Ever notice that the campaign promises and platforms of our national candidates sound pretty much all the same? Basically they all promise a government that will provide pretty much everything under the sun for the people. From education to health care, candidates pretty much love to promise government nurturing from cradle to grave. I don’t really blame the candidates because this is what the majority of the electorate wants to hear. In a country where mendicancy is acceptable (and even coddled), its majority feel that they are entitled to such lofty promises. Instead of personal responsibility and accountability, most of the people want the big old government to provide them with pretty much all of their needs for nothing. Unless Filipinos start taking charge of their own lives and shun government dependency, the country will remain in the rut it is in. The candidates whose platforms involve the expansion of dole-outs and coddling of dependency are contributing to the continual stagnation of the Philippines. I believe it is high time to look at candidates who will inspire personal independence and achievement. We need someone who will strengthen the free market where people’s innovative talents are harnessed and used to make products and services better. We need a John F. Kennedy type of candidate who will encourage the citizens not to look for what the country can do for him but what he can do for his country instead.
Back in 2012 during the last US Presidential elections, the Obama campaign released an interesting interactive web advertisement. In it was a fictional character named Julia who is swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all-giving government. At every stage, the government provides all of her needs such as preschool classes, college loans, birth control, maternity care, business loans and retirement. Obama’s campaign suggests that it is the government’s role to step in and fill in the void for all of the people’s needs. This strikes me as very similar to what Vice President Jejomar Binay seems to be trying to sell to the electorate as he presents his case, from his stint in Makati, where the local government has provided perks to its citizens (especially the elderly) from free movie tickets, quality health care and education, to free birthday cakes. But as the saying goes:
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”
I find it very disappointing not to see any of our current crop of candidates with the opposite message of promoting individual liberty and earned success. I long to see a candidate make the case that earned success is preferable to government dependency. I long to see a candidate encourage and promote independence and hard work as integral foundations of a free and economically thriving country. But perhaps this is just wishful thinking.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against government providing for its people. I am, however, an advocate of very limited government that promote responsible behaviour and I am agreeable in paying for very basic things supported by the Constitution. So what does the constitution say about the role of our government? The Constitution states the following:
Section 4. The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people. The Government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service.
Section 5. The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.
Section 9. The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.
The constitution states that the government’s role is to promote general welfare and to come up with policies that provide adequate social services, to promote full employment and basically an improved quality of life for all. It doesn’t say that it will provide for everyone’s needs from cradle to crave although one can certainly argue that it is responsible for coming up with policies, at the very least, to promote access to all our needs. So when it comes to the military, police force, justice system, roads, bridges and other infrastructure, there is no objection there (although I would argue that the private sector can very well do a much better job in the production and maintenance of some infrastructure and public utilities). Tax collection to produce and maintain such things is justified. The objection lies not in government provided infrastructure but in the redistributionist taxation scheme (taking from the rich or the fully employed to provide for the poor) and in expanding entitlements. I certainly am not willing to pay for the contraceptives of someone making an individual sexual lifestyle choice. So I am against a giant and all-powerful controlling State that thinks that it is entitled to as much of my hard-earned money as it wants and can make policies it sees to impose with or without my consent. For the government, it is their way or the highway!
Now if you think about it, it isn’t too hard to see that the government is filled with this kind of attitude. Think of a time when you went to a government office such as the DFA (for passport application) or the NSO (for a copy of your birth certificate) or the LTO (for a driving exam). How do you feel about those experiences? Did you enjoy the long line-ups and the run-arounds? Did you enjoy all the hassle and did you feel that the people working in those offices were so concerned about the value of your time? Do you often enjoy the level of customer service you get from your government? No? Well, tough luck buddy! What do those people care? They are not going to lose their jobs for being rude or indifferent or slow. What are you going to do, go to another DFA or another NSO or another LTO? Those are the only designated offices to handle your needs!
This brings me to my next preference after small or limited government – the advantage of private businesses and free enterprise. Far from what many people think that businesses are run by those fat greedy bastards wearing those tall monopoly hats conspiring to screw the people in cigar smoke filled conference rooms, I think private enterprise is better than big government. Government through its taxation can take your money by force but businesses have to persuade you into buying their products or services. Dealing with a private business is a free will transaction. In a truly free market, competition is the driving force for persuasion. Through competition you can get better service, better quality, lower cost, and essentially better value for your money. If we are not satisfied with what we get from a private business we can always go to its competitor. You can’t do that with government offices and agencies.
Often times, the objection that I hear against private enterprise is that they make costs high. This is certainly the case for the people voicing their objection to the planned privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center. Often times we hear that it is immoral to mix profit and health care. But it is precisely this misplaced disdain for the motivation for profit that perpetuates our penchant for mediocrity. The pursuit of profit should not be looked at as a mortal sin. The pursuit of profit brings quality and innovation. You want free health care? Then you shouldn’t be complaining about having to wait a long time to receive treatment for a critical illness or having to put up with rude and incompetent staff. There shouldn’t be any complaints regarding dilapidated facilities and medical equipment that breaks down at a drop of a pen. Two months ago I underwent a kidney transplant operation at St. Luke’s Medical at the Bonifacio Global City. Granting that I paid through the nose, I still wouldn’t trade St. Luke’s to any other hospitals in the Philippines (or even in a lot of medical facilities in North America). What I got was top-notch care at a top-notch facility. If I dealt with a public facility such as the Philippine General Hospital or even the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, I’m sure I wouldn’t have received the same level and calibre of care I got from St. Luke’s. So it is really about getting what you pay for. And what’s more important than health?
When it is all said and done, my preference for small government and free enterprise is rooted on human nature itself – that humans are not perfect or perfectible. Contrary to what uber liberals think as they sing John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, I believe people really act on their selfish interest. Am I being too cynical and pessimistic? Well you may find it ironic that this very same belief acts as a check and balance against the accumulation of too much power in the hands of too few people. I want to keep more of my hard earned money so that the government can have little of my money to play with; I would rather not empower it too much to give it more control over my life.
Pretty much all the candidates are trumpeting “Change”. But without anyone advocating for personal responsibility, small government, and free market, I’m afraid we are just doomed to get more of the same. As I mentioned in my last article, it is not really about electing the “righteous” politicians to run our country. It is really about narrowing government responsibilities. It is absurd to think that the humongous government bureaucracy is going to identify and eliminate the waste in government. Every congressman or senator will argue that his or her two bit project worth millions or billions of pesos in pork will swear that the funds they are asking for is vital to the national interest. As long as the system is designed for a spend-it-or-lose-it type of budgeting, it doesn’t matter who sits in Malacanang or which party wields power. No one spends other people’s money as carefully as he spends his own. The key is to switch from non-competitive incentive structure of politics to the competitive incentives of the free market.
Now do tell, which current candidate shares my vision the closest?
Photos taken from cnnphilippines.com and pinterest.com
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