charities formed and run on a purely voluntary, non-coercive basis.

(The writer may be contacted at: everest@mos.com.np)