By: Moses Uneh Yahmia
When we were introduced to the studies of Political Science at the University of Liberia, we were taught the ideals and contributions of ancient and modern political philosophers. One of the ancient political thinkers of the age of Enlightenment that we studied religiously was John Locke, a 17th Century English Political Philosopher. He along with Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries political philosophers contributed immensely to the State of Nature and the Social Contract Theory. Locke described in his Treatise of Government the State of Nature as a concept use in political philosophy to hypothetically denote the life that existed before the organization of society.
He labeled such life as where all men are free "to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature." (Second Treatise of Government, pg 6). Locke argued that in this state, man is only governed by the Law of Nature unlike Thomas who contended that “In the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms, including the ‘right to all things’ and thus the freedom to plunder, rape, and murder, and there would be an endless ‘war of all against all’”.
As an alternative to the State of Nature which John Locke argued was governed only by the Law of Nature, those political philosophers proposed the Social Contract with individual interpretations of why the state of nature should be substituted with such concept. Wikipedia defines Social Contract as a political model that postulate individuals within a space voluntarily giving up their natural freedom to a group of people (government- group of individuals that are legally empowered to make binding decisions on behalf of the state) in order to obtain the benefits of political order.
Locke contributed the most salient structure of this political order. He argued that when the government fails to secure the natural rights or satisfy the best interests of society, citizens can withdraw their obligation to obey or change the leadership, through elections or other means including, when necessary, violence. He propounded many reasons for the establishment of government -. One of the reasons he propagated was the protection of citizens’ economic rights and wellbeing.
The works of John Locke has been the fulcrum of American democracy. It is Locke’s contribution to constitutional democracy that has provided the foundation for many vibrant democracies and the impetus to prosper and prioritize the interest of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. We are seeing the true application of the social contract in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, Brazil, China, Ghana, Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa, and etc.
My country Liberia has a different narrative. The space is an interesting one. During these times of economic recession, that is, a general downturn in the economy, our government has like before once again bullet its employers (citizens) in the leg. This downward spiral in the economy has led to massive unemployment, rapid decline in the rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and high inflation. Note, that GDP according to Investopedia is the total dollar value of goods and services produced domestically in an economy over a period of time and it is usually calculated on an annual basis. Investopedia also defines High inflation as the extreme increase in the general level of prices of goods and services. Now, a dollar in the hands of a Liberian only buys a small percentage of a good or service than it used to before, because it value has depreciated due to a rise in inflation.
Frustratingly, in an attempt to curb this economic enigma, the government decided to increase taxes on the already poor people. From amendments made to the Liberia Revenue Code of 2011 by the National Legislature about two months ago, taxes on goods and services were increased. Thus, the cost of production of goods like water, juices, and alcoholic beverages, as well as telecommunication services in the economy is now very high. Tariffs on goods imported by our mothers and fathers have been increased. To free a container of goods from the Free Port of Monrovia is extremely expensive.
They say it is geared towards boosting local revenue mobilization in order to keep the engine of the government running. Apologists of the government told us that the World Bank and IMF advised them to do so not only because of the negative effects the fall in the prices of iron ore and rubber on the international market caused to our economy but also the negative economic climate caused by the Ebola Outbreak that snatched away more than two thousands of our compatriots.
Ironically, the revenue to be generated from this anti-people fiscal intervention in the economy will not be pumped into public investment that will provide more jobs for our people, improve health, education and infrastructure as well as security. Be reminded that the International Monetary Fund just reported that our government appropriates and spends 82% of our budget on recurrent expenditure. This means, more than 490million out of 600Million of our national income is spent on government's purchase of goods and services. Little is allocated to building roads, airports, improving infrastructures in energy, education, healthcare, etc. All of our public investments are being financed by external sources that are not captured in our budget according to the IMF’s report.
Therefore, the revenue to be generated from this conspiracy that is being orchestrated against the masses of our people by a crooked cabal will be used to maintain the lucrative salaries, emoluments, gas slips, scratch cards, reckless social activities, and etc. of a criminal cartel call National Legislature, imported bureaucrats in the Executive Branch of Government, the president and her cronies who are at the helm of de facto authorities.
The people will remain rigid in their despair and ignorance. Poverty will continue to be visible among the masses of the people. The peasants in the rural areas will continue to drift to the urban slums in search of basic social services and economic opportunities due to lack of economic activities in the countryside. Many Liberian children will continue to lack access to primary and secondary education as was recently reported by UNICEF. To borrow a sentence from a Front Page Africa’s news commentary, “Yes, poor Liberians are exorbitantly taxed to feed the leeches they elected to represent their interest under the perennial excuse of ‘budget shortfall.’”.
The well learned American Marxist-economist Richard Wolff in one of his lectures at an American university said “To know your history is good; it is dangerous if you don’t”. Against this backdrop, we have always spent sufficient time to flip the history of our country, Africa and the rest of the world. So when we make these kinds of analysis, we deem it prudent to refer to history and narrate how other nations reacted when they were faced with similar situation such as economic recession or depression.
In the 1930s, there was a massive collapse of capitalism in Western Europe and the United States of America which led to what we consider in economic history as the Great Depression. In America, as the result of the economic Great Depression, there was 25% unemployment; many Americans were lying in poverty; infrastructures in education, healthcare, energy, road, national parks, and etc. were deplorable. The American economy was at the verge of complete collapse. There was a rising tide among the American people about the wholesale overhauling of the economy in the interest of the masses of Americans.
