According to Advocate J Sai Deepak, any ideology that has not originated in this land is necessarily antithetical to this land. This is the most important warning and framework for a discussion on reconciling free-market principles, libertarianism, and the idea of “small government” with Sanatan Dharma, based on this land’s history of resistance to foreign ideas.
First, let us analyze what is Libertarianism and whether it is harmonious or antithetical, and to what degree to Bharat and Sanatan Dharma. Libertarianism essentially is the polar opposite of the socialist/Ashokan “nanny State” or, as is known in more respectful terminology, the “welfare State”. Therefore, effectively, libertarians are opposed to the idea and demand that the State be the all-encompassing caring, loving parent who is always there for his/her child every step of the way, regardless of the child’s own choices and decisions.
The intended/unintended consequence of such an arrangement is that the State has almost complete power and authority over every matter concerning the daily actions of its citizens because with great responsibilities, come great powers. Bharat’s tryst with an almighty welfare State has given us ample data to reject the idea because of the semi-irreversible damage it did to its economy and the way it carried forward the baton of dehumanization of its citizens post Independence up until 1991.
We started getting the first sniff of libertarianism since 1991 as one no longer had to stand in queues, beg, borrow and steal for licenses or wait anywhere between 6 months to a few years for basic commodities like a radio or a two-wheeler. That regressive mindset of governance has not been done away with completely but, seems to be getting decommissioned gradually, without ruffling too many feathers.
Libertarianism, on the other hand, is synonymous with the idea of a “small government”, which is fiscally conservative and leaves the markets free to operate as they please which ends up giving normal citizens more liberty to lead their life the way they wish to with dignity and without having to go to the local party’s office to get things done. The gist of this school of thought is: “the market will take care of it”.
If one analyzes the economic causality of any situation, one will see, that the market does take care of things better than the State. The fundamental reason is, that the State is an unaccountable faceless entity, whereas, a private firm providing a particular service is accountable every step of the way because it fears going out of business. The State never goes out of business. Only its CEOs and CFOs, so to speak, keep changing. Therefore, the State lacks the incentive to allocate resources efficiently. A political party’s only job is to come in control of the State using any number of ways to proselytize citizens to make them think that, their party is better than the other party.
Critically, this nature of “Rajneeti” which translates to “policy of governance” and not “politics”, happens to be analogous to the general Abrahamic nature of present times. Politicians are secular equivalents of missionaries going door to door telling people, “You are in darkness, and I have the ‘light'”.
This form of a political system results in a sympathetic way of looking at humans instead of empathetically. Sympathy is antithetical to respect. Sympathy is the notion that the “victim” is in a tough spot and has no way of getting out of it unless the saviour gives him a hand. The prior sentence may as well have been the summary of Abrahamism. Therefore, this saviour complex is inherently Abrahamic in nature and opposed to Dharma, which along with the Indic ways of societal harmony, stands on the pillar called respect.
Respect for that same “victim” in the same situation would cause one to listen to the victim’s predicament, understand the gravity of the situation, and appeal to the victim’s inner strength to stand up and fight and at best, construe a framework wherein the victim is empowered to get out of the situation and to not be a victim again. This is where the trifurcation between Libertarianism, Dharmic governance, and “welfare” begins.
The solution to any problem according to welfarists, seems to be to throw money at it. Suffice to say, they do not use their own money for throwing around. They use the State to force people, under threat of imprisonment, to come up with the money that they intend to throw around at problems either not faced or not even considered to be a problem by the people paying that money. Here, they start creating unintended consequences of incentivizing counterproductive behaviour that further dehumanizes the very people they wish to uplift. While for some, that is the intended consequence because a population in perpetual need of welfare is the fixed vote bank that will vote for anybody coming up with the biggest welfare announcements.
Other than the fact that this welfarist mindset is applied not just to the avenue of “freebies” but to a plethora of other situations, the most significant consequence is that the people in need of the welfare, remain so for the rest of their lives. Anyone may be born in an economically disadvantaged situation but curiously, the more the welfare mindset of a society, the more the chances of the families there remaining poor for generations. The common welfarist argument that “the poor are getting poorer” is devoid of data on specific people and is based on overall population data of the number of people under a certain income level, which includes immigration of poor people from other countries. With a variety of employment opportunities, a poor person does not stagnate in an economic class, as is the case in nations where welfarism is looked down upon.
