My Golden Standard

Rakesh Wadhwa
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 diabetes.

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: everest@mos.com.np