Aug 13, 2012

O-limp-ics II

Say, I am your friend. I know, it is a bit hypothetical since I am not very friendly, but for a moment assume I am.
I come up to you and say, "dost, can you give me 50 bucks?"

Say you know me well enough to understand that I am a black hole when it comes to money, and if you do give me this sum, you have a very slim chance of seeing it again. Although I promise to return it with interest!

So, you naturally ask "Why do you need this, bro?"

Suppose I say, "my pocket got picked. I haven't had food since morning. Starving all day"

How many of you will give me the 50?

Or, suppose I say, "I am very short of money. My mom is very ill and I need to pay the doctor."

Will you be kind enough to give me say, 500 bucks?

Assume in both cases that while you know that I never return money, I am honest when it comes to stating the reason why I need it. I know, it is a stretch, but play along.

Now, suppose I say, "my pocket got picked. I want to pay the entry fee to play in the badminton tournament. If I win, I'll dedicate the prize to you."


Hold that thought. Let's take this thought experiment a little further.

Imagine the same situation with one small difference. I am not asking you for the money. I know where you keep your money, and I take it without your consent.

You find out and come to me, and ask "Why the hell did you take my money?"

Will you feel less angry if I said I was starving, or my mom was ill, compared to "I wanted to go swimming. I am training for a tournament."

Let's take it one step further.

You don't know me. I am a complete stranger to you, other than the fact that I and you share the same nationality. And I take your money. For one of the three reasons mentioned above. Think what your reaction would be.

And since we are having fun, let's stretch it even more. I know, I am boring you guys, but please bear with me. Not only am I a stranger to you, but you can't even question me as to why I took your money because I have a strong, muscular bully standing behind me. You know the bully can tear you apart if he so wishes.

But I tell you, "Hey, don't feel bad. You had 10000 bucks, I just took 3000, because you see, my entire family is starving and my mom is ill too."

Versus I tell you, "Hey, don't feel bad. You had 10000 bucks, I just took 3500, because you see, my entire family is starving, my mom is ill, and my friend really wanted to take tennis lessons."

Are you slightly more outraged by the second statement, compared to the first? Be honest with yourself.

Now, tell me, when you say "Government should build more sports infrastructure so that we can get more Olympic medals", why should I feel any different from what I feel when a big, strong bully (i.e. the Government) takes money from me forcibly (through taxes) to support a stranger (although each of them share my nationality, I don't know any of them personally) to train for some games?

I don't know about you, but I feel bad enough that I work 4 months out of 12 (as Amit Varma says) free for the Government. I somehow console myself that at least some of that money, after all the bloody politicians have had their share, goes towards feeding people, healing them, building roads, giving them power and water and other basic needs. Now, you want to spend more money on a facility that no one will use once it is built since, hey, it's free for those who were building it. And when cost of something is zero, expectation of return on that is pretty low.

And when I chose to oppose such waste of my effort (because the money you take away from me represents my effort), you question my patriotism! Sigh!

PS: Theme of this post plagiarized from (inspired by?) the excellent Bryan Caplan


  1. Anonymous1:05 PM


  2. Anonymous5:22 AM

    Reminds me of reading an article which mentioned pratibha patil spending more than 20crore on her flying trips alone.
    And kalmadi wants to see olympics when he's out of jail.
    But then,we as indians label things as 'maya' and believe in karma to the point of lethargy that becomes an explanation for everything.

  3. Anonymous5:23 AM

    Btw,it seems like ppl have gone on a collective hiatus and no longer want to comment on this post.
    Just an observation.

  4. @ Anon 1:
    It was not meant to be funny :/

    @ Anon 2:
    fatalistic lot indeed. But then, that's the way we are :P

    @ Anon 3 (I suspect the same as Anon 2):
    Either that, or I am writing really pathetic posts. I am inclined to believe it is the latter.