TAKING STOCK: Other’s money: Easy to give away


Abraham Lincoln at his Gettysburg address spoke of the, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” He summed up, in three phrases, the essence of government.

Government is an agent of the people, we delegate to it tasks which we cannot individually do ourselves: an example is national defence. We also delegate to it the task of protecting us from local criminals. In other words, for our self-defence, we authorise the government to run our military and the police force. Nothing wrong with that. However, it is an entirely different matter when the government arrogates to itself the right to give away our money in charity to those whom it considers needy.

You and I have the right to give away our money. You could donate your money at Pashupatinath, or, as easily hand it out to your friend in need. However, do you have the right to so proffer my money? No. And yet this is exactly what the government does. It taxes Binod to give to Bijay.

If I cannot persuade you to part with your rupees for a worthwhile cause, it cannot be right for me to compel you to do so through the government which is my agent. An agent cannot have more powers than the principal. We cannot delegate a right to our government which we do not ourselves possess.

There has been no one more eloquent than Colonel David Crockett in refuting the government’s right to give our money as charity. Crockett spoke to the US House of Representatives over a 100 years ago in response to a number of distinguished speakers making beautiful speeches in support of making a charitable contribution for the benefit of a widow of a US distinguished naval officer.

Crockett said:

“Mr Speaker — I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living.

I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it.

We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity.

Mr Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

Crockett took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was placed before the Congress. Instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would have but for that speech, it received but few votes, and of course, was lost.

Despite Crockett’s goading the ones most vocally advocating government’s grant to the widow refused to donate any of their own earnings.

Remember politicians incessantly squander our money; if it is not theirs then garbage it is. But as we all know these very same men go to great lengths and think nothing of sacrificing their honour, integrity, and their country’s interests, to get their hands on it.

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