Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pol. Ideology 29: Raison d 'Etre of Government

In my UPSE alumni association yahoogroups, the back cover of a new book written by a fellow UPSE alumni, Dr. Armando "Mandy" Armas Jr., Impeachment Quagmire: Is the JPE Senate Court Legitimate? was posted.

I commented on it, and another alumni, Gary Makasiar, posted several questions. Here is our exchane, from May 17 to 20, 2012. Posting this with implicit permission from Gary as he has given me such privilege in our previous exchanges.

I like Mandy Armas' point on
Justice is of higher law than of national defense and the economy... The raison d'etre of the State is to render "No injustice to anyone.
This is the essence of the rule of law. I agree with Mandy that this is the main function of government -- promulgate the rule of law -- plus protect private property rights and civil rights (freedom of expression, freedom from aggression) of the people. All other functions like to give endless subsidies and welfare, to run state universities (like UP), govt hospitals, casino and sweepstakes, other govt corporations, to "save the planet" are secondary if not non-essential functions of government. But I digress.

On the corona trial, I personally believe that CJ Corona is corrupt, he should have resigned early on. Or he should have not accepted the offer of being a CJ during the last few weeks of the Gloria government. But government being an institution of coercion, is full of hypocrisy, both the accused and the accusers actually have dirt on their faces. Just to simplify the matter, the impeachment proceedings I think, are going along the rule of law, the law as stipulated in the 1987 constitution....

-- Nonoy

Noy, we may have to make a distinction between two activities. It is one thing for the State to apply and enforce the Law equally or equitably on everyone. That surely sounds like it meets the ;no injustice to anyone' principle. Though even here, not all states are able to comply impeccably.

It is quite another thing for the State to adopt only fair and equitable laws so that there is 'no injustice to anyone'. Here, many states seem to fail miserably. Even representative governments. Especially states where lobbies are legally recognized.

So which activity were you referring to as the state's main function?

-- Gary

To your question Gary, the "rule of law" for me refers to the first par you describe -- the State should apply the law equally to unequal people. Let me explain.

The law on stealing. this should apply to all, governors and governed, administrators and the administered. From kings and saints and presidents and mayors, to middle class to the poorest people on the planet. Stealing is stealing, it should be punished. Strict promulgation of this law means full protection of private property rights. And there will be order and peace in society, people can work until midnight or early morning, or even work abroad or in other places outside of their homes, knowing that some guys -- the village security, or barangay tanod, or city policemen -- are out there to protect their homes, their cars, their family. This gives them peace of mind, makes them productive, and society will progress.

If we take your second par -- the State to apply only fair and equitable laws -- which to me implies unequal application of the law to unequal people, this I do not support. A poor man who stole P100 will be penalized lightly, or even forgiven, compared to a rich man who stole another person's car valued at 6 or 7 digits of pesos. If this is practiced regularly, then many people will stop working, so they become poor, and since being poor means to be penalized lightly or even forgiven if they steal, then they can steal and steal anyday anywhere, total "small scale robbery" lang naman.

That is why it is important that the law should apply equally to unequal people. The same should apply to the law against killing, the law against rape, the law against land grabbing, etc.

My hypothesis is that if there is genuine rule of law in society -- the law applies to all, no one is exempted and no one can grant exemption, the law applies equallly to unequal people -- there will only be very few laws, prohibitions and restrictions. Why? Because administrators and governors, kings and presidents know that whatever restrictions they impose on ordinary people should also apply to them. If they say "no business whatsoever unless one will get xx business permits from yy bureaucracies", then such law should also apply to them, their friends and family members, and it will cause a shiver down their spine to be subjected to bureaucratic delays and various fees and penalties.

Many governments practice the rule of men, not rule of law. Administrators and governors, presidents and legislators, they make laws and restrictions that they know will apply only to ordinary mortals but will exempt them and their friends. Examples:

1. traffic rules (no left turn, no U-turn, one-way street, no parking here, etc.) apply only to ordinary motorists but not to policemen, other government personnel and officials.

