Friday, January 19, 2018

Unfair attack on social programmes

 So here it is that the international lending agencies—all agents of Washington—more wittingly than not in seeing the forest while blind to the trees—are renewing their chorus of tired criticisms of this country’s “social expenditure” and their nagging complaints of “excessive” spending on “transfers and subsidies”. 

Within recent times more than one “economist” has suggested there should be reduced spending on “fuel subsidies” and the GATE programme. This recurrent exercise in convergent thinking and the pathologic compartmentalisation of policy issues is itself the result of the failure—or deliberate misdirection—of the educative process which today is characterised by the conspicuous failure to inculcate the importance of knowledge-consilience. Universities are churning out droves of highly specialised professionals—all experts in their narrow fields of knowledge, each with a “vision” that amounts to a restricted frontal perspective while remaining oblivious to the vital knowledge-links that bombard their back-sides, left and right-sides. 

Much is taken for granted—not least of which is the way we adjudicate success. Do we ever in a moment of undisturbed quiet, ponder the criteria through which we ought to judge the value of citizenship or the quality of life that is enjoyed by virtue of being a citizen? 

Today, it seems the sole criterion through which we assess the extent to which a nation nurtures its citizens is by the crudest and most ill-founded measure of wealth —the gross domestic product (GDP) and its rate of growth. 

I say it is a crude methodology because it is an aggregate estimate that ignores extreme disparity at both poles of the wealth divide, and the dynamic of pauperisation; it is ill-founded because the pseudo-science that we call “economics” which today venerates free market capitalism as the chosen instrument for maximising social welfare, cannot be shown to do so by any mathematical model without the prior assumption of “the existence of a benevolent dictator who redistributes wealth and income prior to commerce taking place”. Is this not the same government action that these masters of deceit perennially criticise?

We ordinary people are duped into believing that “we” are rich because our GDP ranks us among the richer countries never mind the fact that the greatest part of that wealth is owned by the very smallest fraction of the population. We must comply when Washington frowns on the productive use of wealth to educate while it condones transfers to the wealthy as tax cuts or farm subsidies.

The symbiosis between State and citizen often calls for personal sacrifice toward “nation-building”. The essence of sacrifice is not immolation. It is exchange: we give up something good in exchange for something better. Why do we not embrace Government’s social expenditure in the spirit and context of that sacrifice?

Steve Smith

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