Social justice, Indian ishtyle: A parable to illuminate how India’s socialist tax paradise currently works

PM Margaret Thatcher observed that the trouble with socialism is, you eventually run out of other people’s money to spend. As Modi 2.0 retreats deeper into socialism, protectionism and inspector raj, the following fable perfectly illustrates her point.

Ten friends from Patna Science College walked into an airconditioned restaurant on a summer afternoon for a refreshing drink of iced lassi. The bill came to Rs 1,000. Being numerate, they shared the bill on the progressive income tax principle. The poorest four paid nothing. The fifth to ninth paid 10, 30, 70, 120 and 180 rupees, respectively. The tenth student, son of a prominent Bihar neta and thus the richest of the friends, paid Rs 590. The friends, happy with their cost sharing arrangement, patronised the restaurant daily. Out of the blue one day the proprietor declared that for such regular customers, he would reduce their lassi bill to Rs 800. The first four friends still had their drink for free. But what of the other six? Rs 200 divided by six is Rs 33.33. If subtracted from everybody’s share, this would require the fifth and sixth students to be paid for their lassi! The proprietor recommended that the poorer the student, the higher his percentage of the Rs 200 ‘rebate’ should be. Delighted with his suggestion, they decided the fifth friend would also not pay for his lassi, a 100% saving. The sixth paid Rs 20 (33% saving), the seventh Rs 50 (29%), the eighth Rs 90 (25%), and the ninth Rs 140 (22%). The share of the neta’s son – remember, his family was the richest, his father having been minister for two full terms – fell to Rs 500 (15% saving). Thus the first four were still getting their lassi for free and every single friend was better off by 15% to 33%.

Did they live happily ever after for the rest of their college days? No siree. This is India after all, that too Bihar, and the Constitution decrees India is a socialist republic. As they walked out, the ten began to bicker. ‘I, the poorest among the paying group, only got ten miserly rupees out of the 200-rupee saving,’ the fifth man moaned, ‘Compared to our rich friend who saved 90 bucks!’ ‘You’re right,’ exclaimed the sixth friend, ‘I too saved only ten rupees. Why should he benefit so much? Where is the social justice in that!’ By now the other three were also greatly agitated, grumbling the richest friend had gained the biggest windfall. At this point the first four, who had never paid anything, interjected excitedly: ‘But we, the four poorest, got nothing at all!’ So the nine angry men surrounded the tenth, ignored the fact that he was their benefactor as well as friend, and thrashed him.

The next day the disillusioned tenth friend refused to accompany the group and the nine had their daily lassi without him. When the bill came, they realised between them they had less than 500. The owner phoned the absent student’s dad who called the police and the nine were all put in jail. But hey, they now get all their meals and drinks for free.

Th above story is of course apocryphal; in the version i first read, the drink of choice was beer. However, at one of the universities in a country that shall remain unnamed, when i first arrived the cafeteria was owned and managed by an elderly Chinese couple. Both worked hard and there was a good choice of hot and cold food at reasonable prices. The student union complained that the Chinese were exploiting their basic need for food to make a profit and compulsorily acquired the cafe. The hot food disappeared, the range and quality of the food deteriorated, patronage dwindled and losses mounted, but everyone was happy: no capitalist was profiting from the students’ hunger anymore. As Winston Churchill said, the core vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings and the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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