2. withholding tax on personal income, applies only to personnel in the private and public sectors, but not to foreign aid and multilaterals' personnel. The latter live off on taxes as all foreign aid money are tax money, yet these people's income are not subjected to mandatory witholding tax.

3. subsidies to public schools, especially to state universities and colleges. Giving subsidy to others but depriving subsidy to other sectors, even if we assume that all people who have work pay taxes, or all people do not pay income tax.

Since legislators and governments keep churning out laws each year (republic acts, exec orders, administrative orders, department orders, LGU orders and resolutions, etc.), they actually create laws that exempt them and their friends and hence, are bastardizing the rule of law while promulgating the rule of men.

If we apply this to the Corona impeachment, the law on SALN should apply to all, from a public elementary school teacher to a UP professor to a Congressional staff to legislators to cabinet members to the President. People who do not want to divulge their SALN publicly should stay out of government.

But we know that this law is arbitrarily implemented, again a case of the rule of men.

-- Nonoy

Noy, i must beg your indulgence here awhile, because as usual, I was not able to immediately grasp the elegance of your last reply. My synapses have not been firing or connecting efficiently of late. Just three points.

first, my question made no reference whatsoever to 'rule of law', yet your reply was so concentrated on those 3 words, that I was not sure you were addressing my question at all. . Remember, I merely took off from your earlier declaration that the main function of government was to make sure 'there is no injustice to anyone'. In relation to that, I simply wanted to clarify whether you were referring to injustice in the application/enforcement of laws, or injustice in the sense of adopting unfair and inequitable laws.

The 'second par' (as you call it) of my query made reference to the adoption (NOT the 'application') of fair and equitable laws. Your reply unfortunately changed the word to 'application'. At first, I thought you were just confused by my question.. Now I am sure I am confused, by your reply. I am guessing it is tust your impossible email workload that is causing these quondam lapses. Might you therefor address the question again, this time without changing the original terminologies and concepts?

Third, it seems an existential leap of logic to say that the words,I used, particularly," the adoption only of fair and equitable laws" IMPLIED (for you) the 'unequal application of the law to unequal people'. i dont get that one at all. Yet this herculean inference seemed quite central to your reply. ,Not being used to even modest leaps,, I naturally, had difficulty appreciating the point you were making. For a while, I even suspected that you were not really interested in addressing my question, but only in making it look like your statements appeared consistent with each other. In the end,, I knew better than to think that. I now just need to understand how you made the magnanimous inference, Then, inshallah, perhaps i can pick up your train of thought again. Can you therefor oblige, one more time? Thank you kindly.

The only point I think I got correctly (and i fear I could have been way off the mark here too) is that as far as you are concerned, the fair and equal application of the law is of primordial importance. It is this that you refer to as the state's main function. And that this central function should even precede the function of making sure only fair and equitable laws are adopted (because according to you, the latter IMPLIES the unequal application of the law to unequal people). Did I get things correctly this far? Have patience. I just need a little more weaning. I am confident Ill finally get it all in the end. Right, my rear end.

-- Gary

Hi Gary,

Again, sorry for causing you unnecessary discomfort with my unnecessary mix up of earlier concepts.

1. I first elaborated on what Mandy Armas wrote as the raison d 'etre of government, the "reason for existence" of the State is "to render 'No injustice to anyone'". This for me -- and I may not agree with other people's definition of "reason for existence" of government -- is simply to promulgate the rule of law. The law against stealing, against killing, against rape, against kidnapping, and so on. That the law should apply equally to unequal people.

Thus, the jump from "role of government" to "rule of law" which for me, has somehow becomes interchangeable. Sorry for my insistence on this, but it is a dictum or personal opinion that I always remember, lest I will be swayed by endless and timeless arguments that the main function of the government is to render endless subsidies to the poor, including the lazy and irresponsible.

