Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why We Forgive the State

While writing my previous essay about democracy, I thought about the reasons constituents of a democracy are so complacent and yield so much power to the politicians. The American war of independence, for example, started because of taxation. Modern states take far more than the taxes levied back then, yet not so much as a small protest is seen. Corruption, government abuse, lies are a regular feature of the news, yet only those immediately affected and a minority of conscious activists are seen on the streets. Everybody else is relegated to sitting at home, maybe share thoughts of concern, even crying but never putting up an active resistance. This is especially true in the Philippines. Only a few months ago did I read of the government exercise eminent domain in Navotas displacing more than 400 families. In the middle of typhoon Ondoy, President Arroyo was in New York and spending one million pesos in a high class restaurant. Of course there are severe injustices like the Ampatuan massacre with which most of us feel hatred and disgust for. But the fact remains, the majority of us prefer wallowing in grief back at home rather than actively oppose such abuse. Maybe it's because we are accustomed to constant degradation and insult. We prefer to close our eyes to the hurtful truth of our society. This is only part of it. The main reason we forgive state criminality is because we identify ourselves with it. We believe that we can change it and calmly await the next election so we can vote into office the 'right guy'. But this mentality is the most sick and murderous aspect of democracy.

Can We Control the State?

Consider the occurrence of crime. We are told to call the police when a burglar breaks into our house. Do you think this is the most practical thing to do when your house is being plundered? How will calling the police help to stop the expropriation of property? The poor delegate the task of educating children to the government. But to their immense regret when fresh graduates cannot find even entry level jobs. Same applies to health care. Having a Phil health card does not guarantee immediate health services in times of need. Education of children should be the responsibility of parents. Personal safety and health should be the responsibility of the individual. It is to the extent that we relegate our most vital needs to the government are we a more reckless and dependent people.

Business practices are no more different. Regulations to assure the safety of products only serve to add unnecessary costs that will be later transferred to the consumer. There is simply no way government can oversee all business activities. FDA regulations to assure the safety of drugs only keep new drugs out of the market. Bureaucrats, in their fight to keep bad drugs out of the market, have no problem restricting the best from coming in. Solid evidence suggests that FDA regulations kill more people than they save because patients cannot access the drugs that they need. Government mandated ceilings on executive salary in the United States resulted in the distribution of stock options to executives, tying their salary to the short-term value of stocks, creating an appetite for excess risk. An example closer to home is the constitutional restriction of foreigners from owning real estate. Restrictions on land ownership mean restrictions on direct investment by foreigners. This is not the case in neighboring countries and is a major reason why the Philippines has lagged so much in terms of economic performance. I cannot help but cringe when I hear environmentalists oppose foreign investment in Philippine mining, not wanting foreigners to 'exploit' our natural resources. I thought about how much good a foreign funded mining project could do for the nearby community. How many jobs could have been created, how many children could have reconsidered joining the NPA. Unfortunately, the majority cannot picture this, unable to imagine life without government interference.


As hard as it is to accept, government cannot protect you. Regulation sounds good, it gives the impression of safety from profit-seeking business. Yet, regulations are nothing but extra paperwork and fees, extra costs will inevitably hurt the consumer, and stifle competition as start-ups are hurt more than established firms. Regulations are based on the assumption that people are not capable of taking care of themselves and that bureaucrats (who stand to lose nothing if their policies should fail) somehow know better. If there is anything that should be regulated, it is the government. No matter how greedy a business firm is, you still have the choice of not patronizing it. Government does not give you any choice. It takes your money and forces you to buy its product. We should not wonder why government programs are so inefficient and wasteful. But as long as we believe we can control its behavior, we cannot effect genuine change. For democratic government is really lobby rule, only the special interests benefit, those that have political influence. Ordinary people are bamboozled and only stand to lose from this enterprise. The first step in changing the system is to realize that you cannot change it from the inside. This realization stops us from forgiving state criminality. And when we stop forgiving crime, we stop crime.

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