Condemned To Eternal Beggary

Condemned To Eternal Beggary
“We need to understand the more government spends, the more freedom is lost...Instead of simply debating spending levels, we ought to be debating whether the departments, agencies, and programs funded by the budget should exist at all”—Ron Paul

Many suggest that there is no point in destroying the present in search of a better future, therefore the best policy is to live moment to moment. Joel Osteen, an inspirational writer with a number of books to his credit says: “It’s good to have a big—picture outlook, to set goals, to establish budgets, make plans, but if you are always living in the future, you’re really never enjoying the present in the way God wants you to.” Tell this to the common man on the street and he will respond by saying that those who have nothing are in reality living from day to day. For them their main concern is not the future but how to sustain in the next twenty four hours of their existence.

Dwight Eisenhower rightly spoke on behalf of these oppressed human beings. He said while referring to governments’ stress on defence expenditure as against provision of food: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

Each year, the Pakistani government, like its other contemporaries, spends precious time in solving mathematical and statistical problems related to the annual budget which could be as rosy as it is presented, if only the numbers they used were correct to the place of at least two to the decimal point. As indicated by a seasoned television anchor who has been covering budgets for the last thirty years, there is nothing in this annual exercise besides the fact that the country’s economic situation seems to be getting gloomier with no respite as to uplifting the downtrodden, nothing concrete towards documentation, no intentions of accelerating economic growth to match the real potential of resources, no broadening of the tax base, with greater emphasis on extorting more from registered taxpayers and granting amnesties to chronic defaulters. The common thread, rather rope, that connects all these budgets and their sister supplementary ones, is absolute reliance on borrowing, both from domestic and international agencies.

Prior to the onslaught of electronic gadgets when children enjoyed outdoor physical activities, a game which a group of friends usually played, was called “follow-the-leader.” One of the teammates would take the lead and start an action, like jumping, walking, swinging arms etc. while the rest copied him as he changed his act. Now such a game is being played by our governments whereby, they lay down a pathway and the nation faithfully marches down the lane. It would be interesting to see how this childish game is played by those who hold the reins of power and control the fate of their people.

The first most important principle for any government is to observe the rule of law, which in its case would be the constitution. If the provisions of this sacred document are blatantly defied, it becomes meaningless as does that government which gets its validation from that very constitution. When people see their governments in disrespect, nothing can stop them from making mockery of laws of the land. A glance around would prove how rules are violated by legislators, executive and of course by those on whom they are supposed to be enforced.

Justice is at the core of every civilized society and its absence causes insecurity, restlessness, dissatisfaction, disruption of peace and definitely retardation in economic growth as well as the nation. Pakistan is a classic example of a country where justice is present only on papers. If this is not the position then how come there is a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases at all judicial forums and where posthumous decisions of innocence are decreed for prisoners languishing for decades behind bars? How come nepotism is given preference over merit? How come its taxation model is an epitome of inequity? How come perpetrators engaged in different vices like murder, hording, adulteration, stalking and usurping rights roam around scot free while the virtuous are nabbed for no fault of theirs? How come its disgruntled youth is no longer interested in doing something for the country? These are some of the characteristics peculiar to a society sans justice.

Continuing with follow-the-leader game, the best replica is present in the phenomenal number of beggars visible on the streets and many times more, behind the scenes. The centuries old value of relying on oneself or the concept of khuddari (self-respect) seems to be on the decline as more and more palms spread out demanding alms. One is reminded of another Punjabi saying “aggay lagi waddi, unnay sarian di jurh vaddi (literal translation: “When the eldest took the lead, she snipped off all the younger ones’ roots”). In real terms it implies that when the powerful breaks norms, the lower strata are bound to lose their identity and pride. Now if the governments are going from pillar to post asking for expensive loans just to meet everyday expenses then definitely the loyal citizens are going to follow suit running around with begging bowls.

With the governments least pushed about addressing problems of the common people, hyperinflation, poor governance and extremely bad fiscal policies, are causing industries to shut down, halting economic wheels, raising unemployment and resultantly rendering modest families to a point where earning some money is becoming a herculean task. Those including handicapped, widows and orphans, who until some time ago were barely eking out a respectable living are now compelled to seek charity for not only marrying off their young daughters, for meeting emergency medical needs, but also for providing a single meal to their families.

Each day, more and more people are finding themselves in economic blackholes, thanks to imprudent government policies, and each day more and more people are openly or covertly begging before anyone who can place a few rupees in their hands. If this is the trend then our country would be better known for being a nation of beggars. It is not long that just as we look with disdain at paupers in the streets, the international community would also be eyeing us with the same contempt.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)