At a certain junction where there are traffic lights, two disabled individuals of different ethnicities stand each day soliciting alms from motorists. Both of them are in need because given their handicaps, they cannot easily obtain employment.
Their limbs are both severely impaired and are forced onto the streets to beg. While they both are physically handicapped, their relationship is not the best. They are often seen quarreling, more so since they are competing, or so they believe, for the same resources.
They both are begging at the same corner and no doubt feel that one is depriving the other of alms. They are far from friends. Quarrels have been known to break out between them and while they are coexisting, it is obvious that they have a deep resentment for one another, which sometimes boils to the surface.
And yet there is no need for these two individuals to be at odds with one another. There are two lanes where these beggars stand. Yet, they both compete for the handouts in one lane. The drivers in the outer lane cannot give any money to the beggars, because they cannot reach over the other lane of traffic.
If instead of the beggars quarreling amongst themselves, they each take a lane, they would both benefit, and none would be denying the other. One can take the outer lane and the other the inner lane. In this way, more persons than before would give, and both beggars would be better off.
The above observation is also applicable at the national level. Mistrust and suspicion arose amongst our people because of the perceived competition for resources. One group felt threatened that the other group would monopolise the resources of the country, when in fact both groups can have more than their fill if they cooperate to maximise the economic pie rather than compete for a small slice.
This competition for economic resources led to the political tug-of-war that exists to this day. There is a hidden tension between the political camps, just as there is a seething resentment between the beggars.
Yet, when you examine the plight of our people dispassionately, there really is no need for any fighting or any tensions. There is no need for the competition for resources to breed animosity. Because in the final analysis, the cake can be made much larger and all can benefit.
There is no need at all for any enmity, because the existence of one group does not threaten the existence of another. The potential pie is large enough for everyone to share in it, and for a great deal to be left back for future generations. So why then, if this is a matter of pure economics, has the problem not been solved?
The reason is that it is not just about economics, it is also about the quest for power.
The problem between the beggars at the corner is not just about the money. It is also about who should control the corner. So even if one beggar was to take one lane and the next the other lane, the tensions would not entirely disappear, because there will still be a rift as to who owns the corner. It is not just about economics, it is also about politics.
It gets crazier at the national level, because while it is the small man who is often used as a pawn in political rivalry, it is the upper class, whose plates are already filled and overflowing, who benefit, regardless of which party is in power.
Yet the working man and woman find themselves drawing daggers ever so often, seeking to ensure that control is ceded to those whom they support when, after power would have been achieved, the poor still end up being shortchanged. No matter who holds political office, the rich do not get poorer.
The lesson here is that how big your slice of the pie is, does not depend on the size of the other man’s slice. It depends on three things. Firstly, it depends on the size of the cake. The cake will always be small if we pull and tug against each other rather than cooperate, because infighting does not encourage the baker.
The size of your slice also depends on how the cake is divided. Just as how there is a need for someone to tell the two beggars that they would each benefit if instead of quarreling, someone were to allocate each to a lane, so too a referee, this time the government, is needed to allocate national resources in a way that enlarges the national cake, and ensures that everyone can get a bigger slice.
The role of government is not to give you a bigger slice, but merely to ensure that there is the possibility of you having a bigger slice once you are prepared to work for it. Through personal initiative and economic risk-taking, you can realise that possibility. This is the third factor in deciding the size of your slice.
The government does not cut a slice for you. The government makes it possible for you to decide the size of your own slice by ensuring that the cake is enlarged. You decide the size of your slice by the choices you make, not the government.
Therefore, instead of quarreling about who is in control, the issue should be about what is the best way to make this cake big enough so that everyone gets a slice big enough to satisfy his or her needs.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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