It is in instances where employers are threatened with unimaginable numbers of licenses, “responsibilities”, and other laws that force them to pay less, not hire or downsize, that the citizens stop experiencing upward economic mobility. Therefore, the hypothetical victim’s poverty and sub-human welfare-dependency stem from the fact that the freebie given to him has come from impoverishing potential employers who could have hired him and paid him enough to lead a life of self-respect. Of course, the secret sauce to the discipline of being in employment for years, saving responsibly, which then leads to the person’s economic upliftment is also their family values but that is outside the scope of this essay.
Welfarists think they are creating an atmosphere of philanthropy and charity. In other words, they want the government to ensure that people are “moral” citizens. Although welfarists more often than not, are opposed to the idea of culture, religion & Dharma and thus end up creating a society where no morality exists, they show an incomparable faith in the government to manipulate human behaviour, thus ending up giving it powers beyond what it should wield. There are two other significant problems created by this framework of governance.
Firstly, a large number of government officials, think tanks, and academics are kept on permanent payroll on public money to collect data and distribute the welfare, all of whom have a direct financial incentive to not eradicate the problem because they will be out of a job the moment they solve the problem. Additionally, it means the tax “acquired” from people is not just for solving the problem but includes the salaries of the people in the middle, which also creates the need to have “contacts” to get facilities from the government that one has already paid for (the tax). Secondly, from the perspective of the “victim”, receiving monetary help from the State is equal to money simply falling from the sky as opposed to actual philanthropy. Simply because, charity is received from a person, or a face, to whom one feels gratitude, perhaps hopes to return the favour one day, if not vowing to never be in the situation ever again.
On the other hand, the government is a faceless entity to whom a person feels no personal attachment. As with lottery winners, the money simply disappears with time, no matter how large the amount, because managing money happens to be a separate skill set altogether. Therefore, taking people’s money without their consent, and throwing it in such bottomless pits is both bad for the nation’s economy as well as the person receiving it, because he is disincentivized to pursue other avenues.
Another shameful example of an unintended consequence of operating from a mindset of sympathy is that most students who get into institutions out of their intellectual league because of reservation, drop out because they cannot keep up with the rest of the students who get in based on their past performance in exams which predicate their knowledge, learning pace and most importantly, knowledge retention skills.
Not only does this create avoidable dropout statistics, but it also negatively affects the life of the student who would have done well in the institution but could not get in because he was not from the right social group and as well, the life of the student who got in, because she could have done better in a scenario where her academic peers are her intellectual equals.
For welfarism to work, the population under the government cannot be too diverse, or too big, and the government officials must be honest citizens. This is where Libertarianism offers the better alternative because with profit as the basis for the functioning of every societal institution, one’s inherent honesty or loyalty to the citizens is not a big factor. Quality of service becomes the foremost priority, devoid of which, the service provider goes out of business, adding to the fact that competition among multiple firms to provide the same service incentivizes innovation and also reduction of prices, both of which are absent when the government decides to provide the same service.
Here, the history of Bharat gifts us Sanatani Libertarianism. The “Kautilyan State”, as described by Kautilya in the 2300-year-old seminal treatise on governance and economics, the Arthashastra, is a strong sovereign State (while being ever suspicious of government employees), but sticks to creating frameworks, that facilitate a lifestyle of dignity and freedom, without handing out special treatments based on the suffering of one’s ancestors or their current financial condition, and without treating the environment as just another resource to be exploited.
The only instances of freebies were that people with special intellectual contributions to society were not to be charged for salt and while traveling in ferries. Kautilya describes a large number of job opportunities as well as entertainment avenues ranging from consuming art, alcohol, to prostitution, which was also State-sanctioned and took place in State-maintained institutions (being an era before the advent of Victorian hypocrisy).
Here, the welfarist would argue that the “Kautiliyan State” is heartless for not having elaborate freebies for everyone in need while the libertarian would argue that there was no need for the State to take care of these things as the market could have done it. Here, the libertarian’s implied end goal is that there be no State and everyone magically live happily ever after without conflict, also known as Anarcho-Capitalism.
This idea of a borderless society has no real-life use because it is dependent on everyone else in the world following the idea word for word. The welfarist argument is based on more patronizing premises. The welfarist assumes that any person who is not as wealthy as the wealthiest person around him is surely leading a life of shame and no worth. The welfarist projects his world view of jealousy on every non-wealthy person (interestingly, the translation of the words “jealousy” and “violence” are interchangeable in Indic languages, which is, “Hingsa”).
Therefore, Sanatani Libertarianism, the Bharatiya option simply adds “providing frameworks of entrepreneurship without trampling on nature” to the list of the otherwise standard libertarian position that a State, if existent, should stick to protecting life, liberty, and property.