One of the most crucial debates triggered nationally in recent times in India is the aspect of reconsidering the carte blanche political parties currently enjoy on announcing freebies in the manifestos before elections, without any thought to the costs, desirability, sustainability or benefits of such announcements, oblivious to tax payer’s plight, eyeing only the most immediate electoral benefits.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, of course, and therefore, no such thing as a freebie. It only means someone else will pay for it. That someone else is also invariably us, citizens, tax payers, and the ultimate cushion and absorber of all hidden costs, through the forced inflation route, the most vicious of all hidden taxes.
Surprisingly, no one has defined what is a freebie? And how does it differ from a fair, desirable and acceptable welfare scheme — because in principle, and process, both are the same — tax Peter to pay Paul.
The most significant definite ways to discern the difference between the two is sustainability, transformational development and impact on human lives. For example, free universal education or vaccines for all people. These cannot be called freebies because of not only the positive impact on the beneficiaries, but also the net societal and national benefit because of it, and the huge negative costs we would be forced to bear if we don’t do it.
Education can uplift an individual, a family, or an entire section of society, in one generation, across the social class barrier. It can transform the helpless poor into empowered productive citizens.
On the other hand, free TVs or mobiles being distributed can hardly have any sustainable, long-term or mid-term benefit. It is whimsical, often a gimmick.
As a country we must respect the difference, debate it further till we have a consensus but the first principle must be laid without ambiguity — we must end freebies, but respect and sustain welfare.