I get the notion of social justice through the redistribution of wealth. That’s what the welfare state is about. Tax those who have, to give to those who don’t. I also get the objection that you can overdo that policy. A government can raise so much tax as to suffocate the smooth chugging of an economic engine, reducing productivity, and eventually reducing wealth to the point that there isn’t enough of it to tax and use to prop up the poor. That is the lesson of liberal economic policy.
I also get the idea that neither extreme is smart and a government in office, whether they grew out of the socialist tradition or the conservative tradition, should ideally look for moderation: social justice and economic incentive, a balanced ‘third way’ as it was euphemistically called in the 1990s.
Robert Abela’s application of this sense of moderation is utterly unproductive. Measuring his announcement of yesterday of yet another round of pay-outs of tax refunds to the entire working population of the country, the government has raised €26 million in tax money they did not need for any purpose of public utility.
They apparently did not need the money to pay front line public servants like nurses, teachers, or beat cops. They did not need the money to refurbish some school or a hospital ward. They didn’t need it to buy equipment for the police or to put a deposit on a new boat for the army. They didn’t need it to roll out an extra couple of buses on a crowded route. They just didn’t need it.
So now they’re putting €26 million in old fashioned cheques and mailing them to everyone without regard to whether the recipients will need them. Robert Abela makes fun of someone like me who says this is bad policy for who, he asks rhetorically, would not want to receive money in their letter box? Rich or poor we all like getting money.
The fact is the tax refund I’m going to get may buy from me a few minutes of short-lived delight. I had foregone the pleasure of spending that money when I paid my last tax bill. I worked for that money, earned it, and though no one asked for my generosity, when I paid that money into the national tax fund it became my contribution to the well-being of the community I live in.
The fact is I know the government needed my tax contribution to improve pay to front line public servants, to maintain schools and hospitals, and to equip law enforcement agencies. I know this country is getting a shit deal because public spending is inefficient and insufficient. I know it’s a controversial idea but I think we don’t pay enough taxes to pay for the public services this country needs. I think we need better schools, better courts, better policing, and a better compensated health service just to keep up with how this country is changing.
Throwing €26 million into a few moments of delight as people cash cheques mailed by the government is an appalling waste of tax money. A conservative would say that raising the €26 million in the first place when it clearly wasn’t needed has temporarily taken out of circulation money that could have been productively spent in the economy. A socialist would say that spending €26 million without even attempting to improve the lot of people in greatest need is horribly wasteful and irresponsible.
I’ve criticised the policy before as have others and Robert Abela yesterday showed himself entirely cognisant of the objections. He mocked them. And the crowd applauded, not necessarily out of conscious agreement and consent with the policy, perhaps rather simply working out in which pizzeria they will cash the cheque they’ll be getting.
This is where I become a candidate for the charge of elitism which is used to accuse those who display contempt for popular opinion. But I find people who feel gratitude for this form of blanket, populist, utterly unproductive, public spending, completely bereft of even the most basic understanding of the purpose and public utility of government.
The crowds who applauded Robert Abela yesterday and the oblivious thousands who will feel a rare shudder of contentment when they realise that in the midst of all the bills the government has sent them what at face value looks like free money, demonstrate their inability to understand some basics. They do not understand what taxes are for. They do not understand their obligations towards their community. They do not understand the needs of the poor. They do not understand that they elect a government to ensure community justice and fairness on their behalf.
They are no better than the peasants who sought the miraculous touch of the king and kowtowed in gratitude when the king’s servants handed them alms.
They are not citizens of a democracy, sovereign people who choose, oversee, and control their government, but serfs, excellent only in their mediocrity.
If thinking that makes me elitist, I have no regrets. It is not in my defence that I point out that this pathetic hero worship is not the exclusive purview of supporters of the Labour Party, though the Labour Party has for generations cynically suckled at the buxom teat of the collective idiocy of its support base.
Consider this banner yesterday at the PN’s protest outside St Luke’s Hospital. “Thank you Adrian Delia for the hospitals,” the banner says. I’m sorry, what?
Perhaps the greatest injustice at the hands of servile crowds is suffered by God who is blamed for all plagues, droughts, and misfortunes, while kings, mayors, and small-time village politicians are credited for everything that does what is supposed to do.
A people which doesn’t respect itself more than the help it hires – for that is all politicians are – can never be said to be sovereign. By their choice it is not government by the people for them. It’s a cult and all they do is pay for it.