Atanu Dey is an economist. He blogs on India's Development at deeshaa.org.
Imagine Ramesh and Suresh at a store that sells TVs. Ramesh pays for a TV and then someone — a strong man who is a friend of Suresh — snatches the TV that Ramesh paid for and gives it to Suresh. The story is one of daylight robbery. No one with any moral or ethical sense would defend such a deal.
Yet, this scenario has become almost too common to elicit any comment at all. Change a few particulars in the story above and it becomes instantly recognisable. Replace Ramesh with hardworking taxpayers, Suresh with people who don’t produce much of anything, and the Government as the strong man who gives stuff to Suresh, and it is no longer fiction.
When politicians promise freebies to people in exchange for their votes, what is being promised is that the Government will use its power to coerce through threat of violence to take away the property of some people and transfer it to some others.
If I refuse to pay for another person’s TV, or subsidise someone’s pilgrimage, or pay for the education of some other person’s children willingly, the Government can force me to do so by threatening to throw me in jail. This is legitimate in the sense that it is allowed by law but it is still immoral and unethical.
The Government does not produce anything. At best the Government has a role in providing public goods and services such as internal and external security, law and order, maintaining public infrastructure, etc. But it has absolutely no business to get into the business of robbing some people to redistribute part of that robbery to some other people.
I am more than willing to share a part of what I have earned with others less fortunate than myself. But I want the freedom to use my property as I see fit and support charitable causes that I value. If I want to pay for someone’s pilgrimage or education, that decision must be mine and not a robber’s — and certainly not that of people elected to uphold protect the life and property of citizens.
Much of the ills we suffer in society arise because the Government has the power to rob citizens. Take away that power if you want a just and fair society.
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