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Q&A: ‘Small Government Equals More Personal Responsibility’

Diana Mendoza interviews BIENVENIDO OPLAS, JR., small government advocate

MANILA, Jan 12 2010 (IPS) - As president of an independent think tank advocating minimal government, Bienvenido Oplas, Jr. believes that a society will be more peaceful and dynamic if people will assume more individual and voluntary responsibilities over their lives, their families and their communities.

This, according to Oplas, is the essence of ‘civil society’ and what the Minimal Government (MG) Thinkers, Inc. stands for.

“People who are afraid of responsibilities are afraid of freedom itself,” he says on his organisation’s website. It is “big and intrusive government that often rewards individual irresponsibility with subsidies and welfare.”

Composed of a group of professionals and small entrepreneurs, MG, he says, “is a philosophical movement attempting to change the dominant thinking in our people that many things in our lives – education, health care, housing, pension, etc. – should be government responsibility, not personal or parental or firm responsibility.” It adheres to a set of core principles, namely, small government, small taxes, free market, rule of law and personal responsibility.

His, and MG’s, philosophy, he says, can be summed up as follows:

“the culprit: Big Government Responsibility and Taxation

the solution: More Personal Responsibility”

The Manila-based think tank was organised in 1984 by Oplas and friends in his mountaineering club after years of discussing the small government philosophy. Today, MG conducts trainings and symposia on various issues anchored on its core principles, produces policy papers and represents taxpayers on tax policy debates in appropriate fora, including Congress.

Apart from heading his advocacy group, Oplas is also a columnist and a blogger who touches on a host of issues. He finished Economics at the University of the Philippines and received his Diploma in Development Economics from the same state university.

In an interview with IPS, Oplas expounds on his advocacy and thoughts on other relevant issues.

Q: How did your personal background influence your belief in every individual’s responsibilities to his or her own life and to society, even without much government intervention? A: I have seen many poor people dying not of poverty but of drinking and smoking. They may be poor, but they can manage to produce their own food (they are farmers, for instance). What killed them are dilapidated intestines, lungs, kidneys, because of overdrinking, oversmoking, overfighting, etc. And since they are poor to start with, they leave behind an even impoverished family with young children.

Observe also the food industry. There is zero government restaurant, zero government ‘carinderia’ or ‘turo-turo’, (food stall) zero government supermarket, zero government ‘talipapa’, (makeshift market), and yet people are eating.

Compare that with healthcare – there are many government hospitals and clinics, many government drugstores and ‘botika ng bayan’ (public drugstore offering cheaper generic medicines), there is government health insurance, there is government drug price control policy, (yet) health problems are expanding.

Q: What aspects of life should governments focus on and to what extent should it provide help? A: Mainly the promulgation of the rule of law. Protect citizens’ right to life, right to private property, right to liberty and self-expression. For example, don’t over-regulate businesses – there are lots of business permits, for instance, from the Department of Trade and Industry and Bureau of Internal Revenue to municipal/city health sanitation permit) – lots of taxes and fees. Allow all restaurants, all drugstores, and all shops to compete with each other.

If one restaurant will sell expired and adulterated food and drinks resulting in food poisoning of customers, that’s when government should come in and pounce on violators. If one drugstore or drug manufacturer will sell counterfeit or substandard medicine resulting in negative outcomes to patients, then government should come in. The harshness of the penalty should be enough to deter other restaurants from being complacent and selling unhealthy food and drinks.

Q: Many societies around the world single out every individual person as a contributor to solving social and ecological problems, but still pin their hopes on their governments. What are your thoughts on people’s personal responsibilities and their dependence on their governments? A: Let’s take healthcare again. It is principally a personal and parental responsibility, and government responsibility is a far second. People should not oversmoke, overdrink, overeat fatty food, fight each other and have stab wounds, be sedentary, and engage in promiscuous lifestyles. When their internal organs start to disintegrate, they run to the government to say that “healthcare is a right.”

Only in cases of health epidemics – say, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and swine flu and other contagious diseases – and only for people and children with special needs (autistic, blind, paralysed, amputated) is government involvement and use of taxpayers’ money for healthcare justified.

If government would use your taxes to cure those who have lung or throat cancer or lower respiratory diseases because they smoke two to three packs a day, would you be happy? Or because they eat high-cholesterol food every day and drink Coke or soda like water every day, and they suffer from hypertension, diabetes, related diseases, would you be happy?

Q: In that regard, what did the global financial crisis show us about government and personal responsibility? A: The global financial turmoil has receded. What is emerging is a huge fiscal deficit and huge public debt by so many governments, like all members of the G7 (U.S., Germany, Britain, Canada, Japan, France, Italy), and many other rich countries.

Fiscal irresponsibility by many governments, in both rich and poor countries, is dragging the world economy to unsustainable debts and overborrowing. So the opportunities lie on the lending countries, not the borrowing countries, regardless of whether they are poor or rich now.

Net-lending countries like China, Singapore, Taiwan and a few countries in Europe will be in a better position to survive future crisis, (which will be) created by those fiscally irresponsible governments run by politicians and bureaucrats with little appreciation for personal responsibility.

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