India Uncut

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Government money is our money

L Subramaniam, speaking about Bismillah Khan, says that the government should "provide free medical treatment" to Padma awardees. Now, it certainly is sad that Mr Khan couldn't afford proper medical treatement in his final days, but if Mr Subramaniam is so concerned about that, he should have paid for it himself. Too many people seem to behave as if the money government spends just falls randomly from the sky, and that they have an unlimited supply of it, and should spend it on noble causes. Not true. That money comes from you and me.

If we consider income tax alone, we work around four months a year to fill the government's coffers. Add other taxes -- everytime we buy anything the government gets a chunk of it -- and you could add another month or two. It's like being enslaved by the government for almost half a year.

Now, there are things we need the government for, like maintaining law and order and so on, and I'm quite happy to pay taxes for that. And sure, we're a poor country, so if it takes another chunk of taxes for poverty alleviation etc, I can live with it. (Though I'll maintain that such schemes show noble intent but little outcome.) But together, basic services and social welfare would cost us just a tiny fraction of the money we pay in taxes. Most government spending is simply wasted, and as it's my money, I feel entitled to question it. And what upsets me most is the kind of attitude that Subramaniam, with noble intent and immense compassion, no doubt, displays.

No matter how great a performer Mr Khan may have been, it is simply wrong to force me to spend my money supporting him. (That's what effectively happens when the government pays his medical bills.) Mr Subramaniam and the various people who feel that Mr Khan's medical expenses should be taken care of should dip into their own bank accounts for that purpose, which I admire but do not wish to contribute to, being pretty hard up myself. There should be a certain sanctity to government spending, a sense that this is the hard-earned money of millions of citizens like you or me, and should be spent only on essentials, like law and order, and roads, and so on. There should be accountability for how it is spent.

But of course there isn't, and a disconnect exists in people's minds between the taxes that they pay and what the government does with it. (Some examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) How will this ever change?
amit varma, 2:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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