So what did President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic President do as response to the Great Depression? FDR as he was casually called viewed politics as a constant flux and not a stagnant pond. Therefore, he listened to the growing workers’ movement that had already grown colossally as the result of extreme dissatisfaction in the labour sector. He listened to the American leftists that included the communists and socialists. After many talks and negotiations among the workers’ movement, the socialists and communists and the American government, a compromise was reached. President Roosevelt pleaded with the leftist and the trade unions not to wage a revolution that would have toppled his government. He promised to concentrate heavily on public investment which would pumped capital in the public sector and provide massive employment for many Americans.
How would he get the money? Through his New Deal model, President FDR went to where the money was. He went to the rich, the owners of the lucrative corporations, and etc.. This is because the corporation had become very powerful more than the government and society. Such capitalist system concentrated wealth and the gap between the poor and the rich was very wide. Workers could barely afford to buy goods they were producing. Therefore, FDR heavily increased taxes on the rich. He set an income bracket and made sure 96% of a dollar of an income that was above US$ 25,000.00 went to the coffers of the government.
This strategy in the three stages of President Roosevelt’s implementation of his New Deal mobilized enough capital and through strong legislations which were supported by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, he implemented the following reforms which helped greatly to have not worsened the Great Depression as was outlined by Tom Jacobsen in one of his lectures on the Great Depression (See tomjacobsen.tripod.com/Mylectures/depression):
1. Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) which gave farmers money to increase crop size and increase production and bring up the value of crops.
2. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a New Deal agency created to generate electric power and control floods in a seven-U.S.-state region around the Tennessee River Valley. It created many dams that provided electricity as well as jobs for many unemployed Americans.
3. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program for unemployed men so they have jobs. The men worked on jobs related to conservation and development of natural resources.
4. Works Progress Administration (WPA), an agency established in 1935 and headed by Harry Hopkins that hired the unemployed for construction, conservation, and arts programs.
5. Social Security Act that guaranteed retirement payments for enrolled workers beginning at age 65; set up federal-state system of unemployment insurance and care for dependent mothers and children, the handicapped, and public health delivery services.
This is the true essence of governance: to institute pro-people policies and programs that will guarantee the economic viability of your people. FDR did not increase taxes on the rich to increase the salaries of congressmen, to buy the best of cars for Secretaries of various departments, to pay for housing, telecommunication services, entertainment, and lubricants for state-bureaucrats. He did so with the determination to restore confidence in the US’s economic system at the advantage of the people of America.
Unlike America under FDR, a little poverty stricken country like Liberia has increased taxes on its poor citizens not to even concentrate on the wholesale development of the private sector through initially investing in public investment and having government play strategic role in the economy, but rather, taxes were increased at the disadvantage of the vast suffering majority in order to line the pockets of career-racketeers and ruffians who have no determination to move our people forward. For them, public service is meant for amassing affluence at the expense of the general public. They move with the adage that says “Get rich quick or die trying”. They see this space we occupy as a plantation where one would come to stockpile hurried riches.
Increasing taxes was not enough reason to assassinate the people’s hope for a new Liberia where everyone would succeed based on the development of his/her talents and skills, those con-artists calling themselves legislators went on to give themselves and members of the Supreme Court tax breaks in the same amendment of the Revenue Code. The tax breaks give those scalawags the privilege to import annually two vehicles free of import duties, while businesses owned and operated by struggling Liberian entrepreneurs are slapped in the face with high import duties and tariffs. Those scoundrels and slayers of the people’s aspiration to move forward now have a duty free on other personal imported provisions such as air-condition, electronics, foodstuffs, and other household materials while the ordinary people cannot even afford to purchase any of those goods due to horrendous tax increment on goods and services.
This is atrocious. This is dreadful. Our leaders are cruel and brutish. While other African leaders in Ghana, Botswana, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, and etc. are moving in the direction of good governance and the promotion of pro-poor national agendas to leapfrog their people and culture, ours are still indulging into walloping primitive accumulation of wealth and privileges at the expense of struggling Liberians. As we move forward to October 10, 2017, where our people will once again be given the opportunity to elect leaders to occupy the National Legislature and the presidency, it is high time conscious members of the intellectual class join the campaign to expose those misleaders. We should not afford to allow those miscreants to take advantage of our people’s poverty and gullibility to attain and maintain political power.
The consequence is disastrous. We must go all out in the urban slums, and the rural areas speaking to the people in their languages, telling the masses of our people that they can no longer give charlatans who charade as national leaders the opportunity to inhabit positions that require men and women who possess public-spiritedness and is willing to sacrifice his/her egoistic satisfaction for the greatest number of people. We must inculcate in our political culture the tendency of our people evaluating aspiring leaders’ history of service in the communities, districts, counties and the country at large before considering giving them political power.
We must also take into consideration educating our people to follow ideas and precepts that have the possibilities of moving them forward, and not giving into big men, who give rice, t-shirts, little cash only when election is around the corner. This is a rallying generational call to the young new breed of nationally conscious men and women. If we ignore this and allow those who depend on us for direction to make the wrong decisions, we will be as guilty as those perpetrators of social injustices against our people and posterity will place us on the wrong side of history.
“As a revolutionary, rest is only in the grave.”
About the author: Moses Uneh Yahmia is a senior student of the University of Liberia. He studies Political Science and Economics with emphasis in International Relations. He is the Coordinator for Mobilization, Recruitment, Planning, and Research of the Movement for Social Democratic Alternative Yahmia can be reached via: +231776355802/+231886944248, firstname.lastname@example.org