TAKING STOCK : Stick to ten commandments

The world has come a long way from the time Moses gave us the 10 commandments. Today, we have laws, rules, and regulations covering every aspect of our lives. Governments intrude massively, whether it is economic or social activity that we talk about.

Every businessman goes to bed knowing that he has probably broken some law that day. Knowing what law he might have infringed is another matter altogether. No one, not even the most qualified of lawyers, can keep up with the plethora of ever changing legislation that we are confronted with.

If the laws were merely made to punish us for murder, theft, cheating, kidnapping, rape and the like, we would have no problem with understanding them. However, governments have gone far beyond that.

Now, we have laws that prohibit us to trade without government approvals, especially, if it pertains to buying and selling from abroad. Laws similarly make us criminals for dealing in foreign exchange other than by following strict government mandated procedures.

Laws ensure that we pay taxes of all kinds on all goods and services to support a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy and political system. The laws against virtuous economic activity far exceed laws against what ordinary citizens regard as real crimes.

The result of this geometric multiplication of laws, rules and regulations is that the number of actions which are crimes have increased to beyond our capacity to comprehend. The sheer volume of laws makes it impossible for legal authorities to enforce all laws equally and fairly. The result is selective application: the police, politicians, and bureaucrats decide whom to prosecute and whom to let off.

If a business house doesn’t support the party in power, it will face the full might of the government including the tax authorities. If however, the right ‘contributions’ are made

to the powers that be, all will be well. This is not only true of Nepal, it happens in almost all countries.

Tax laws have been routinely used to move selectively against those considered as ‘enemies’ of the powers that be. In Russia, its President Vladimir Putin has shown little hesitation in moving against business houses which protested against his rule.

The jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest business tycoon, and, the subsequent bankruptcy of his company ‘Yukos’ as a result of billions of dollars in tax claims by

government is just the most egregious example.

Milton Friedman, US economist, noble laureate, and advisor to President Reagan, had this to say in ‘Free to Choose’:

“When the law contradicts what most people regard as moral and proper, they will break the law - whether the law is enacted in the name of a noble ideal … or in the naked interest of one group at the expense of another. Only fear of punishment, not a sense of justice and morality, will lead people to obey the law.”

“When people start to break one set of laws, the lack of respect for the law inevitably spreads to all laws, even those that everyone regards as moral and proper - laws against violence, theft, and vandalism.”

In order to go after real criminals and improve the law and order situation in the country, Nepal needs to get rid of all laws which tie up its budget and enforcement machinery in pursuit of those who are striving to serve our needs. Get rid of all laws which make ordinary economic activity subject to penalties of any sort. Let buying and selling of goods and foreign exchange be freed from controls.

Furthermore, let the police be freed from the need to go after those who engage in voluntary activity of any sort: be it prostitution, gambling, operation of dance restaurants, or

the like. These are all examples of victim-less crimes. These activities became crimes because of a fiction of law not because any of the parties to the transaction are being harmed.

Such legalization will free the manpower and resources of the law enforcement agencies. Then, perhaps, they can go after real criminals engaged in real crimes where there are

real victims.

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