2. So when you asked,
"It is one thing for the State to apply and enforce the Law equally or equitably on evryone.... It is quite another thing for the State to adopt only fair and equitable laws so that there is 'no injustice to anyone'... So which activity were you referring to as the state's main function??

My immediate instinct was to interchange "role of government" and "rule of law", thus, the subject line, "On the rule of law". Again, sorry for causing this confusion but I hope my above explanation would suffice why I did so. But to make things more explicit, I changed the subject line to "Main function of government."

3. To your question above, I am referring to your first sentence as the main function of government -- to "enforce the law equally or equitably on everyone".

Your second sentence, "the State to adopt only fair and equitable laws so that there is 'no injustice to anyone'", I cannot accept as "main role of government" because what the definition/s of "fair and equitable laws" is/are highly subjective. For instance, to provide endless subsidies to the poor (educ for the poor, health for the poor, housing for the poor, tractors & credit for the poor, cash transfer for the poor, condoms for the poor...) via endless borrowings from the WB, ADB, private lenders for instance, can be a "fair and equitable law" by the government.

I hope this is clearer now. I refer to your first sentence, not the second, as main function of government.

Lest I may be accused of being "heartless anti-poor free marketer" ideologue like some guys here would say implicitly or explicitly, I am not anti-poor. I am pro-poor, the poor who work hard to get out of state dependence and subsidies, the poor who want to be self-reliant. There are millions of them actually -- buko/fishball vendors, fish/vegetable vendors, barbers, kargador, jeepney drivers, etc.

But what the government first does, before it can even give them subsidies, is to subject these people to endless bureaucracies -- brgy permit, sanitation permit, mayor's permit, BIR and DTI permit, etc. plus the various taxes and fees. Or various traffic rules that tend to penalize the taxi/bus/jeepney drivers more.

So money that should have been for the poor's family and households, are diverted to local and government bureaucrats and their bureaucracies.

There are also indirect way to penalize the poor. The personal income tax law for instance. A middle class household earning P50,000 per month or more must part ways with about P16,000 per month or more in personal income tax -- something that the consultants and personnel of the foreign aid and multilaterals who earn six digits per month are spared of. That P16k or more per month could have allowed a middle class to hire an extra nanny for the kids or house helper, or visit some local tourism spots more often. Not possible. That amount immediately goes to the government coffers and we don't know how much of it is spent wisely or wasted or stolen.

So to help the poor -- get the government out of their lives. Reduce or abolish many of those business bureaucracies, corporate and income taxes. Govt should focus on its main function -- promulgate the rule of law, apply certain laws equally to all. Thieves in government is one clear example of government failure. How can govt catch thieves outside if the thieves are already inside the institutiton?

On another note, an academic philosopher friend of mine emailed me this cartoon, saying "this would be something that you would say, di ba?"

I said Yes. Social equity is not so much about rich vs poor because many poor people later become rich, or many rich people later become poor. It is easy to become poor -- be lazy, be irresponsbile, spend your P5M savings from 5 years of work as OFW in just 5 months or 5 weeks, one can become poor, instantly.

It is more of individuals vs government. Try putting up an internet shop or barber shop for instance, and see how many govt bureaucracies, taxes and fees you have to deal with, even before you open up your shop.

See also:
Pol. Ideology 19: What is the Role of Government?, March 08, 2011
Pol. Ideology 20: Liberalism and the Squatters, May 17, 2011
Pol. Ideology 21: The Nature of Government, November 14, 2011
Pol. Ideology 22: Diskurso sa Kapitalismo, Sosyalismo at Gobyerno, November 15, 2011
Pol. Ideology 23: 25 Years of Liberalism in the Philippines, December 07, 2011
Pol, Ideology 24: Democratism and Coercion, December 16, 2011
Pol. Ideology 25: On Governance and Rule of Law, February 20, 2012
Pol. Ideology 26: Socialists in a Liberal Government, February 21, 2012 
Pol. Ideology 27: Why do Many Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?, March 01, 2012

Pol. Ideology 28: Parliamentarism Hard Sell and Free Market Deception, April 30, 2012

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