The Himalayan Times 17 May 2004
My friends frequently ask me as to how come I am never at a loss to
voice my opinion about government policies. How can I talk of import
controls, income tax, rules and regulations, prostitution, drug laws, and
the like without specialization in any of these fields.
My secret is that I use what I call my very own gold standard for judging
public policy. The question I ask myself is whether the policy in question
will promote our freedom or diminish it. If it decreases our freedom to
act as we wish when we are not harming others, I will be against it. If
the effect of a new policy, law, or rule is to enhance our freedom to act
as we please, I will be all for it.
Reduction in taxes enables us to keep more of our money ourselves rather
than give it to a corrupt government. This enhances our freedom. We are
free to spend it, give it away in charity, or leave it for our heirs. Our
money in our hands maximizes our satisfaction. Our money in government
hands maximizes the satisfaction of politicians and bureaucrats. That is
why I am for a government, which exercises efficiency and economy in its
affairs, and minimizes our taxes.
When it comes to property rights, I am all for a government which provides
constitutional guarantees against expropriation and confiscation. Without
property rights our other freedoms are irrelevant. If your house can be
taken away from you, your company can be nationalized, your bank balance
can be seized, and you can be subjected to extortionate taxation, then you
will not find whatever freedom remains as very meaningful.
Shifting from economic to social policy, I again use the same gold
standard. If the activity is voluntary, and harms no one other than those
engaging in it, I advocate that it remain legitimate even though I may
personally hate it. This is why I feel that the government has no role to
play in dictating to people what they drink, eat, or inhale.
I don't like people - even friends - when they are drunk. They make fools
out of themselves. And yet I do not support government restrictions on
drinking (driving while drunk is a crime and should remain so for its
potential to cause injury to others), for if I do, it is just one step
away from advocating controls over the amount of fat we eat and the sugar
we ingest. These products too are harmful for they cause heart attacks and
Over time I have realized that though economic and social freedoms need no
further justification (freedom is its own justification and our
birthright), support for freedom is justified on other grounds too. It
goes hand in hand with progress and prosperity.
Countries with repressive governments have remained poor. Countries which
are free have achieved prosperity. This benefit of freedom should make
even those who do not value it for its own sake support it. Reduce taxes,
enhance property rights, have a minimalist government which doesn’t
restrict voluntary trade and commerce, and Nepal will soon join the league
of rich nations.
Sometimes you and I may be tempted to disregard the golden rule and want
to give the government the power to do good. We may want the government to
tax us and give the money to the poor, we may want the government to
restrict obscenity on TV, or we may want that the government ban gambling
and prostitution for public good.
At this time let us remember what Jim Babka, President of the American
Liberty Foundation, has to say, ‘the power you give your fovourite
politician today to do something you like is the power that will be used
in ways you never would have imagined or approved of tomorrow by a
politician you hate’.
Give the government taxes for helping the poor and the money will end up
serving the interests of the politicians and bureaucrats. Let the
government restrict obscenity and it will use its power over the media for
its own propaganda. Let the government ban gambling and prostitution, and
you give a powerful tool to the law enforcement agencies to collect their
‘hafta’ while prostitution and gambling go on regardless.
(The writer an economist and a proponent of free markets contributes to
leading international dailies. Contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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