TAKING STOCK : End charity by government

Kathmandu :

At a recent speech, I asked the audience, “Do you believe that it is the government’s job to help the poor?” Almost all hands went up. The verdict, almost unanimous, was that the government must engage in poverty alleviation programmes. After all, what could be a more worthy cause? I am sure most people in most countries are of the same view.

Then, I asked the same audience, “Would it be alright for me to force you to empty out your wallets, hand me your money, and shoot you if you did not comply?” Not surprisingly, they laughed at the ridiculous question, but, on my insistence, stated that in no civilized society would theft, decoity, and threat to kill be considered ok. A crime would remain a crime even if I donated 100 per cent of the ill-gotten gains to charity. Robin Hood whenever and wherever living would always be a criminal.

My next question was, “How do you think the government gets its money?” After some thought everyone realised that the government exacts its dues in much the same manner as a highwayman. There would hardly be any compliance with a country’s tax laws were it not for the government’s power to kill or jail.

If you do not believe me, see what happens to you if you decline to pay customs duty at the airport and resist when the officers forcibly take your possessions. In a well-documented case in the US, when a lady refused to pay her Income Tax, armed officials came to confiscate her house. When she took out her gun in order to protect herself and her property, she was shot to death by federal agents.

Of course, this force is mostly invisible and generally functions in an unobtrusive manner, but, make no mistake about it, it is there and it is real. Government is force. Government is power. Government is threat. So, however much the intentions of the government be to do good with the money it collects, that money is and will forever remain tainted as it was not a voluntary contribution.

Contrast this with private charity where the donor has made a voluntary choice. Charity, without the threat of force, is righteous. A few years ago, in response to an appeal in Kantipur, a vernacular daily, the Union of Casino Royale at the Yak and Yeti Hotel collected Rs 54,804 from its staff and contributed it towards life saving surgery for an infant. The amount collected and the amount spent was the same. There were no administrative charges, collection fees, distribution expenses… .

Contrast this with government charity. Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former PM, once estimated that less than 15 per cent benefited the poor. The rest was lost in the great government money shuffle game. When the staff of Casino Royale was asked what they would do if out of the money collected by the Union, only Rs 8,221 was given to the infants parents while the balance 85 per cent was appropriated by the Union officials as their expenses, the answer was, “They would kick the Union office bearers senseless”. And yet governments worldwide waste incredible amounts, year after year, with impunity — the money they collect is vastly more than what finally reaches the intended beneficiary.

If the government continues to suck out such a high amount of wealth from the society while returning so little to it, there will be no progress. Money given to government does little to benefit the poor, and, exacts a terrible cost on all of us including the poor who too pay taxes while buying their daily necessities.

Apart from corruption, the government is hugely inefficient. Politicians and bureaucrats are a cost, a drag on the economy. The-ir activities produce nothing. In fact, those who ser-ve us by providing us with goods and services are actively hindered by government agents. Government obstructs by rules, regulations, red tape and taxes: all designed to enhance the power of its own officialdom over the citizenry.

Let the government do only what it is supposed to do: protect us from criminals, secure our property rights, and administer the legal justice system. The rest can and will easily be taken care of by us.

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